Breckenridge Wildlife Guide - Breckenridge, Colorado

Breckenridge Wildlife Guide

Whether you’re a visitor or local, what makes Breckenridge so special is the wildness of our home. While you’re in Breckenridge, you may see animals like moose, mountain goats, foxes and bears. In most situations, people and wildlife can coexist, and most wild animals are harmless if left alone. We understand how exciting it is to see wildlife and it’s ok to take a few photos from a distance without disturbing them. Help us care for Colorado by practicing responsible tourism not only for the safety of our environment and its creatures, but also for us and generations to come. Here’s our guide to common Breckenridge Wildlife and tips on how to live with them safely.

 

Wildlife Dos and Don’ts

Mountain Goat on scree on Quandary Hiking Trail in Breckenridge
Mountain goats are a common sighting on the Quandary Peak ascent.
  • Colorado is home to tens of thousands of furry, scaly and feathered creatures. To keep them – and you – safe, don’t approach, chase, follow, surround or feed them, and always observe from a distance. Would you want a bunch of strangers surrounding you?
    Wildlife Tip:
    If the animal notices your presence, doesn’t have an escape route or changes its behavior, you are too close!
  • It’s not adorable to feed wild animals. You could alter natural behaviors, exposing them to predators or even euthanasia. This includes inadvertent feeding- learn about your housing or rental property’s trash regulations and dispose of waste and food items properly to avoid unwanted visitors.
  • Keep your furry buddies leashed when enjoying dog-friendly trails, and pack out their waste all the way to a trashcan. Your dog may be well trained, but any animal can be  unpredictable in wildlife territory.
    Wildlife Tip: Many wild animals feel threatened by dogs, especially moose. This can cause stress to the animal or trigger an attack.
  • Explore with a buddy– it’s never a bad idea.
    Wildlife Tip: It’s not uncommon for humans and wild animals to startle each other. Always expect the unexpected, have a plan, and be aware of your surroundings.
  • Think about your safety and the safety of others. Don’t just pull over on the side of the road to view wildlife, and don’t get on the edge of a cliff to take a photo. Be smart!
  • Enjoy it! If you’re lucky enough to see a wild animal, take in the moment. You did come to Breckenridge for the beauty of nature, right?

LEARN MORE

 

Common Wildlife in Breckenridge

Moose

A female moose and her calf while snow is falling in winter.
A female moose and her calf in winter.

Fast facts: Moose are Colorado’s largest animal with adults weighing around 800 to 1,200 pounds. Bulls (full-grown males) stand up to 6 feet at the shoulder and grow antlers reaching up to 5 feet wide. Moose have thick, dark brown coats with large heads, long legs and a “bell” that hangs from their neck.

Common habitat: The word “moose” comes from the Algonquin Native American word meaning “eater of twigs,” so they are typically found where brush and willows are abundant. Because moose have such long legs, it allows them to traverse through deep winter snows and thick riparian habitats (streams, rivers and lakes). In spite of their size, they often go unnoticed as they spend a great deal of time in heavy, dark cover in willow bottoms and forests.

How to adventure safely: Although moose are herbivores (plant eaters) and may seem docile and calm, they are actually some of the most dangerous animals in Colorado. Moose can be territorial and aggressive, especially during these times of year:

  • Spring- when mothers have recently given birth and are protecting their calves
  • Fall- when males are looking to breed and are competitive
  • Winter- when moose are tired from trudging through deep snow and are in starvation mode from lack of food sources

To keep moose – and you – safe, don’t approach, chase, follow, surround or feed them, and always observe from a distance. Because moose are masters of camouflage, you may not notice one until it’s right in front of you. You will typically hear a moose rustling in the brush before you see one- they aren’t the most graceful creatures. In the event of a confrontation with an agitated moose that begins to charge, Colorado Parks & Wildlife advises people to run or move away as fast as possible and try to put a large object between them and the moose, such as a boulder or tree. Here’s how to tell if a moose is agitated and may become aggressive:

  • The moose stops eating and stares at you
  • Smacks its lips, licks its nostrils or clicks its teeth
  • Lowers its head and walks toward you
  • Lays back its ears or raises the hair on its neck or hips
  • Urinates
  • Shows the whites of its eyes
  • Cocks its head back like a horse

Learn more about living with moose in Breckenridge.

