Be Safe Out There: Tips for Viewing Arizona Wildlife

UPDATED February 9, 2024 — Have a safe wildlife Arizona outing with these outdoor tips. Diverse terrain and ecosystems make for an abundance of Arizona wildlife. With over 800 species of Arizona animals, this could be one of the nation’s best wildlife viewing experiences! And don’t miss the Arizona wildlife list at the bottom of the article.

4 people stand facing the viewer while looking through binoculars or viewing scope at Arizona animals - green juniper trees behind
Wildlife viewing enthusiasts in Arizona | Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) photo

I have seen many incredible scenes exploring Arizona’s wild places. However, contrary to the famous cartoon, I have never seen a coyote chase a roadrunner—beep, beep! I doubt that there is a state that can compete with the variety of wildlife in Arizona.

 

One reason for Arizona’s wildlife diversity is the fact that the state has six life zones. A life zone describes terrain that is unique due to geography and elevation. Different birds and animals thrive in each area due to climate, moisture, shelter and other factors. Most species of Arizona wildlife are active early morning or at dusk. Due to the arid climate and lack of water, wildlife congregates near year-round water sources, streams, springs, and reservoirs.

 

Bring the best pair of optics you can afford. A good pair of binoculars is essential, so check them out on Amazon.

Table of Contents

Places to view wildlife in Arizona

cotton candy pink sky over a hump of mountain and grassy prairie in foreground at the Arizona wildlife viewing area
Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area (SWMWA) between Edgar and Alpine, AZ | AZGFD photo

With over 50 million acres of public natural lands, Arizona provides some of the country’s best wildlife viewing. If you have time, certainly go to places like Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area pictured above or the Rodgers Lake County Natural Area to view wildlife in Arizona.

Rodgers Lake County Natural Area

You can hike established trails at Rodgers Lake County Natural Area to view pronghorn antelope, elk, mule deer, wild turkey, coyote, bobcat, fox and tassel-eared Abert’s squirrel. In wet years, the large meadow transforms into Rodgers Lake. The water attracts herons and other wading birds, bald eagles, raptors, ducks and geese. Water that attracts Arizona wildlife is usually present in early spring and summer. To increase your odds of seeing elk or bald eagle, take the scenic Lake Mary Road to Mormon Lake.

Mormon Lake

There is a good chance you will see deer, elk, or a bald eagle. Look to your right as you near Mormon Lake when driving from Flagstaff. You will find a turn-off with a fantastic place to glass for wildlife. View the tops of dead Ponderosa Pines to spot perched bald eagles and red-tailed hawks. Eagles are prevalent in winter and early spring.

Are there many bears and mountain lions in Arizona? The answer is yes; though, you will rarely see them. If you want to glimpse these elusive critters, you will have to hike rugged canyon wilderness areas. It is rare but possible to see them anywhere in the wild.

Sonoran and high desert environments add to Arizona animal diversity

Arizona animals include these two Desert Bighorn rams laying down near boulders in the desert
Desert bighorn sheep in Arizona | AZGFD photo

Kofa National Wildlife Mountain Refuge and more

The desert exemplifies Arizona animal diversity. You can spot rocky mountain sheep near Fossil Creek. Find desert bighorn sheep in the Kofa National Wildlife Mountain Refuge near Yuma, Arizona. The Catalina Mountains near Tucson has a fair population of desert bighorn sheep and mountain lions too! Javelina, Arizona’s wild pig, is abundant throughout the desert and has expanded into the high country.

Patagonia State Park

Patagonia State Park, south of Tucson, is a birders paradise with over 300 species identified there. Coues deer roam the hills around the lake and campground.

Grand Canyon South Rim

huge black bird with ugly red head spread wings while sitting on the edge of the grand Canyon -wildlife Arizona
The endangered California Condor is making a comeback due to conservation efforts at the Grand Canyon | AZGFD photo

No Arizona wildlife article would be complete without a mention of Grand Canyon wildlife. The canyon’s south rim is very much alive as seemingly tame elk and mule deer roam through the park. It is also one of the few places you might be able to sight a giant, endangered condor.

Other high-country places to view Arizona wildlife 

The Grand Canyon’s north rim is wilder, and on the drive from Jacob Lake to the rim, you are likely to see mule deer, elk, and wild turkey. If you are fortunate, you might see one of two Arizona buffalo herds. The White Mountains in eastern Arizona is high mountain country similar to Flagstaff. There are fewer people, though, and more water, so animals are not as skittish as those in the state’s more populated areas, making it a great place to view Arizona wildlife.

Click here for an interactive map of Arizona Game and Fish Arizona wildlife viewing locations

Wildlife Arizona! – Start your adventure with safety in mind

wildlife in Arizona include this Mule deer buck with tall rack (antlers) looks back over shoulder menacingly - antlers shedding - snow on antlers, trees, ground
Mule Deer: Wildlife Arizona, keep it wild and stay safe! | Photo by George Andrejko, AZGFD

Keep safety in mind when viewing wildlife in Arizona for you and the animals. These are wild animals, so please keep your distance. There are instances when an animal could attack you if you get too close.

