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Cabeza Prieta
National Wildlife Refuge

1611 North Second Street
Ajo, AZ   85321
E-mail: Margot_Bissell@fws.gov
Phone Number: 520-387-6483
Visit the Refuge's Web Site:
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  Wildlife and Habitat

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Desert tortoises, inhabiting the east side of the refuge, become dormant in burrows during the hottest and coldest times of the year. In fact, almost three-quarters of all desert animals are burrowers. Temperatures fluctuate only two degrees just 18 inches below the surface. Kangaroo rats, pocket mice, ground squirrels, snakes, and badgers all find underground shelters.

The sun sets. The desert cools and a host of animals stir. Ringtail cats prowl. Coyote, kit fox, and gray fox all hunt for pocket mice and kangaroo rats. Eleven species of bats navigate starry skies far from city lights. The endangered lesser long-nosed bat feasts on saguaro flower nectar in spring and its fruit in summer, first pollinating then spreading the cactus seeds, before migrating east on their long journey to South America.

Light-colored fur helps mammals like mountain lions reflect, not soak in the heat. The scales of lizards help them deflect heat too. Perhaps most incredible are the built-in water saving abilities of many desert animals. Collared peccaries, also known as javelina, can decrease water evaporation from their body by 68 percent. Some of Cabeza Prieta NWR's bighorn sheep may go for weeks or months without visiting one of the refuge's water developments. The sheep draw some moisture from food and rainwater pooled in rocks and can lose up to 30 percent of their body weight. When water is plentiful, the bighorns quickly recover from dehydration. Cold-blooded reptiles like hot, dry climates. Lizards and snakes dash and slither throughout the refuge. Side-blotched lizards turn up just about everywhere. Basin whiptails brave the heat of the day in search of termites and other insects. Desert horned lizards hunt for ants in valleys and washes. Like something out of a science fiction movie, these lizards will defend themselves by squirting blood from their eye sockets.

At least 20 species of snakes live here, including six rattlesnake species, of which three are common. Three of those rattlesnake species are common. The sidewinder, recognized at once by its sideways locomotion and "horns" above its eyes, ranks as most abundant. The western diamondback rattlesnake, largest of the bunch, lives primarily in the lower hills. The Mojave rattlesnake possesses highly toxic venom and rarely rattles, even when disturbed.

Snakes would rather leave you alone, if you leave them alone. They play an important role as predators in the desert community. Before heading out, pick up information on snake bite prevention from the refuge office.

Birds have the distinct advantage of being able to fly to find desert water. You'll find the best birdwatching from February to May and August to November during migration. Look for warblers, swallows, flycatchers, and phoebes along vegetation-lined washes. Red-tailed hawks soar year-round. Coveys of Gambel's quail make the refuge their permanent home as well. Near Ajo, you'll find good birdwatching habitats within easy walking distance from your vehicle on the Camino del Diablo, at Papago Well, and at Tule Well.

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