While Grand Teton National Park is home to ospreys, bald and golden eagles, and hundreds of other bird species, it’s also notable as a year-round residence for trumpeter swans. These swans, which mate for life, are the largest waterfowl in the world, weighing in at 20 – 30 pounds. During winter months, the swans inhabit waterways kept unfrozen by thermal waters in the Greater Yellowstone area, subsisting on aquatic vegetation.
Historically, these isolated environs kept the population of swans that wintered high in the mountains safe from the hunting that had severely diminished their numbers elsewhere in the United States; by the early 1900s, the swans had nearly been hunted to extinction in North America, and faced further threats due to lead poisoning of their habitats. Conservation efforts in the 20th century have helped the swans bounce back overall, but the flocks that nest in the area of Grand Teton still only account for about 300 adults.
You’d think that relatively low number would make trumpeter swan pairs a rare sight, but they can be found in Grand Teton at Christian Pond, Two Ocean Lake, Oxbow Bend, Swan Lake, and on Flat Creek in the National Elk Refuge. Visitors should take care not to disturb the swans’ habitat, remaining on trails and admiring them from a distance of 100 yards.
Typically found near waterways, lakes and ponds, where they can be observed eating buds of willow and other trees, moose are the largest members of the deer family. However, the Shiras moose, a subspecies found in Grand Teton and other Rocky Mountain states, is the smallest of all moose. It is also known as the Yellowstone or Wyoming moose.
Unlike their cousins, elk and mule deer (also commonly found in Grand Teton), moose are solitary animals and do not form herds. Male moose, called bulls, grow broad, flat antlers that they use to spar with other males during mating season. Spot them from the roads and trails around Colter Bay, or in the Willow Flats, an extensive freshwater marsh between the bay and Jackson Lake Dam.
Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep
Bighorn sheep are uncommonly sighted in Grand Teton National Park, due mainly to the fact that they inhabit remote alpine regions that are not commonly frequented by visitors — unless they’re avid mountaineers. But should you be lucky enough to discover a herd of bighorn sheep in mating season, you might witness a dramatic display of head butting between competing rams.
Beavers are abundant in Grand Teton National Park, and can be observed in various lakes, ponds and waterways, including Oxbow Bend, Colter Bay and the Snake River. Like moose, beavers have a taste for willow buds, so they’re a common sight in the Willow Flats marshlands.
It was demand for beaver pelts that originally brought trappers westward, encouraging further exploration of the Rockies, Grand Teton and Yellowstone included. Unfortunately, beavers were so aggressively trapped that by the mid-19th century, they were eliminated from many of their original habitats. Fortunately, trap-and-transfer and habitat conservation policies restored the animals numbers by the 1940s.