The number one rule is not to feed the critters. Getting animals used to human food will cause their untimely demise. They can become aggressive when humans stop feeding them. Arizona’s Game and Fish Department has a slogan: “A fed bear is a dead bear,” which applies to all animals.

Yes, there are rattlesnakes in Arizona. It is unlikely you will encounter one in the high country. If a rattler bites you, do not try to treat the bite. Go to a hospital as soon as possible.

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake | Photo by Clinton & Charles Robertson via Wikimedia

More safety tips for Arizona wildlife viewing

Keep your dog close or on a leash when in the wild. Javelina and coyotes can be especially dangerous for your unleashed dog. Rattlesnakes can be deadly for your pooch, too.

If hiking is part of your Arizona wildlife viewing excursion, make sure to pack the 10 Essentials for Hiking.

Finally, when driving, be hyper-aware of crossing elk and deer, especially at night and early morning. Slow down! Wildlife Arizona, keep it wild and stay safe!

Huge bull elk with tall rack stands on highway as small white car approaches - beware of wildlife in Arizona when driving
Because there is so much wildlife in Arizona, drivers need to stay alert on the freeway as well as backroads | Photo by George Andrejko, AZGFD

Arizona wildlife list of animals that you will want to see!

Wildlife Arizona - Javelina looks like a large hamster - fluffy and gray
Javelina are one of the animals that you’ll want to check off your Arizona wildlife list
Mother javelina guards baby at her feet - this Arizona animal is quite defensive
Photos courtesy of Arizona Game and Fish Department

Regrettably, I cannot provide a complete Arizona wildlife list in this article since over 800 animal species make their home in Arizona. Nonetheless, I have compiled a list of large animals like:

  • Antelope,
  • Buffalo,
  • Elk,
  • Mule deer,
  • Coues deer, a subspecies of the whitetail deer,
  • Bighorn sheep,
  • Rocky mountain sheep,
  • Mountain lion and
  • Black bear. Black bear, BTW, vary in color from coal black to cinnamon brown.
2 pronghorn antelope walk through tall grasses on rocky slope - they should be on the top of your Arizona wildlife list
Pronghorn Antelope | Photo by Jack Dykinga via Wikimedia

Smaller animals on the Arizona wildlife list include:

  • Cottontail rabbits,
  • Jackrabbits,
  • Bobcats,
  • Coyotes,
  • Mexican grey wolves,
  • Grey fox,
  • Kit fox,
  • Beaver and
  • Badger.

Campers might encounter pesky raccoons, porcupine, coati, ringtail cat, skunks and squirrels! In fact, you can view four species and eight subspecies of tree squirrels in Arizona’s forests. 

beaver floats on surface of water with large, flat tail floating behind - on your Arizona wildlife list
Visitors are surprised to learn that wildlife in Arizona includes beaver | Photo by George Andrejko, AZGFD

Birds and reptiles enhance the wildlife in Arizona experience

Chances are you’ll see Gambel’s Quail foraging in groups (coveys) on the ground when viewing wildlife in Arizona deserts | AZGFD photo

Birdlife abounds with hundreds of genera for birders to see, including osprey, bald and golden eagles, ducks and geese. Shore-birds like blue heron and sandhill cranes frequent wetlands. Twelve varieties of hawks migrate through or reside in Arizona. Game birds include four quail sub-species, blue grouse, chukar, Band-tailed Pigeon, white wing and mourning doves.

Many songbirds, including Arizona’s state bird, the cactus wren, and roadrunners, of course! Arizona is one of only two states with three species of wild turkeys: Merriam’s, Gould’s and Rio Grande.

Arizona is also home to many beautiful and intriguing reptiles. Did you know Arizona has 13 different rattlesnakes? Other reptiles like Gila monsters make for exciting finds; however, keep in mind, they bite too! Summarizing, viewing wildlife in Arizona is a year-round endeavor for nature enthusiasts. See for yourself, explore your wild side and visit soon!

Arizona wildlife Enthusiast Scott Talboom

Scott Talboom is a long-time Flagstaff resident who loves the Arizona mountain town. Scott’s career in advertising, public relations and fundraising spanned four decades. In October of 2019 he reinvented himself: trading ties and sport coats for blue jeans, khaki shorts, casual shirts and hiking boots. He is currently pursuing his many passions, which include freelance writing, consulting, fly-fishing, hiking and traveling. He truly enjoys sharing his love for Flagstaff and northern Arizona. Scott can be reached at taladvert928@gmail.com

Scott suggests that you donate to Arizona Game and Fish Department.

You can choose to have your donation go towards:

      • Food, shelter and care for sick, injured and orphaned animals at the AZGFD Wildlife Center
      • Helping AZGFD deliver much-needed water to nearly 3,000 wildlife hydration stations during the heat of summer
      • Helping AZGFD manage the Mexican gray wolf population, or
      • Supporting AZGFD conservation efforts, which include safeguarding habitats, restoring native species and ensuring that Arizona’s wildlife thrives.
wobbly young elk calf finds its way through downed Ponderosa pine trees - watching young animals is one of the pleasures of Wildlife in Arizona
Elk calf in the Ponderosa pines | AZGFD photo

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