Santa Clara Valley's open spaces are home to a variety of iconic California plants and wildlife. Learn more below.
The bigberry manzanita is a large shrub or small tree with green-grey, oval leaves and shiny, mahogany-colored bark that is smooth to the touch. This evergreen plant is extremely drought tolerant, and looks green even during hot, dry, California summers. In the winter and early spring, it produces bunches of small, white, bell-shaped flowers that droop downwards in clusters. These flowers provide nectar for hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees. You can find this plant at the Rancho Cañada del Oro Open Space Preserve.
They grow especially well between big rocks and boulders
Bigberry manzanitas don’t begin to produce their namesake fruit until they are around 20 years old
The manzanita’s berries are edible; some people make jelly or cider from them
This native tree gets its name from its huge, 5-lobed leaves that are 7-14 inches in diameter! Bigleaf maple leaves are smooth and lush green on the surface with a paler green color underneath. If autumn temperatures get cold enough, the leaves turn a reddish yellow before dropping off for the winter. The trees themselves grow from 25 to 80 feet tall. The tree’s seeds provide food for rodents and birds, while elk and deer eat the leaves, twigs, and saplings. You can most likely find bigleaf maples on Open Space Authority preserves near streams and creeks.
While this tree prefers rich, moist soils, it can also grow on foothills and rocky slopes
They begin producing seeds when they are about 10 years old
The bigleaf maple is a main source of hardwood lumber. People use its wood for furniture, flooring, musical instruments and more
The California bay laurel is an evergreen tree native to the coastal forests of our state, although they can occupy a diverse range of habitats. Its leaves are smooth, long, oblong shapes that give off a peppery smell when crushed. In the late winter and early spring, they produce tiny white or yellow flowers. Deer especially use its leaves and twigs for food, although many other species of mammals and birds use these trees for shelter and nesting. California bay laurels can be found as either small shrubs or tall trees that grow between 20 and 60 feet tall.
The bay laurel is from the same plant family as the avocado
The largest California bay laurel specimens reported can grow to 100 feet
The bay leaf is often used by people as a cooking spice in a variety of cuisines
The California buckeye is a native tree that grows in canyons, along riverbanks and streams, and on dry slopes. This species is known for its large, orange-brown seeds. Squirrels are the only wildlife that eat buckeye seeds, as they are toxic for every other animal. In the spring, the California buckeye produces many spikes of frilly white flowers that grow in clusters. Unlike the seeds that are toxic, these flowers attract hummingbirds and butterflies, and its tender, dark green leaves are eaten by some species of wildlife and livestock.
The California buckeye is the only buckeye species native to this state
The tree’s flower clusters can grow to be 6 inches long
Some Native American tribes occasionally used buckeye seeds for food, but not before a lengthy process of removing the shell and pounding the seeds to make them safe for consumption
Coast live oak is one of several species of native oaks found in the Santa Clara Valley. They can grow more than 40 feet tall with thick horizontal branches. The curled leaves are a dark, waxy green, with small barbs; The flip side has gray or golden fuzz. Their acorns — which are about 2 inches long and smooth — feed a variety of birds such as woodpeckers and scrub jays and mammals including deer and squirrels. Their thick bark provides some protection from fires. Coast live oak trees are found from Mendocino County to Mexico along the coast range, where they receive more precipitation than farther inland. They are found in all Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority preserves.
Coast live oaks are evergreen — they keep their leaves all year
An individual tree can live more than 200 years
Acorns were a staple food of the native Costanoans, who ground acorns into flour to make bread and other foods
Coyote brush is a common chaparral or coastal scrub plant, found through parts of California, Oregon, New Mexico and northern Mexico. One plant is rarely found growing alone, as you’ll see if you visit Coyote Valley or Rancho Cañada del Oro open space preserves. It is an evergreen shrub (keeps its leaves all year) that usually grows 3 to 6 feet high. It has small creamy white flowers that blossom between September and November. They attract a variety of insects including wasps, butterflies, and bees. It provides cover for a variety of small mammals such as rabbits and birds. Although coyote brush is resilient, much of its habitat has been affected by agriculture and urban development.
It has lightweight seeds, which can establish on soils disturbed by humans or fire
Coyote brush are supported by a taproot, or descending root, that can bury more than 10 feet down
Poison oak is commonly found growing near coyote brush — watch where you step and what you touch
Elderberry is a native shrub that is a key source of food — and vitamin C — for deer, squirrels, the western bluebird, Steller’s jay and a variety of other wildlife. It has bright green, elongated and serrated leaves and cream-colored hand-sized clusters of blossoms, which appear in the spring. Its berries form tight clusters and are only edible when they ripen and turn blue. Native Americans dried ripe elderberries and cooked them into a sauce. The berries were also used as a dye, as medicine and the wood was made into baskets, arrows, and musical instruments. Elderberry is found on sunny sites near waterways throughout the western United States including in Sierra Vista and Rancho Cañada del Oro open space preserves.