Red Fox

Red fox and babies in Breckenridge.
Foxes are some of the most commonly seen wildlife in Breckenridge.

Fast facts: The red fox is a member of the canine family, which includes wolves, coyotes, and domestic dogs. They have a great sense of smell, excellent hearing, are good swimmers and can run at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour. Adults typically weigh around 8-15 pounds, and are roughly 3-4 feet long. Despite the name, red foxes can also be shades of orange, blonde and grey in color depending on location and time of year. They almost always have a white-tipped tail and black-tipped ears. Foxes are opportunistic omnivores and are skilled predators and scavengers, and are most active at dawn and dusk.

Common habitat: Red foxes can be found in most habitats in Colorado. They are common in open woodlands, pasturelands, riparian areas and agricultural lands. They can also be found in urbanized areas. You may even see one trotting confidently along the road in town or playing with their young around Breckenridge!

How to adventure safely: Foxes in Breckenridge are typically unafraid of humans and can be bold due to their association of humans with food. Although foxes are cute, please do not feed them!  Be sure to always secure garbage in wildlife-proof containers- improperly stored trash makes for an easy meal for these scavengers. Because foxes are carnivores, be sure to watch your smaller pets to prevent any attacks.

Learn more about how feeding wildlife does more harm than good.

 

Black Bears

Fast facts: Despite the name, black bears can also be brown, cinnamon or even blonde colored, and are not to be confused with their northern cousins, the grizzly, which no longer live in Colorado. Black bears can be five to six feet long and can weigh up to 600 pounds. They have stalky bodies with short, powerful legs that allow them to climb trees by gripping the trunk with claws on their paws. They are fast and can easily outrun a person.

Common habitat: Although black bears are extremely adaptable, they are primarily found in forested areas with an abundance of fruits, nuts, and vegetation, which make up most of their diet. In the Rocky Mountains, most bears are active from mid-March through early November. When food sources dwindle they head for winter dens and hibernate until spring, which means during late summer and early fall, bears need to consume 20,000 calories a day to survive through the winter. Although they are hard to spot, Black Bears come out of hibernation March-May in the high country when food options like berries and plants become more available.

How to adventure safely: Black bears are naturally shy and wary of people and other unfamiliar things. Their normal response to any perceived danger is to run away. Bears themselves don’t typically pose a direct threat to humans- we actually pose more of a threat to them. One of the biggest dangers for bears is human food, which when stored improperly can attract them, changing their feeding habits, thus creating a danger for humans. Bears are curious and intelligent, so they will explore all possible food sources and will come back for more if they find it. Bears that become aggressive in their pursuit of an easy meal must often be euthanized. Every time the authorities destroy a bear, it’s not just the bear that loses. We all lose a little piece of the wildness that makes Colorado so special. Easy ways to avoid a bear encounter:

  • Dispose of your trash properly.
  • Keep dogs leashed and small children close.
  • Be alert when hitting the trails and make noise as you hike.

Learn more about living with bears in Breckenridge.

Usually bears will hear or smell you and leave long before you see them. Here’s what to do if you surprise a bear on the trail or it won’t leave:

  • Stand still, stay calm and let the bear identify you and leave. Talk in a normal tone of voice. If it doesn’t leave, wave your arms slowly overhead and talk calmly. If the bear huffs, pops it jaws or stomps a paw, it wants you to give it space. 
  • Be sure the bear has an escape route. 
  • Never run or climb a tree. If you see cubs, their mother is usually close by. Leave the area immediately.

Learn more about hiking and camping in bear country.

 

Mountain Goats

Mountain goats shedding their undercoats in the summer.
Mountain goats shed their undercoat in the summer.

