Oregon's Native Animal Species: Intriguing and Inspiring
A post from an Oregon Wild intern on native wildlife.
The animal species roaming Oregon’s lands range from the iconic, the gray wolf and northern spotted owl, to the obscure, the Malone jumping slug, which is endemic to the Columbia Gorge and Mount Hood Wilderness. As varied as the species are, they all share one thing in common: they depend on the forests, waters, and wilderness of our state.
This winter I began an internship with Oregon Wild and thus far, the focus of my work has been researching and writing about some of Oregon’s native animal species. I have spent the majority of my time learning about the osprey, American pika, and California condor, three diverse and compelling animals. The osprey is a raptor that lives near lakes, estuaries, and rivers, and derives 99% of its diet from fish. The American pika is a small, furry cousin of the rabbit, who, despite its diminutive stature, is a mighty warrior of alpine environments, happily making its home at altitudes of 8,000 to 13,000 feet. The California condor is the largest land bird in North America, with a wingspan of 9-10 feet, and it flies across large swathes of land, up to 150 miles a day, scavenging for food.
Beyond being current or former inhabitants of Oregon, another common thread running through the stories of the osprey, American pika, and California condor, as well as Oregon’s other species, is that they are all directly impacted and threatened by our actions. From the 1950’s to the 1970’s, osprey populations dwindled due to the accumulation of DDE, a derivative of the pesticide DDT, in their bodies, which led to the thinning and breaking of their eggshells. Since the ban on DDT in 1972, osprey populations have regained strength, but the species remains threatened by toxic water pollution, which increases in concentration as it moves up the food chain leading to biomagnification of the toxins in ospreys. The American pika is threatened by warming temperatures due to climate change; pikas exist in a very limited range, at the top of high mountains, and as temperatures increase, many will have no where to go.
The California condor once occupied a range from British Columbia, Canada to Mexico, but with the arrival of settlers to the West the population began to decline from high mortality caused by poisoning, pollution, habitat development, and shooting, coupled with the condors’ low reproductive rate. By 1987 there were only 22 California condors remaining worldwide. Captive breeding programs have bolstered the population to roughly 330 birds, with 130 in the wild, but the condors continue to face the same threats that led to their decline, and are only found in parts of southern California and northern Arizona/southern Utah.
The stories of these species’ battles to survive the human gauntlet have touched me, as have the unique qualities and quirks of these critters; I have been surprised at how easily I can relate to their behavior. Pikas, despite their small size, are fiercely protective of their dens and will issue a sharp call to warn their relatives of danger. Ospreys mate for life and after migrating, return to the same snag to roost and nest year after year. California condors also find a mate for life, and put a remarkable amount of investment into their offspring: devoting up to two years to raise a single chick. Additionally, California condors are extremely inquisitive and intelligent; they often engage in games of tug-of-war and fetch with each other.
Both the immediate threat our actions pose to these species, as well as my ability to relate to them, have made them leave a mark on my consciousness. Learning about the animals of our state puts many a furry, slimy, and beaked face to the story of our fight for the environment, and provides unquantifiable inspiration to keep working towards our goals of a more harmonious coexistence with our natural world. Visiting Oregon Wild’s wildlife pages or simply learning more about a species of interest, can provide a renewed burst of motivation to lend a hand in the fight to protect Oregon’s forests, waters, and wilderness, as well as motivate each of us to continue doing our best to reduce our negative impact on the environment, which increases the chance that these species will be able to survive and thrive in our state.
Photos Courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Arizona Game Department