Boulder is unique among Front Range cities due to the preservation of the mosaic of ecosystems that form the foothills backdrop. Animal diversity tends to be higher in the low foothills of Open Space and Mountain Parks because of the mild climate and abundance of food and cover. A wide array of species inhabits Open Space and Mountain Parks, and their survival depends in part upon your actions while visiting their home. Please help us to keep our wildlife wild--do not approach or feed animals, and enjoy them from a respectful distance. By staying on designated trails, respecting trail/area closures, and following posted dog regulations, you can help us to preserve and protect critical wildlife habitat. Please familiarize yourself with Wildlife Watching Ethics to assure that the joy you feel observing and photographing wildlife doesn't come at their expense!
Give Them Some Space! Wildlife Watching Ethics on OSMP
Watching wildlife is a great way to enjoy nature and fun for people of all ages. But as you watch, remember that the animals may not enjoy it quite as much as you do.
Our natural urge is to get as close as possible. This is particularly true when you're trying to set up the perfect photograph. When a person tries to cautiously approach an animal, the animal may interpret the approach as a predator stalking its prey and become frightened. Humans should never disturb birds in their nests or mammals in their dens or with their young. OSMP seasonally closes certain parts of our land system to all users to protect breeding wildlife.
Here are some suggestions on the proper way to watch wildlife:
Observe animals from a distance THEY consider safe.
- Get your "close-up" by using binoculars, spotting scopes and telephoto camera lenses.
- You are probably too close if animals are looking at you with heads up and ears pointed toward you; are nervous; or are "jumpy" when you move or make a noise. If you see these signs, sit quietly, or move slowly away until the behavior changes.
- Move slowly and casually, not directly AT the wildlife.
- Allow them to keep you in view, don't sneak up and surprise them.
- Most animals rely on their eyesight and sense of smell to keep them from danger.
Never chase wildlife.
- Don't follow them or behave in any way that might be seen as "harassment," which is unlawful.
Limit the time you spend with the animals.
- Use the animals' behavior as a guide.
- Please respect the space of others who may be viewing the same wildlife.
At least 59 mammal species have been documented on OSMP. The area provides a haven for many species as precious habitat shrinks with increasing development of surrounding areas. Several species of bats hibernate and roost in the area and help to keep insect populations in check.
Some of our most frequently seen mammals include:
- mule deer
- golden-mantled ground squirrel
- Colorado chipmunk
- deer mouse
- fox squirrel
- pine squirrel
- rock squirrel
- striped skunk
- Abert's or tassel-eared squirrel
Occasionally, visitors are fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of (or hear!) such species as:
- red fox
- white-tail deer
- yellow-bellied marmot
- long-tailed weasel
Rarely seen are the secretive bobcat, mountain lion, and black bear.
The world's only flying mammals are right here in Boulder. They appear at dusk over ponds and waterways to drink and forage. Most people are entirely unaware of their presence, much less their benefits to the ecosystem. The rich ecosystems of OSMP are a great place to be a bat! The rock formations of the famous Flatirons create nooks and crannies that provide just the right combination of warmth and air flow into which the bats comfortably wedge themselves.
Boulder County is home to 11 different species of bats, one-quarter of all the bat species present in the U.S. The diversity and richness of species here is magnificent and offers alert visitors a chance to observe bats around dusk as they flutter through the plains and canyons.
Townsend's Big Eared Bat, which occurs in the Boulder area, is a sensitive species in need of immediate protection. Only eleven breeding colonies are known in Colorado; two of them are on OSMP.
Seasonal wildlife closures protect this and other species.
Reptiles and Amphibians
OSMP is fortunate to have a good representation of "herptiles"--the reptiles and amphibians.
Our most well-known reptile is the venomous prairie rattlesnake. Although it is feared by many, the prairie rattlesnake is an important part of the food chain. The prairie rattlesnake is frequently confused with the harmless bullsnake, but the bullsnake does not have rattles and is generally larger. By mimicking the coloration and behavior of the rattlesnake, the bullsnake discourages predators. The beautiful (and harmless) milksnake is also present on OSMP; it sports red, black and yellow bands that resemble the colors of the venomous coral snake, but coral snakes are not found in Colorado.
Sawhill Ponds is a great place to glimpse turtles sunning themselves and provides marvelous habitat for OSMP's amphibians--the frogs, toads, and salamanders.
Visit OSMP's Osprey Cam page during the spring and summer months to check in on a nesting osprey pair.
More than 100 species of breeding birds have been reported on OSMP. Many of OSMP's bird species are migratory, flying northward from Mexico and Central America along the base of the mountains in the spring, and returning south in the fall. Many remain throughout the year, although some may move from plains to the mountains during breeding season.
Year-round residents include:
- black-billed magpie
- Steller's jay
- mountain and black-capped chickadee
- pygmy nuthatch
- red- and white-breasted nuthatch
- pine siskin
- evening grosbeak
- brown creeper
- canyon wren
- great horned owl
- northern flicker
- common raven
- American robin
- American crow
- dark-eyed junco
Summer visitors include:
- broad-tailed hummingbird
- western wood-peewee
- mountain bluebird
- yellow-rumped warbler
- western tanager
- spotted towhee
Winter visitors include:
- cedar waxwing
- bald eagle
- rough-legged hawk
- ferruginous hawk
The insect world is incredibly rich and diverse. Here you will find the tiny Gaillardia Moth, an insect whose red head and yellow body match the colors of the gaillardia or blanket flower. The butterflies present in the summer bring as much color to the meadows and hillsides as the wildflowers. Look for Spring Azures, tiny radiantly blue butterflies that gather around puddles in early summer, making hikers wary of misplaced footsteps. The summer breezes are filled with orange and black checkered fritillaries, monarchs, and brown eye spotted wood nymphs, and yellow and black swallowtails soar in command of the air. As you hike on Chautauqua Meadow trails, watch for a praying mantis' slow but deliberate stalking of prey, spittle bugs froth on plant stems, and dragonflies patrolling clearings hoping to snatch a careless mosquito. Listen, too, for the sounds of cicadas filling a forest with their chatter. From jumbo bumble bees bullying their way into flowers to caterpillars building silken condos in the chokecherry bushes, the mysteries of Open Space and Mountain Parks insects await the curious and observant.