Where to See More Desert Wildlife

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


Mojave Black-Collared Lizard, Gary Nafis


Javelina, Don Geyer

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.


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.