Desert animals come in great varieties... many are quite unique. Just as the deserts of Arizona are quite various and unique. Spotting any of them is an exciting event! They're all wonderfully adapted to living in an environment that is harsh by typical standards.
Water isn't readily available. But when rain abundantly pours from the sky all at once, it can make a dangerous situation. The heat can be super high, and the sun burningly strong. Yet the cold in the winter can be tormenting when an animal has adapted to soaring temperatures.
Arizona desert animals, in particular, are those we here in Southern Arizona are most familiar with. We've live in an outlying area, outside of the city of Tucson. Now we live in a more rural area, adjacent to the Hills of Tombstone - at the end of town. Just living in these environments, we've just naturally encountered wildlife.
When we lived on an acre in the Sonoran desert, our yard got pretty regular visits from desert animals. While sitting typing at my computer, I often looked out the window. Sometimes I'd see some animals. It was always quite exciting and notable. A small pack of coyotes came by on occasion - must be looking for a rabbit meal.
What else might we see, and what may they be up to?
Cottontail rabbits are in abundance - something people would not typically associate with the desert. But they multiply here, just like they do where there are multitudes of grassy fields. They're the Desert Cottontail!
Jackrabbits also pass by on occasion.They're amusing with their extraordinarily large ears, pointing this way and that! The jackrabbit is actually in the hare genus Lepus - which is how they're different from rabbits. Rabbits have a number of different genera. They are both in the same family - Leporids. The jackrabbit of the Sonoran Desert is also known as the American desert hare, or the Black-tailed Jackrabbit.
Most people delight in seeing birds, and hearing their varied voices. We certainly enjoy seeing them! In the past I've spent a great deal of time "bird watching" - but then time constraints from jobs put a damper on the time for that. I'm getting right back into it now! We have an Arizona birding page with much more for you on that. Read it here >
Plus you can participate - we want your input. We want to see the birds you've seen! Read more here >
Multiple Coveys of Quail will scamper by in AZ. They're fun to watch. Always
investigating different things in the area. Family groups with their
babies trailing behind are a delight! So cute! The most common type we see is Gambel's Quail.
A pair of Roadrunners had a route right past our office window in Picture Rocks. They also come through our backyard in Tombstone. They're really fun birds to watch. Per their name - they typically do get around by foot. Their legs and feet are quite strong. They can fly short distances when necessary. Sometimes you'll see them crossing the road in front of you as you travel by car...
They walk, and they certainly do run!
The Burrowing Owl is just one type of owl native to our Deserts. Unfortunately they're in a struggle here right now. It's due to the loss of their environmental needs. Projects are helping to provide areas for their nesting burrows. It's a unique situation for these birds. They use burrows that were constructed by rodents such as ground squirrels or prairie dogs. But these habitats are dwindling in the Desert, because of population growth and construction.
The owl we've frequently spotted is the Great Horned Owl. I've seen one sitting on our front fence post just after sunset, and he also swooped just over my car as I pulled into our driveway. Bill has seen him sitting at the corner of our carport roof. Typically watch for them right around sunset - they are quite large birds!
The Arizona Desert Tortoise is a desert animal with a great story! It had been in a very precarious situation. There are two varieties of Desert Tortoise, essentially separated by some natural barriers such as the Colorado River.
There's the Mojave Desert Tortoise, and the Sonoran Desert Tortoise. The Mojave Desert animal's situation is less secure than that of the Sonoran Desert Tortoise. The Sonoran Desert Tortoise has an adoption program available in Arizona for qualified residents!
What about Reptiles? Everywhere you look, you're likely to spot some type of lizard. Lizards are common desert animals, but very quick!
As we were atop a Flagstaff area mountain where our son does some of his work - our grandson Aedan spotted a Horned Lizard! A little tiny one! He let it go, but we visited for a few minutes.
Another that's difficult to encounter, and I saw it one time - is the Gila Monster! They're poisonous, but really not dangerous. You'd have to provoke it immensely and get in its face badly to have it attack you. Sadly there's a story about a woman in Tucson who attacked one unnecessarily, killing it! Read More>
Rattlesnakes are desert animals which strike fear into the hearts of many! But they also fascinate many as well. Yes there are rattlesnakes in the desert - a number of different varieties. There are other types of snakes, as well - and not all of them are venomous. All of them do perform a service. They help keep the rodent and rabbit population in check.
Spiders are creepy to many people! Many others feel of a kind of scary fascination! There are those you also should be wary of!! Spiders often seen in Arizona are the Wolf Spider and sometimes the Tarantula! The one you want to watch out for - is the Black Widow! And even worse, is the Brown Recluse!
Bufo alvarius can be seen during certain months. They come out of their dormant state in the summer. It's during one of the rainy times of the year, called the Monsoon season, you'll hear their call! As a desert animal which has methods of preservation, it's a large toad which awakens (so to speak) in mid June with the rains.
Bufo punctatus joins alvarius in the chorus. See if after hearing them, can they be "spotted" - their common name is the red spotted toad!
Big Horned Sheep won't be easily seen. You must venture to certain areas to try to get a glimpse of them. They live on rocky mountainsides.
A scary chance meeting would be with a Cougar! Also known as a Mountain Lion. One time a number of years ago we were exploring a back road. We pulled over to have lunch. Our son Sean, took a walk over to some interesting rocks, and climbed up. As he looked over the crest of one - he was startled. He became very still! He slowly backed off, as he saw there a cougar sleeping! We didn't stick around then, just moved along down the road!
One of the desert animals that will be very difficult to see in the wild is the Mexican Gray Wolf. And do you really desire that personal sighting? You can actually visit one at the Sonoran Desert Museum in Tucson. Probably the best way to get to view one!
Our son Sean encountered a surprising animal during one of his mountain-top working forays in the Flagstaff area. He wasn't quite sure what they were at first. Because of its habits, we figured out it was a Coatimundi. It resembles a ringtail (mentioned below) - but ringtails are nocturnal. They both have these long striped tails, and similar shapes. But that's it! They were a curious little bunch. Sean was really thrilled that they passed by his truck!
Some desert animals you may encounter along the roadside during night-time hours, or at twilight. While driving home through Saguaro National Park West - we've seen a number of desert wildlife varieties run across the road in front of our car. Sometimes we just spot them by the road-side. It always remains a vivid memory!
Two or three times a Ringtail has run right across the road in front of us in the night! It was startling! What caught the eye is the long striped tail, and its low to the ground stature. They tend to stick to desert areas where there's not much human population. My sightings were right in Saguaro National Park West.
Mule Deer have crossed the road in front of us at dusk, or later. One time an elegant male with a full antler rack was just standing at the roadside. We slowed to see him, as did a few of the cars after me! Coue's Whitetail Deer is another species, smaller in stature. Quite a few live in the Tombstone Hills areas.
A Desert Kit Fox has also run right across in front of the car. No mistaking the bushy tale and body shape! That is the typical one which can be seen in the Sonoran desert. You must watch, and keep your eyes peeled, as these sightings won't happen often. There are also two other fox species which live in Arizona.