Fast facts: Mountain goats are skilled alpine climbers and range about 5 feet long and can weigh around 250 pounds. Despite the name, they are actually members of the antelope family. Commonly mistaken for bighorn sheep, they look very different side by side. Mountain goats have shaggy white wool coats with a double layer for staying warm in high alpine environments and during the winter. In the summer, the coat sheds off. Both sexes have sharp black horns, ranging 6-12 inches long. Bighorn sheep are tan in color with large, rounded horns.

Common habitat: Mountain goats are typically found at high elevations in mountain ranges, and rarely venture below treeline. They are herbivores and eat mostly grasses, mosses, lichens and shrubs, and tend to eat more broad-leafed plants than bighorn sheep. You may spot one if you’re hiking above treeline on trails like Mt. Quandary or McCullough Gulch.

How to adventure safely: While mountain goats are relatively harmless to humans, they can still charge if feel threatened. You’ll find that mountain goats are unafraid of humans and while on the trails, they may just stop and check you out for a while. Stay at a safe distance, and never feed them or allow them to lick your skin or backpack. Although they’re cute and don’t necessarily mind the presence of people at a distance, never surround, crowd, chase or follow a mountain goat. A selfie isn’t worth putting stress on our Colorado wildlife.

Because mountain goats inhabit many of Breckenridge’s recreational trails, it’s important to Leave no Trace, and keep wildlife wild when we’re in their territory.

 

Elk

Fast facts: Elk, also known as “wapiti” are the largest of Colorado’s native deer. They range from seven to nine feet long, have short tails, and full-grown males can can weigh up to 900 pounds. Elk are tan or light brown in color, with a yellowish rump and a darker mane on the shoulders. Mature males have large antlers, typically with six tines branching from each beam.”Elk” is the common name in the U.S., however wapiti is the preferred name in the rest of the world. Elsewhere in the world “elk” refers to the animal we call moose. In Eurasia it is known as the red deer. Whatever we choose to call it, this is an important and impressive species in Colorado.

Common habitat: Elk range throughout mountainous parts of the state, foraging in meadows and alpine tundra. They are herd animals, sometimes moving in groups of several hundred individuals. Elk are grazers, meaning they eat mostly grasses. In the summer, their diet may be 80 to 90 percent grasses, and in winter, bark, twigs and shrubs contribute to half of their diet. Elk mating season in in the fall- you may be able to hear the unique bugle (mating call) of a bull elk trying to find a match throughout September.

How to adventure safely: Just like with all wild animals, keep your distance and don’t feed them. If you’re heading to Rocky Mountain National Park, be sure you know the rules. Elk are easily viewable when left undisturbed. If your presence causes the elk to move away, then you are too close. Within the park, you may be cited for harassment of wildlife if your actions affect the behavior of an animal in any way. Don’t forget your telephoto camera lens and enjoy your not-too-close encounter with Colorado’s native elk!

 

Coyotes

Fast facts: Coyotes are a member of the canine family and are commonly mistaken for wolves. Although the coloring and features are similar, coyotes are much smaller than wolves or large dogs, but are larger than a fox. They weigh around 30-40 pounds, and are usually about four feet in length with a full, black-tipped tail. Coyotes are typically greyish white in color, however coloration varies depending on location and time of year. Due to alleged attacks on livestock, there was a large extermination effort and bounties were paid on almost 2 million coyotes in the United States between 1915 and 1947.

Common habitat: Coyotes can live just about everywhere in Colorado depending on food source availability. They are omnivorous, and eat plants and meat such as birds, eggs, small rodents, carrion and occasional insects and fruit- basically, they’ll eat anything.

How to adventure safely: The coyote is an intelligent predator that has adapted to living in close proximity to humans. They have been known to be bold, get into trash, attack pets and approach people too closely. Here’s what you can do to avoid a coyote confrontation:

  • Remove attractants from your yard, including pet food, water sources, bird feeders, and fallen fruit. Secure trash in a container with a locking lid or put trash out on the morning of pick up, and never feed them.
  • Keep pets on a leash or within close view.