Animals and birds who eat elderberries disperse the seeds, supporting its survival
It grows from 4 to more than 15 feet high
Beware: unripe fruits are highly toxic
“Leaves of three, let it be!” Pacific poison oak is a native shrub or vine that grows in forests, woodlands, and grasslands. It belongs to the same family as poison ivy and poison sumac, which are found in other parts of the United States. You can spot poison oak by its glossy leaflets that grow in threes and may be green or red, depending on the season.
Although the plant loses its leaves in the fall, their bare stems still contain the oil that causes allergic reactions - so be careful!
Poison oak plants can grow up to six feet tall
Touching the plant causes an itchy rash that usually appears one to six days after contact, and in most cases goes away after a few weeks
With muted green leaves, sagebrush is a widespread chaparral plant (or shrub plant) in the Santa Clara Valley and is particularly prominent in the Sierra Vista Open Space Preserve. If you think you spy sagebrush but aren’t sure, rub its soft, thread-like leaves gently – it has a distinctive aroma made by a chemical that is thought to keep other plants from sprouting too close. That same chemical also makes it a highly flammable plant. Sagebrush supports many birds and mammals including sparrows and rabbits. It is found from the North Bay to Mexico along the coast range. Its small, pale yellow flowers appear in the late summer or fall. It has thin, shallow roots, which can capture early winter rains to grow quickly.
California sagebrush is more closely related to sunflowers than to some other types of sage
Sagebrush can grow from 2 to more than 4 feet high
Native Americans used sagebrush for a variety of medicinal uses, including to rub on irritated teeth to relieve pain and for breathing difficulties
Western sycamores are found from north of the Bay Area to Baja California, primarily in or near the coast range. It is a tall tree and can extend more than 70-feet high. Its bark is mottled grey, white, and tan and branches extend at erratic angles. It needs more water than other trees, so it is commonly found beside creeks or wetlands. A good place for viewing is Rancho Cañada del Oro Open Space Preserve. In April, its small reddish flowers appear. Interestingly, each tree has both male and female flowers. The female flowers mature into distinctive spiny ball-like fruits.
Its leaves support the caterpillars of Western tiger swallowtails
Sycamore leaves are big, with some extending nearly 10 inches across
California’s sycamore trees are vulnerable to extended drought and depend on the preservation of riparian habitat
With its distinctive red berries and dark green serrated leaves, toyon is easiest to identify in the winter, when many other plants have lost their leaves. The berries are favorite foods of birds including the California quail and the band-tailed pigeon. A shrub that is usually more than 4 feet high, toyon is found throughout California’s coast range and Sierra foothills, south to Baja California, and in all of Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority’s preserves. It has an extensive root system, which helps it survive long periods of drought and on unstable slopes. In the late summer, white blossoms appear, which are visited by native bees.
The word “toyon” is derived from an Ohlone word for the plant
In the absence of fire, a single toyon plant can live more than 100 years
Humans have long prized toyon’s cheerful contribution to the winter landscape with bright, red berries and dark green leaves. It has been used for decoration and both Native Americans and Spanish settlers enjoyed preparing and eating the berries. The berries are toxic in large quantities
The largest of all North American oaks, the valley oak can grow up to 100 feet tall. To survive, these trees need the Mediterranean climate of the Santa Clara Valley, where winters are wet and mild, and summers are hot and dry. A true California native, they are resistant to drought. Valley oaks are deciduous trees; you will see their leaves turn brownish-yellow in the autumn and then fall off. Valley oaks are essential to the Santa Clara Valley ecosystem. Their giant branches and trunks house many species of wildlife, such as birds, rodents, and bats. Ground squirrels, black-tailed deer, yellow-billed magpies, and many other animals eat their acorns.
Valley oaks, like other oak species, are tolerant of wildfires
The often-hollow trunks of valley oaks make dating them difficult, but age estimates of single trees range from 100 to over 500 years!
While valley oaks were once fertile in California valley floors, most have disappeared due to development
Named the California state grass in 2004, purple needlegrass is a key component of native grasslands. It is found along the California coast and in parts of the Sacramento Valley and the Sierra Nevada foothills. It’s prominent along the Llagas Creek Loop Trail in Rancho Cañada del Oro Open Space Preserve, where a prescribed burn about a decade ago helped support a native grassland. A perennial (which survives more than one year), purple needlegrass grows in bunches. It can out compete some invasive annual plants and tolerate a variety of soil types, including serpentine and clay soils. The fruit (which holds the seed) is purple when young and connected to a long, twisting appendage called an awn, which helps the seed bury into the soil to germinate.
Needlegrass roots extend more than a dozen feet below the surface, allowing it to survive periods with no rain
California’s native grasslands have shrunk drastically due to the introduction of invasive plants and development
Purple needlegrass can grow more than 3 feet high
Blazing star is a cheerful-looking wildflower that blooms in late spring. It grows well along rocky outcroppings, such as along the trails in Sierra Vista Open Space Preserve. Its flowers consist of five bright yellow petals surrounding centers full of stamen. One plant can grow up to a little over a foot tall and produce many flowers, which open in the afternoon sun.
