The most famous inhabitant of Joshua Tree National Park is probably the tree species for which it is named. Dubbed so by Mormon settlers because the uplifted trees’ limbs recalled a Biblical story where Joshua raises his arms to the sky in prayer, the Joshua tree is a member of the yucca family that is native to the American southwest. These trees flourish in the high Mojave Desert particularly in Queen Valley and Lost Horse Valley, but may be threatened by climate change and non-native species.
Joshua Tree National Park is home to more than 250 bird species, many of which stop at the park during their winter migrations. The desert’s lack of dense vegetation makes it easier to spot birds there than in other habitats. One bird that visitors can see at Joshua Tree all year long is the greater roadrunner. This speckled member of the cuckoo family is common to the western and southwestern United States and Mexico. When startled, it runs rather than flies, using its long tail to keep its balance. Its diet includes small reptiles, insects and other ground-dwelling birds.
Another bird to look for in the Mojave Desert is the ladder-backed woodpecker, which derives its name from the black-and-white bars that run horizontally up its back. Adult males of the species have a red crown, and can be spotted boring into large cacti, where it hunts for grubs. Cavities that these birds make in cacti also serve as nesting sites.
Desert Bighorn Sheep
Three herds of desert bighorn sheep live in Joshua Tree National Park. Visitors can see them at Eagle Mountain, Wonderland of the Rocks, and throughout the Little San Bernardino Mountains. While they prefer steep, rocky terrain like their mountain-dwelling cousins, these sheep are specially adapted to desert life. They have thinner coats and can go for days without water. In fact, on during particularly wet years, the sheep can get all the water that they require just from grass. However, ewes who are nursing lambs must drink every day.