Learn more about living with coyotes in Breckenridge.

 

Other Breckenridge wildlife you might see

Deer

A Mule Deer amongst the wildflowers in Breckenridge.
A Mule Deer amongst the wildflowers in Breckenridge.

There are two species of deer in Colorado- mule deer and white-tailed deer. Mule deer have rope-like tails, evenly forked antlers and large ears. White-tails have smaller ears, antlers with a single main beam bearing smaller tines, and of course, white tails. Both species are around four to six feet long and large bucks can weigh over 400 pounds. Adult males begin to grow antlers in spring, and are used for dominance and breeding rights in autumn. Antlers are then shed in winter.

  • Tip: Be cautious driving throughout areas in and around Breckenridge at dawn and dusk when deer are most active.

Help deer, don’t feed them.

Beaver

Beaver swimming in the water
Beavers spend much of their time in and around lakes, streams and ponds.

Beavers are the largest rodents native to North America, and can be found in ponds, streams and rivers with an abundance of trees in and around Breckenridge year round. They measure more than three feet in length, weigh up to 55 pounds, and have a broad, flat tail and webbed feet for swimming. They feed on branches, leaves and bark of trees, and can easily fell a 5-inch diameter tree for their dams. No mammal other than humans has as great of an impact on its surroundings, and have been given the term “keystone species” in riparian communities, meaning without them the ecosystem would change drastically.

As abundant and important as they are to our environment today, it’s hard to believe that they were once on the verge of extinction and trapped for their fur to make hats. By the mid-19th century, silk hats replaced fur ones, which may have saved the beaver and helped shape much of Breckenridge’s landscapes over time.

Porcupine

The porcupine is second in size only to the beaver among Colorado rodents. They are around 30 inches long, of which 1/3 of its body is tail. The quills of a porcupine can reach around 4 inches long, and a single animal can have anywhere from 15,000 to 30,000 quills. Porcupines will spin quickly if they feel threatened, slapping their tail, though cannot throw their quills as many people think. Each quill is sharp with barbed hooks that can puncture any human or animal that comes within striking distance.

Porcupines tend to hang out in wooded and brushy habitats with lots of trees. Most of their diet in the summer consists of herbs, while in the winter months they tend to eat mainly tree bark.

American Pika

The pika looks like a large chipmunk, and is a close relative of the rabbit. Pikas are mainly found in high alpine areas and scurry around the mountainside through boulder fields- they are seldom seen until their high-pitched squeaks reveal their presence. Pikas are active year-round, and harvest vegetation from alpine meadows during the short summer growing season and store it in their dens beneath boulders for winter. You may hear a few on your summer hikes above treeline in Breckenridge!

Bighorn Sheep

Colorado is home to the largest population of bighorn sheep anywhere in the world. These large animals are five to six feet long, and rams (adult males) can weigh 150-250 pounds, while ewes (adult females) are around 120-200 pounds. Their massive, curled horns are their main identifier, and their coloring is typically grayish brown with a white rump. Bighorns usually stay in high mountain terrain, and rams stay segregated from ewes until mating season (the rut) where they will often battle one another for dominance.

Bighorn sheep are herbivorous grazers, feeding in meadows, open woodland and alpine tundra. They will occasionally eat herbaceous plants in the summer and browse in the winter.

Lynx

Lynx are not commonly seen by humans- they are known as the “silent predator,” and are not to be confused with the bobcat (although closely related). Lynx were thought to have disappeared from Colorado by 1973, but in 1999 a restoration program began and by 2005, over 200 were released into the wild. Soon after, lynx were expanding throughout the high country and beyond.

The lynx is a member of the feline family, and weighs about 20-30 pounds. They have pointy black tipped ears with long tufts, a black-tipped tail, a grayish coat and huge hind feet to help them travel across thick snow. They are most commonly found in dense subalpine forests, and prey on snowshoe hares, carrion, birds and small mammals.

