So Much Lovely Fauna
Badger (Taxidea taxus)
Badgers are solitary, night time animals, who tend toward winter torpor. They eat squirrels, mice, and voles, as well as insects and birds. They like to live in open ponderosa pine forests, with grassy ground cover. You can also find them in dry semi-desert lands, fields, and pastures. Badgers have keen senses of scent, vision, and hearing. They are impressive diggers, constructing burrows for protection and sleeping, and their underground tunnels can be over 30 feet long!
Black Bear (Ursus americanus)
Black bears are omnivores, and their diet changes seasonally. They increase their body weight by 35% each Fall, to prepare for winter denning and torpor. During torpor they do not urinate or defecate, which keeps their den scent-free and helps protect them from predators. They den in small caves or hollow logs. Black bears don’t see well, but they hear great, and their sense of smell is seven times more sensitive than a dog’s! They are mostly solitary and tend to avoid humans. Bears can run 35mph and are good at climbing trees, so if you encounter a bear, don’t run or climb. Instead, identify yourself as human - stand up, wave your hands, talk in a low voice, and avoid eye contact.
Cougar (Puma concolor)
Cougars, also known as mountain lions, are the largest members of the cat family in Washington. They range widely and are mostly on the move, resting in daybed shelters of fallen trees or shallow rock nooks. Cougars hunt mainly at night, and deer are their most common prey, along with coyotes, rabbits, and small rodents. Cougars can see six times better than humans. Their tracks are about the size of a baseball, with four toes and no claw marks. It’s rare to see a cougar, but if you encounter one, don’t ever run – face the cougar and back up slowly, leaving it an exit route. Also hold a stick above your head or get up on a rock or stump to convince the cougar that you are predator, not prey.
Coyote (Canis latrans – Barking Dog)
Coyotes look a bit like German Shepherds, but their ears are pointed and erect, their tails are bushier with a black tip, and their muzzles are narrower than their dog cousins. Coyotes are fast runners and good jumpers, and mostly hunt at night, eating squirrels, mice, and occasionally birds and snakes. They usually hunt individually or in small family groups. They also eat fruits and vegetables! They use their voices to announce their territory to other packs and to find each other. They have acute hearing and a great sense of smell. Sometimes they team up with badgers to hunt, and help to keep rodent populations in check.
Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis)
Ferruginous hawk fossils date back to the late Pleistocene era, the most recent ice age. Listed as a threatened species due to habitat loss, they were once plentiful across the West, and before the loss of bison populations, they used to build nests out of bison bones and line them with bison dung. They are large birds with rusty (ferruginous) colored shoulders and legs, and brilliant white underparts. They hunt from raised perches, and eat jackrabbits, ground squirrels, birds, snakes, and large insects. We are at the northwestern edge of their breeding zone.
Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)
Great horned owls are identified by their large ear tufts or “horns” - which look a bit like cat ears, so they are also known as the cat owl. They are dark brown with black spots above; their underparts are pale brown with dark brown bars. They have large yellow eyes, which don’t move in their sockets, so they rotate their heads to look around them. Great horned owls hunt silently at night, using keen hearing and vision, and their sharp talons. They eat rabbits, skunks, rodents, and a variety of birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and insects. Typically, owls eat entire animals—including feathers, fur, teeth, and bones - which they regurgitate later as pellets. Great horned owls seldom use the same nest more than once, as young owls often trample the nests into disarray, so they commandeer an old nest made by other birds. Their call is a series of four or five deep, resonant hoots in individual rhythms: hoo-hoo-hoo; hoo-hoo (“who’s awake - me too”).
Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus)
Mule deer are found throughout Washington, mostly east of the Cascades, in many varied habitats. They are herbivores and browse or graze depending on the season, enjoying the ponderosa pine and antelope bitterbrush in this ecosystem, as well as grasses, legumes, and fungi. You will see them most often during mornings and evenings, often traveling in family groups. They live about 10 years, and grow new antlers each year. Mule deer will migrate as far as 80 miles seasonally, to avoid snow and find food. They use a bounding leap called “stotting” over long distances, and can sprint for short distances up to 45 mph!
Red-Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
Red-tailed hawks have long, broad wings and short, wide, reddish-brown tails, and a variety of coloring in their plumage. They prey on rodents and rabbits as well as birds, reptiles, fish, and insects, and are known for stealing prey from other raptors. They build nests in tall trees, and both male and female help build the nest, lined with bark, twigs, and fresh green leaves. Mating pairs stay together until one of them dies.
Steelhead Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)
Rock Creek is home to a native population of steelhead, which have been swimming in the Columbia river and its tributaries for 7-10 million years, returning from their ocean journeys to their natal streams to spawn between June and November. Salmon and Steelhead are a primary food and trading source for tribes in this area. They are currently listed as a threatened species, due to a variety of pressures, including dams, habitat degradation, hatchery programs, and over-fishing.
Western Grey Squirrel (Sciurus griseus)
The current habitat for threatened Western Grey Squirrels is very limited. They are the largest squirrels in Washington, and unlike the non-native Eastern Grey Squirrel, they have no brown coloration on their fur. They live in hollow trees or in nests called dreys, made of twigs and lined with moss in the branches of trees. They have large feet, bushy tails, and big ears, and their teeth grow continuously—up to six inches a year!— so they need constant chewing to keep them short. They eat nuts, seeds, pinecones, and needle clusters, and often bury caches of food, which they find during the winter months with their excellent sense of smell.
Western Rattlesnake (Croatus viridus)
Western Rattlesnakes are found throughout Eastern Washington, growing up to two feet long, with their tails tipped by their distinctive rattle. Their color ranges from brown markings with cream background to olive and dusty green. They have good vision but since their eyes are on the side of their head, they need to move back and forth to see. They eat small animals and the eggs of ground nesting birds. They have no external ears, but they can “hear” the vibrations of feet. They are most active in spring, and during dawn and dusk hours. They like to bask in the sun near rock crevices or other “escape holes”. They are better swimmers than tree climbers. In general, they try to avoid people and just want to be left alone.
White- and Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis and Sitta canadensis, respectively)
Nuthatches are small birds with large heads, almost no necks, short tails, and straight beaks.
Red Breasted nuthatches are smaller than their white breasted cousins, and have rufous (reddish) underparts. The females of both species have light grey caps and wings. They eat insects and spiders in summer, and make caches of food in bark furrows for winter. Nuthatches are known for their unique behavior on tree trunks, turning sideways and upside down on vertical surfaces as they forage for food. Nuthatches need old forests, as they make their nests in cavities of trees and soft snags. They form monogamous pairs and create their nest holes together, using a piece of bark to line the nest hole with pitch to deter predators and competitors. They avoid the pitch with their precision skills, flying straight into their nest hole!