Another name for the blazing star is evening star
Each flower can be three inches wide
You are likely to find these flowers at Sierra Vista and Rancho Cañada del Oro open space preserves from May to June
Blue-eyed grass grows throughout California. This plant produces flowers from January to July, but the best time to find them is March through May. Its small, 1-inch flowers have six blueish-purple petals and a yellow center. As the name suggests, blue-eyed grass has thin, grass-like leaves, but is technically not a grass species. It grows well in moisture and can be found in open, grassy areas as well as woodlands.
Blue-eyed grass belongs to the Iris family
Blue-eyed grass can grow up to 2 feet tall
While blue-eyed grass occurs naturally in open spaces, it is also easy to grow, and many people incorporate it in their gardens
Buttercups are easily identified by glossy, yellow flowers that have 9 to 17 petals each. Don’t let their tasty-sounding name fool you! – the buttercup is toxic when ingested and can even irritate the skin. Look for them in bright, sunny areas. They go dormant in the late summer.
The shiny quality of buttercup petals comes from a reflective layer of cells.
There are nearly 2000 different species of buttercup - the California buttercup is the species found on your open spaces.
California golden violets, also known as “Johnny jump-ups" or “yellow pansies,” are low-growing wildflowers with heart-shaped yellow petals. You can find them on open, grassy slopes, meadows, and oak woodlands - they grow in clumps or colonies.
Like California poppies and buttercups, California golden violets are heliotropic flowers, meaning they track the sun's motion across the sky.
The plant is often low-growing, but can reach heights of over a foot.
The violet's leaves and flowers are edible, though flowers can cause gastrointestinal distress if consumed in large quantities.
The bright orange or yellow blooms of the California poppy are one of the first signs of spring in the Santa Clara Valley. It beat out the mariposa lily and the Matilija poppy, to become the state flower in 1903. California poppies are found in a variety of sun-exposed, grassy habitats throughout the western United States including in Coyote Ridge and Rancho Cañada del Oro open space preserves. The petals (there are four) close at night or on cloudy days. Early Spanish travelers called the plant “copa del ora” or “cup of gold.” When it was introduced in other countries with similar, Mediterranean climates such as Chile and Australia, California poppies spread widely.
The poppy’s formal name — Eschscholzia californica — contains a typo! Its namesake, the German physician and naturalist Johann Friedrich Eschscholtz, spelled his name with a T
Each flower has four petals
Poppies are a popular wildflower to grow in gardens and they can thrive along roadways and other disturbed landscapes
The dwarf plantain is a small herb with white-clustered flowers on the end of a short, light green stalk. It grows well in serpentine, sandy, and clay soils as well as on hillsides and in meadows. The dwarf plantain is especially important as the host plant of the threatened Bay checkerspot butterfly. You can find them in Coyote Ridge, Coyote Valley, and Rancho Cañada Del Oro open space preserves in the spring months.
Other names for the dwarf plantain are the California plantain, Foothill plantain, dot-seed plantain, and English plantain
The dwarf plantain only grows 1-5 inches tall
People commonly use the dwarf plantain in butterfly gardens to attract many species of butterflies
The fiddleneck is a member of the forget-me-not (or Boraginaceae) family. Each flowering stalk ends in a curly whorl of yellow-orange flowers that resembles the head of a violin or fiddle - giving it the name of fiddleneck! The fiddleneck has a bit of a complicated reputation; the rapid growth of this wildflower can cause problems for livestock and agriculture, earning its other name of “rancher’s fireweed.” However, this native flower is important for many birds, butterflies, bees, and other insects.
The Lawrence’s goldfinch, painted lady butterfly, and honeybees are just three species that depend on the fiddleneck for food.
Fiddleneck plants can grow up to almost 4 feet tall!
The rapid growth of this wildflower can cause problems for livestock and agriculture, earning its other name of “rancher’s fireweed.”
The globe lily is an enchanting flower with delicate, nodding blossoms that range in color from pearly white to deep pink, with greenish tinges. You can find globe lilies in the shady woodlands of your open space preserves - look for these magical flowers before they go dormant for the summer!
The globe lily has many common names: fairy lantern, lantern of the fairies, white globe-tulip, alabaster tulip, Indian bells, satin bells, snowy lily-bell, butterfly tulip, cat's ear, and snow drops.
Each flower orb is about 1 inch wide.
Globe lily bulbs are edible; some Indigenous Peoples ate them raw or boiled and used the bulbs for medicinal purposes.
