Wildlife & Habitat

Deer and coyote cautiously drinking together on ice covered wildlife drinker.  Photo by refuge remote camera/USFWS

Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge is unique because four different kinds of biomes intersect on the refuge, including the Colorado Plateau Shrub Steppe, Great Plains Short Grass Prairie, the Chihuahuan Desert, and the Pinyon-Juniper Woodland.

A biome is a regional ecosystem with distinct types of vegetation, animals and microbes that have developed under specific soil and climatic conditions.  The result:  an area with a remarkable array of plant and animal life. 

The Colorado Plateau is a large geological slice of western North America, and reaches its southeastern limit on Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge.  The Colorado Plateau Shrub Steppe is one of the many biomes found within the Colorado Plateau and is a sparse, windswept environment; not quite desert, but definitely not forest.  The sagebrush, saltbush, and grasses of the shrub steppe thrive in conditions that few plants can survive, and support many different wildlife species. 

The Great Plains Short Grass Prairie has wide open spaces, sunshine, and acres of nutritious grasses and flowering plants – exactly what animals of the grassland need.  The Gunnison’s prairie dog is one of the main architects of the prairie.  They create elaborate underground burrows with long tunnels for hiding, nesting, and escaping extreme heat or cold.  Within the grassland, many ground-dwelling animals find shelter in the network of tunnels and burrows built by prairie dogs and also kangaroo rats.

The Chihuahuan Desert appears forbidding to humans, but this dramatic landscape is home to an amazing array of life.  Creosote bushes interspersed with yuccas, grasses, and cactus give this desert its characteristic appearance.

The Pinyon-Juniper Woodland supports two main tree species:  pinyon pine and one-seed juniper.  Both tree species provide high-quality food for wildlife throughout the year in the form of juniper berries and pinyon seeds.  This biome shelters and supports some of the area’s larger wildlife such as black bear and mountain lion.  

In addition, the Rio Grande flows through the center of the refuge creating an oasis along the river that plays a vital role within these mixed ecosystems.  Because the environments are so diverse, they attract and support a wide diversity of native species, including 251 species of birds, 80 species of mammals, 58 species of reptiles, 15 species of amphibians, and more than 1,200 species of plants. 

The more commonly seen wildlife on the refuge includes mule deer, coyotes, pronghorns, snakes, lizards, and many different types of birds.