Carlsbad Caverns National Park’s cave-dwelling wildlife run the gamut from microscopic organisms to birds and bats that roost on high upon the cavern walls. The above-ground areas of the park are one of the few places in North America where the Chihuahuan Desert is protected. Desert scrubland is home to a variety of wildlife, from elk and deer to javelina.
Mexican Free-Tailed Bat
The Mexican (sometimes called Brazilian) free-tailed bat is the park’s most famous animal resident. This is due in large part to their amazing outflghts from Carlsbad Cavern, which occur nightly from April through mid-October. The bats come spiraling out of the cave flying in a counter-clockwise direction about 28 minutes after sunset to feed on insects, which they hunt by echolocation. Tourists watching from the amphitheater can hear the noise made by the bats’ wings, and even smell them as the giant colony flies into the night.
Of Carlsbad Caverns National Park’s 357 recorded bird species, perhaps none is more celebrated than the cave swallow. This migratory visitor to the park builds mud nests in the entrance to Carlsbad Cavern from early February to late October. Visitors can see them swooping and diving around the mouth of the cave, where they hunt insects in flight.
The cave swallows, which are closely related to cliff-dwelling North American swallow species, have been the subject of an extensive research project in Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Since 1980, more than 5,000 volunteers have banded cave swallows in the park in an effort to study their lives and migration patterns. The program was started by a local researcher, Steve West.
A breed of New World pigs called javelina — also known as collared peccary, or colloquially, skunk pig, for their pungent odor — were successfully reintroduced to Carlsbad Caverns National Park after a period of extirpation (local extinction) due to habitat loss. Historically, these pigs were hunted for their hides, and continue to be hunted for sport in some parts of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. In Carlsbad Caverns National Park, look for them early in the morning near water in the park’s riparian regions.