Lasthenia californica, or goldfields, earned its name by blanketing open spaces with a sea of its bright, buttery yellow flowers. Blooms usually peak from March to May. Goldfields can thrive in poor soils, including on the serpentine soils found in Coyote Ridge Open Space Preserve and along spring pools in the Sacramento Valley. It has reddish stems and the flowers extend 3 to 7 inches high. Goldfields can be pollinated by insects, including small flies and by native bees. Like many other native plants, goldfields faces threats from invasive species, development, and climate change: its splashy blooms depends on ample winter rains.
Lasthenia was a female student of Plato in Greece more than 2,000 years ago, and she is said to have dressed as a man to continue her studies
The flowers extend 3 to 7 inches from the ground
Indigenous Peoples ground dried goldfields’ seeds into a mush called pinole
Houndstongue is a shade-loving species of wildflower named for its broad, tongue-shaped leaves. Each of its flowers has five bright blue petals surrounding a distinct white ring. You can find this member of the forget-me-not family in shady woodlands.
Like other wildflowers, the colors of this flower (white circle surrounded by blue) may act as a target to help pollinators find the center.
Each flowering stalk can grow 1-2 feet tall.
Indigenous Peoples used preparations from the root of this plant to treat burns and stomachaches.
Lupine, a spring wildflower, is present in all of Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority’s preserves. As an annual, it blooms in March or April and is often found in extensive patches, mixed with other flowers and grasses. Each shoot sporting purple blossoms can extend 9 or more inches high. Each blossom has a white splotch, which directs insects — and hummingbirds — to the pollen. It is found in grasslands and chaparral (shrubs) landscapes along California’s coast range and the Sierra foothills, as well as in parts of Oregon and Nevada, although related species of lupine are found throughout the western United States.
In Latin, lupine means wolf. Lupine reportedly received its name because it was thought that it depleted the soil of nutrients
Each shoot with purple flowers can extend 9 or more inches high
Take a sniff — lupine blossoms have a sweet, pleasant aroma. Don’t be fooled though, it’s quite toxic for humans and animals
The mariposa lily is a bell-shaped flower with curved petals and intricate patterns. Mariposa means “butterfly” in Spanish – perhaps in reference to this flower’s wing-shaped petals with patterns that resemble a butterfly’s markings. There are over 60 species of mariposa lilies worldwide, with over 50 that are native to California (including the butterfly mariposa lily, yellow mariposa lily, and clay mariposa lily). Insects and other pollinators love these flowers! You can usually find small beetles or other bugs hanging out in mariposa lilies.
Mariposa lilies are considered pollinator “generalists," attracting a variety of insects including bees, wasps, bee-flies, and beetles.
Mariposa flower heads each have three large petals.
The mariposa lily was a contender for the California State Flower, but the committee selected the California poppy instead.
The most beautiful jewelflower is a rare species of wildflower only found in California. These plants are thin and pale green with bristly bases and able to grow up to 3 feet tall. The white and lavender urn-shaped flowers alternate every inch from the end of the stem and have frilly-edged petals. The jewelflower’s adaptation to serpentine soils means you may be lucky enough to find it in Coyote Ridge or Rancho Cañada del Oro open space preserves, blooming from April through June.
The jewelflower is a member of the mustard family
The most beautiful jewelflower is one is 40 different species of jewelflowers
Due to the most beautiful jewelflower’s status as an endangered species, it is important not to pick or trample these plants
The Mount Hamilton thistle is a very rare plant found only in a few areas of California, including the Santa Clara Valley. It grows in moist, serpentine soil, especially near streams, springs of water, and other wet areas. Like other thistle varieties, this plant has a thick, upright stem and has spiny-lobed or toothed leaves. The Mount Hamilton thistle’s white flowers have many thin petals and are perpetually nodding forward on their stalks. Its phyllaries, the leaf-like structures below the flower heads, are large and curved backwards. The Mount Hamilton thistle blooms from March through October.
The Mount Hamilton thistle is related to the artichoke, another species of thistle
33 of the 39 state-listed locations for the Mount Hamilton thistle are in Santa Clara County
The Mount Hamilton thistle is threatened by many human-caused factors, including urban development, trampling, and the introduction of non-native species
This native flower gets its name from the large leaves that resemble the ears of a mule. Mule ears belong to the Asteraceae family, along with sunflowers, daisies, tidy tips, dandelions, and most thistles. Native animals LOVE mule ears. Pollinators are attracted to the flower heads, and the large, nutritious seeds are eaten by birds, burrowing rodents, and insects. Look for them in sunny meadows and at the edges of woodlands. Like most flowers in Asteraceae, they love the sun!
What looks like the mule ears' single flower is actually hundreds of smaller flowers grouped together.
Mule ears' big yellow flower heads sit atop stems up to 2 feet tall.
Mule ears seeds are edible and taste like sunflower seeds (please do not forage on open space preserves!)
The native Pacific mistletoe, also known as oak mistletoe, is a semi-parasitic plant. While it can photosynthesize like a normal plant, it has no true ground roots. Instead, mistletoe relies on attaching itself to another plant with tube-like “roots” that it uses to take the host plant’s mineral nutrients and water for itself. This causes the host plant to stop growing, eventually killing it. While it may seem as though mistletoe only exists to harm the environment, this plant provides many benefits. Its white berries are an important food source for some wildlife, and many species of birds and small mammals use its mass of branches to hide and nest in.
