Where to See More Desert Wildlife

Spot lizards, wrens, and javelinas in the desert Southwest with these tips.
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Spot lizards, wrens, and javelinas in the desert Southwest with these tips.

Far from barren, the sunburnt Southwest teems with life. But because so many desert animals are nocturnal, cautious, and better camouflaged than a Green Beret, observing them is a challenge. Luckily, these species stand out, thanks to their bright colors, pungent odors, and melodic songs.

Mojave black-collared lizard

A large-headed, plump, 13-inch reptile with smooth tan and black scales.

[Display] The males' vivid markings–dual black neck rings, orange stripes–stand out from the landscape, and help attract females.

[Habitat] Found in washes from Arizona's Sonoran Desert to the cooler, more northern Great Basin Desert.

[Survival] Cold-blooded, it sunbathes on rocks until it's warm enough to hunt. Can detach tail if caught.

[Signs] Perches on small rocks, or near holes for a fast retreat.

Javelina

Hoofed mammal resembling a pig. Stands knee-high with a faint white collar and dark gray coat.

[Display] Emits a skunk-like odor from rump glands to mark territories and distinguish herds.

[Habitat] Forages during daylight in dry Chihuahuan and Sonoran Desert washes.

[Survival] Unable to pant or sweat, they escape heat under overhangs or heavy brush.

[Signs] Drops piles of disc-like scat to mark territory. If alarmed, they let out a grunting cough. Often forage in groups of 5 to 15 in areas with prickly pear cacti.

Canyon wren

A palm-sized, rust-colored bird with a gray head, white throat, and long, curved bill.

[Display] Listen for the male's cascade of whistles–which reverberate off rocky walls.

[Habitat] Seeks protection and shade inside canyons ranging from Mexico to southern British Columbia.

[Survival] Doesn't drink water, but ingests moisture from the bodies of insects and spiders it plucks from cliff crevices.

[Signs] Mating pairs forage together, sing spontaneously in winter, and build cup-shaped nests on cliff ledges.