Trout

Woman holding a rainbow trout
Fly-fishing is available year-round in Breckenridge.

Colorado is home to 5 different species of trout– the Rainbow, Cutthroat, Lake, Brook and Brown trout. Of these, the Cutthroat is the only native species to Colorado and well deserving of the state fish title. Rainbow trout are the most stocked fish in Colorado, and are identified by a reddish pink stripe running down the side of the fish with black spots. There are three native subspecies of cutthroat- the Greenback, Rio Grande and the Colorado River. Each can be identified by the red slash of color under their throat. The Brown has black spots and reddish orange spots inside of light blue circles. The Lake, or Mackinaw, has irregular white spots on their dark bodies and prefer deeper water. The Brook, or “Brookie” has a dark body, red and white spots within bluish circles, and the fins can be orange with black and white edges.

Want to try to compare them up close for yourself? Breckenridge is home to some of the best fly fishing waters in the state of Colorado! With numerous rivers, streams, and reservoirs all within an hour of downtown, there’s a destination to match nearly all interest and skill levels. Learn more about year-round fly fishing in Breckenridge.

 

Mountain Lion

Although mountain lions (also known as cougars, pumas or panthers) do live in Breckenridge, they are rarely seen. They are quiet, skilled predators that live in a wide range of habitats where there is adequate cover and ample prey like deer, elk and other mammals. They are Colorado’s largest cat- adults are more than six feet long with a black-tipped tail about 30 inches long. They weigh around 130 pounds or more, and their color is reddish tan with a lighter belly. Mountain lions are active year round and hunt by stealth, often pouncing on prey from above or behind without being noticed.

How to avoid a mountain lion encounter:

  • Don’t feed wildlife and store garbage properly- where prey goes, predators follow.
  • Keep a close eye on small children and pets while hiking or playing outdoor- roaming pets are easy prey and can attract predators.
  • Take extra precaution during dusk and dawn when mountain lions are most active, and make lots of noise during those times.

What to do if you meet a mountain lion:

  • Stay calm. Talk firmly to it and stop or back away slowly- do not run.  Do not turn your back or crouch down.
  • If a lion is aggressive or attacks you, fight back- throw stones, branches or whatever you can get your hands on.
  • Move slowly and try to appear larger by opening your jacket or getting on top of a stump or rock.

Learn more about living with mountain lions in Breckenridge.

 

Are there Wolves in Colorado?

The short answer: no. Although once distributed statewide, the gray wolf is now gone from Colorado. Wolves once fed on Colorado’s vast herds of bison, elk and deer, supplemented by rabbits, rodents and carrion. When market hunters decimated the wolves’ staple diet, their new food source turned to livestock and domestic animals. They were then eradicated by about 1940 by shooting, trapping and poisoning.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has restored gray wolves into Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico and Arizona. Although there has been debate about the reintroduction of wolves to Colorado, many believe it’s only a matter of time before wolves start migrating into Colorado from the north and south, though possible wolf sightings have been recorded throughout the years in Colorado.

 

Cucumber Gulch Wildlife Preserve

Cucumber Gulch in Breckenridge has been one of the main areas of focus for  the Town of Breckenridge since the inception of the Open Space program. The area, which contains 77 acres of wetlands, is one of the Town’s most treasured, yet threatened resources. It provides vital habitat for the state-endangered boreal toad, moose, elk, deer, mountain lion, beaver, and over 47 species of birds. It’s hard to believe that such a wildlife sanctuary exists within a mile of Breckenridge’s Main Street! Please take the time to enjoy Cucumber Gulch Preserve while respecting the area’s vulnerability.

 

Leave No Trace

Learn more about Leave No Trace ethics and how to care for Colorado.

By Breck Editorial

The Breckenridge Tourism Office works to enhance and promote the unique character and experience of Breckenridge as a world-renowned destination resort and to represent, serve and perpetuate the common interest and character of its membership and community.

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