Mistletoe’s scientific name, Phoradendron, means “thief of the tree” in Greek
The Pacific mistletoe is only one of 1,300 species of mistletoe worldwide
Pacific mistletoe is toxic to humans, and eating any part of the plant can cause severe sickness
Contrary to its name, purple owl’s clover is not a clover at all, but a species of paintbrush flower! If you look closely, its clusters of blossoms give the appearance of a paintbrush. The origin of the name is unclear, but it may refer to what looks like little owls peering from the leaves of a tree. Purple owl’s clover grows in grasslands, openings in chapparal & woodlands, and occasionally desert areas.
Purple owl’s clover is a crucial host plant for the threatened Bay checkerspot butterfly.
Purple owl's clover can grow up to 1.5 feet tall.
The shooting star is a unique-looking wildflower with dainty, comet-shaped blossoms of white, purple, or deep magenta. Shooting stars are also called "sailor caps," "mad violets," and "mosquito bills.” They grow in grassy areas and open woodlands.
Shooting stars belong to the primrose family (Primulaceae)
Each flower is about an inch in diameter with five petals.
You can find shooting stars Rancho Cañada del Oro and Coyote Valley from late winter through spring.
This perennial shrub is found from southern Oregon throughout California’s coast range and Sierra foothills, south into Mexico, and can be spotted in Rancho Cañada del Oro Open Space Preserve. Between April and June, pale orange flowers appear. Look closely and you might spot the “monkey” face that gives the plant its name. The leaves exude a gummy resin thought to protect them from hungry caterpillars, although it is still a host plant for some checkerspot and buckeye butterflies. The blossoms attract hummingbirds, bees, and other insects.
If touched by an insect — or blade of grass — the flower will close, preventing self-pollination to ensure its offspring are as healthy as possible.
Sticky monkey flower can grow more than 4 feet high
Indigenous Peoples used sticky monkey flower to treat sores and fever. In addition, the flowers were used for wreaths and hair decorations
Tidy tips are a sunny variety of wildflower found in Santa Clara Valley’s open grasslands and bright hillsides. You can recognize this flower by its bright yellow petals with distinct white tips - where it gets its name. This member of the sunflower family is an important nectar plant for endangered Bay checkerspot butterflies.
Tidy tips' white circles with yellow centers act as targets that guide pollinators to the nectar.
The flower heads of tidy tips are about 2 inches in diameter.
Tidy tips are popular garden ornamental flowers and included in many commercial wildflower seed mixes.
Hard to spot, badgers are nocturnal, solitary, and spend much of their time underground. You’ll know if you spy one though — they are brownish, with short legs, an angular face, and a distinctive white stripe that stretches from the nose to the top of the head. General carnivores, badgers will eat rats, squirrels, mice, insects or birds. Skillful diggers, badgers burrow to catch prey but also to sleep, although they may switch burrows daily. California’s badgers are American badgers, which live throughout the western United States. Interestingly, badgers are also found in Europe (called European badgers), but they are social, rather than solitary.
Badgers are born blind and cannot open their eyes until they are 5-or-so months old
They generally weigh 10 to 20 pounds
Count yourself lucky if you spy a badger
Frequent preserve visitors often encounter deer, although they will likely run away if you are too close. The range of black-tailed deer extends from southern California to Canada, although individuals’ home territories extend only a mile or so. Deer prefer habitat that includes tree cover — for shelter and safety — and open grasslands or chaparral for tasty shrubs with new leaves, although they will eat a wide variety of plants, including oaks and berries. They are a key prey species for mountain lions. After rising for decades, California’s deer populations have been declining due to habitat loss.
The antlers of males (called bucks) fall off each year
Black-tailed deer often have twins
Skittish, deer will flee if you approach too close
Bobcats are a species of small wild cat native to California and found throughout the United States. Bobcats can live in a variety of habitats across the country; in Santa Clara County they are found in oak woodlands, meadows, and rocky hills. These carnivorous cats eat a variety of small animals, including rabbits, mice, and birds. Kittens are usually born in the early spring, in litters of 2-4. Bobcats are solitary animals and mostly nocturnal, preferring to avoid human interactions. However, you may be lucky enough to spot one in the Llagas Meadow or Catamount Trail at Rancho Cañada del Oro Open Space Preserve.
