Wildlife & Habitat

Birds landing in a marsh

Water is the lifeblood of the San Luis Valley. The runoff from the surrounding mountains and ground water flows are crucial to the many land uses in the Valley. These conditions create a network of riparian corridors and wetlands that break up large expanses of desert and upland habitats, resulting in high plant diversity. This combination of habitats creates tremendous foraging and nesting opportunities for a variety of bird species. Among these are many species of ducks and geese as well as sora, Virginia rail, white-faced ibis, American avocet, Wilson’s snipe, and Wilson’s phalarope. 

 

Wetlands


Wetlands are wet meadows, seasonal wetlands, and semipermanent wetlands. Irrigation practices on private and public lands sup¬port most of these wetlands. The wet meadows are critical roosting and foraging areas for the Rocky Mountain population of greater sandhill cranes, which migrate through the valley in the spring and fall. Wet meadows also provide habitat for a variety of regionally rare or unusual amphibian species, such as northern leopard frog and Plains spadefoot toad.

The seasonal and semipermanent wetlands typically have standing water throughout the growing season. Water in these areas is often deeper than 1 foot. Semipermanent wetlands have substantial areas of open water with aquatic vegetation beds, and are often fringed by plants such as bulrush and cattails. Swimming birds, including grebes, coots, and waterfowl, as well as swallows and terns, use open water areas for foraging.

The bulrush and cattails provide breeding habitat for diving and dabbling ducks and Canada geese. American bitterns, snowy and cattle egrets, black-crowned night-herons, white-faced ibis, and marsh songbirds, such as marsh wrens, common yellowthroats, and yellow-headed blackbirds, also use the bulrush and cattails for nesting. Northern harriers and short-eared owls will also nest in older patches of this tall vegetation.


 

Uplands


Uplands are the most common natural vegetation on the San Luis Valley floor. Many of the plants are drought resistant and tolerant of high soil salinity. Native plants such as rubber rabbitbrush, greasewood, fourwing saltbush, shadscale, and winterfat are some that are found in this habitat. Also present are yucca, cactus, and various grasses. Grasses in these areas include Indian ricegrass, alkali sacaton, western wheat grass, and blue grama. Species common to the shrublands include the horned lark, mourning dove, western meadowlark, and loggerhead shrike. Grassland areas support grassland-dependent species such as burrowing owl, long-billed curlew, and a variety of sparrows.