Bobcats are sometimes mistaken as mountain lion cubs and vice versa, as the latter also have spotted coats and can be similar in size
Although bobcats are named and known for their short tails, some have tails that are up to 6 inches in length
In the Santa Clara Valley, bobcats depend on open spaces to travel between mountain ranges. Protecting areas like Coyote Valley from development allows bobcats to maintain healthy territories
The coyote is a member of the canine family, along with wolves, foxes, jackals, and domesticated dogs. They resemble small German shepherds, but with much larger bushy tails, long snouts, and pointed ears. They are grayish-brown or yellowish-grey with white throats and bellies. Unlike wolves that form large packs, coyotes usually hunt individually or in pairs. Most of a coyote’s diet consists of small mammals, but they will eat almost anything - including fruit, snakes, insects, animal remains, and even garbage. Coyotes can be active during the day or night, but you are most likely to see them at dawn and dusk.
Other names for the coyote include American jackal, brush wolf, and prairie wolf
The coyote’s high-pitched yapping can be heard up to 3 miles away
Coyotes are naturally fearful of humans, but too much access to human’s food and trash can cause them to lose this caution and approach humans. Be sure to give them plenty of space
Mountain lions — also called pumas or cougars — are the top predator (other than humans) in the Santa Clara Valley. They live alone and are most active at night. Mountain lions are big: males can be more than 8 feet long and weigh over 120 pounds. Pumas can climb trees and may be found up to 50 feet up a tree. They primarily eat deer but also eat raccoons, birds, foxes, and mice. Cougars need large amounts of connected open spaces for hunting, water sources, and den sites. Mountain lion attacks on humans are exceptionally rare. If you encounter a lion, look big and stay with others. If attacked, fight back and be loud. Do not try to run away.
Mountain lions can scream and purr, but they cannot roar
If you encounter a lion, look big and stay with others. If attacked, fight back and be loud. Do not try to run away
Mountain lions try to avoid humans
The Pallid bat is a beige-colored species of bat common in most of western North America, including here in California. They have wingspans of 15-16 inches, very large, forward-pointing ears, and piglike snouts. As nocturnal animals, pallid bats emerge from their roosts 30 minutes to an hour after sunset and return home before dawn. They hibernate during the winter, which makes summer a great time to spot them as they fly close to the ground looking for insects to eat. Their babies are born in late spring, and by July or August they are already able to fly and find food on their own.
The expression “as blind as a bat” does not apply to pallid bats - they have good eyesight!
Pallid bats are social animals that live in groups of 20 to more than 100 bats
Bats are not harmful to us when left alone, but they are very sensitive to human interference and will abandon their habitat if disturbed
Tule elk are the smallest elk in North America and are only found in California. They are distinguished by their white rump. Each year, males grow a new rack of antlers, which become progressively larger as they age. The breeding season, called the rut, occurs primarily in September, when males compete to mate and claim possession of a group of females. Tule elk were hunted throughout the 1800s and their population was also effected by habitat loss. Now, 5,100 tule elk are thought to live in California, including some who can be found Coyote Ridge Open Space Preserve.
Males bugle during mating season to attract females
Tule elk antlers can weigh as much as 40 pounds
Like many grazing animals, tule elk are fearful of humans
Acorn woodpeckers are primarily black, with patches of white on their faces and wings, with a bit of red on their heads. They are found in oak woodlands along the Pacific coast, from Washington to Colombia in South America. True to their name, acorn woodpeckers eat acorns, which they stash in holes they drill in trees. Some of these holes contain thousands of acorns! They also munch on flying insects. Woodpeckers live in communal groups of about a dozen individuals, who contribute by gathering food and raising young. The breeding relationships are complicated, with several males and females mating in each group.
Acorn woodpeckers made a variety of sounds, including a loud “waka waka”
Individual woodpeckers weigh only about 3 ounces
Woodpeckers can adapt to human development, and may even decide to store acorns or drill for bugs in wooden buildings
Meet the native American kestrel, the smallest falcon species in North America. American Kestrels are pale when seen from below and warm, rusty brown spotted with black above, with a black band near the tip of the tail. Both sexes have pairs of black vertical slashes on the sides of their pale faces—sometimes called a “mustache” and a “sideburn.” American kestrels mostly eat large insects, also some small mammals, birds, and reptiles. They usually snatch their victims from the ground, though some catch prey mid-flight. American kestrels are found in a range of habitats, including deserts, grasslands, and alpine meadows.
Individual kestrels often specialize in one particular kind of prey.
These tiny raptors weigh about 4 oz (less than the weight of a baseball!).
You can spot American kestrels around Coyote Valley, perching on telephone wires, fenceposts, and branches.
The Anna’s hummingbird is a medium-sized and stocky species of hummingbird, but only weighs 0.1 to 0.2 ounces when full-grown. Anna’s hummingbirds have green backs with greyish feathers below. Like many other species of birds, the males are more brightly colored - they have iridescent red or pink heads and throats, which the females lack. These hummingbirds are common across the West Coast and found in a variety of habitats including oak woodlands, chaparral, scrub, parks, and gardens. You may hear the buzzy or scratchy song of the male hummingbird when he is perched. Their diets consist of nectar and insects as well as the sugar water found in human-made hummingbird feeders.
The nest of an Anna’s hummingbird is a little larger than a walnut, and its egg is the size of a jellybean!
During normal flight, an Anna’s hummingbird beats its wings 40-50 times per second
Anna’s hummingbirds have significantly expanded their range since the 1950s, likely a result of flower gardens and hummingbird feeders in suburban areas
Barn owls are pale birds with white faces and bodies and tan heads, backs, and upper wings. They have long legs with strong talons, round heads, and dark eyes on their heart-shaped faces. Barn owls are practically silent, flying low across open lands to catch small rodents to eat. These owls have very good low-light vision, but the Barn Owl’s most impressive skill is its ability to track its prey by sound alone. Barn owls nest in a variety of locations, including tree holes, cliff ledges, caves, abandoned buildings, and – you guessed it – barns! You can see them leaving their nests after the sun goes down.
Barn owls form long-term bonds with their mates, and usually stay together for as long as they are alive
Young owls start to fly on their own after about 60 days
Development can destroy barn owl habitats, but many people who recognize their importance build nesting boxes for them to live in
Burrowing owls are found throughout the western United States in open grasslands, although their population has declined due to the loss of open spaces. Visitors to Sierra Vista Open Space Preserve may be able spot these 8-inch tall birds, which have brown-tan splotched feathers and bright yellow eyes. The owls eat a variety of insects and small reptiles including grasshoppers, beetles, crickets, and lizards. Females spend one month incubating about eight eggs each year. During that time, their male partners bring them food.
Although they are often on the ground, burrowing owls can fly
Burrows can be up to 9-feet long
Owl are fearful of two animals often found with humans — cats and dogs
The red-tailed hawk is a large species of native hawk that thrives in the open grasslands, rolling hills, and oak woodlands of California. Most of these hawks are rich brown when viewed from above and pale when viewed from below. Not surprisingly, the short, wide tails of adults are a rusty red color. Their broad wings allow for high soaring as well as quickly swooping down to capture prey. Their diets mostly consist of small mammals that they hunt in open areas. Red-tailed hawks prefer to perch in high spots – you may likely see one sitting in a tall tree or on a telephone pole. These birds are active year-round and can be spotted in all open space preserves.
The red-tailed hawk is the most widespread large hawk in the United States
Red-tailed hawks build their nests in trees up to 120 feet above the ground
Red-tailed hawks have adapted well to human communities; they often use perches next to roads to spot and capture prey
Have you ever seen several big, dark birds flying in slow, wobbly circles? Meet the turkey vulture! With huge, dark brown bodies and naked pink or red heads, these common vultures are easy to identify. As carrion birds, turkey vultures don’t kill their own prey, but rather eat already-dead animals. Their feeding habits, large size, and unusual appearance may make them seem scary, but turkey vultures are essential in keeping the environment clean of animal remains. They can be seen at our open space preserves all year round, but you’re most likely to spot them on sunny days.
They use their sense of smell to find food
Turkey vultures have huge wingspans of 6 feet!
Used to living near humans; they often gather in agricultural fields or near roads
The Western meadowlark is a robin-sized songbird with a white and brown spotted back, a bright yellow belly and chin, and a black “bib” on its chest. Its name gives away its habitat, for these birds love dry, grassy meadows where they can find insects and seeds to eat. They nest in the grasslands of Coyote Valley and Coyote Ridge open space preserves. If you can’t find one perched, their white outer tail feathers make them easy to spot when they fly. In the spring, you can see the males singing from high bushes or fence posts – listen for the bright, whistling warble.
The Western meadowlark is a member of the blackbird family
Females lay 3-7 eggs in each brood
Western meadowlarks help to limit the number of crop-damaging insects, improving agricultural harvests
Yellow-billed magpies are primarily black birds, with long tail feathers, white sides, blue iridescent wing and tail feathers, and their namesake yellow-bill. Although species of magpies are worldwide, the yellow-billed magpie is found only in a small sliver of California’s central valley and coast range, where it lives in oak woodlands. The species is thought to be at risk from climate change due to its restricted range and specific habitat needs, which include mature trees and open grassland. They primarily eat insects such as grasshoppers. Yellow-billed magpies build domed nests out of sticks and mud in a tall tree — about 50 feet off the ground.
Yellow-billed magpies are vulnerable to West Nile virus
Their range is small — only about 500 miles from north to south and 150 miles wide
Magpies aren’t hard to spot – and you may notice they are watching you watch them
The alligator lizard’s name comes from its bony scales, large head, elongated body, and powerful jaw. These lizards have short legs and move with a snake-like, undulating motion by using their front legs to pull their belly along the ground. Alligator lizards have very long tails which can easily break off when threatened, a defense behavior exhibited by many lizard species. They can be found in a variety of California habitats, including grassland, chaparral, and oak woodlands. Alligator lizards usually mate in the spring and lay eggs that hatch in late summer or early fall.
Unlike other lizards, alligator lizards do not typically bask in the sun out in the open and instead prefer sunny spots with nearby cover
An alligator lizard’s tail can grow to be twice the length of its body
Alligator lizards are commonly found living in suburban yards and garages, as they have good hiding spots for this especially secretive lizard
The California newt is also known as the orange-bellied newt. This native amphibian only lives in (endemic to) California and is found across the state's coasts and coast ranges. Terrestrial adults are orange-brown to dark brown above, with pale yellow or orange bellies. California newts secrete a powerful neurotoxin, called tetrodotoxin, from their skin to repel predators! Look for these large, stocky salamanders crawling across the ground.
Tetrodotoxin secreted by California newts is hundreds of times more toxic than cyanide and is the same toxin found in pufferfish and harlequin frogs.
California newts are 5-8 inches long, from snout to tail.
Be sure to watch your step on the trails to avoid stepping on these awesome critters!
The California tiger salamander is an endangered amphibian that thrives in Sierra Vista Open Space Preserve, thanks to its ponds and grasslands. These 7-to 8-inch-long salamanders are dark brown or black with white or yellow spots. They have small, protruding eyes, and wide mouths that appear to be smiling. During the dry months, the California tiger salamander lives underground in burrows made by other animals, such as ground squirrels. When the wet season begins, they migrate to ponds to breed. You are most likely to spot one during a rainy night.
California tiger salamanders travel up to a mile to a pond to breed.
Female California tiger Salamanders lay as many as 1,300 eggs.
It is illegal to disturb them, given their endangered status.
Garter snakes are slender, medium-sized snakes found throughout most of California, including the Santa Clara Valley. With a sharp eye, you might be able to see one quickly slithering through the grass, although they are well camouflaged with their vertical stripes of yellow, red, black, and/or white. As a cold-blooded animal, the garter snake keeps its body temperature warm by sunbathing during the day and returning underground when the sun goes down. They give birth to live young between July and September. These snakes eat a wide variety of prey, including small mammals, amphibians, insects, and worms - while they are food for mammals, birds of prey, and larger snakes!
Often found close to water, garter snakes are good swimmers.
Garter snakes give birth to nests of 7 to 30 baby snakes.
Garter snakes are not venomous, although their saliva contains a toxin that can cause mild irritation.
Rattlesnakes are the only type of venomous snake found in the Santa Clara Valley. You are most likely to spot one on a hot day when they may be sunbathing on a trail or exposed rock. They have triangular heads and chunky olive or tan striped bodies. Their tails have a set of rattles at the end, made of keratin, the same material found in your fingernails. Snakes vibrate the rattles when alarmed and may also hiss. Be warned: Rattlesnake venom is highly toxic. Rattlesnakes eat a variety of small mammals, lizards, and birds. They hibernate during the winter.
Rattlesnakes give birth to live baby snakes
Most rattlesnakes range from 1 to 4 feet long
Rattlesnakes will strike if threatened, so give them plenty space, stay on trails and look where you put your feet and hands
Red-legged frogs are 2 to 5 inches long, brown or olive-colored, with red on parts of the belly and legs. These frogs are classified as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act due primarily to the loss of wetland habitat, although they also face threats from non-native bullfrogs. They are found in Sierra Vista and Rancho Cañada del Oro open space preserves, but are active primarily at night so visitors are unlikely to spot them. During their winter breeding season, females can lay as many as 3,000 eggs in shallow water. After hatching, the tadpoles mature — or metamorphose — into frogs about five months later.
Red-legged frogs are the California state amphibian
Females can lay as many as 3,000 eggs
It is hard to find red-legged frogs, they are nocturnal and have a call that is hard to hear
Western fence lizards are about 3 inches long with bits of blue on their bellies. Males are often observed doing a push-up like display to defend their territory and to attract females. Lizards are a staple food of snakes and birds of prey like hawks. Western fence lizards, a subspecies of the coast range fence lizard, have an interesting relationship with Lyme disease: Their blood contains a protein that kills the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. However, the lizards are a key host for ticks that carry Lyme disease, so there are more ticks in western fence lizard habitat.
Lizards’ tails detach to allow for escape from would-be predators, but don’t worry they grow back
Eggs hatch after 60 days
Western fence lizards are easy to spot on warm days, but skittish when approached.
The Western pond turtle lives in wetlands, ponds, and streams and can often be spied in the spring, summer, and fall sunbathing on a rock or log. It may spend the winter buried in a shallow dugout in the woods. They are approximately 5-6 inches long and olive or brown colored. The Western pond turtle is found from Oregon to Baja California primarily west of the Sierra Nevada, although they have lost habitat due to development and the arrival of non-native bullfrogs and turtles such as the red-eared slider. They eat worms, aquatic plants, small fish, and insects.
To protect their territory, turtles may open their mouths, exposing the pink mouth interior
Pond turtle eggs are a bit longer than two dimes
Turtles are sensitive to noise and are affected by the loss of wetlands
The yellow-eyed ensatina is an orange-brown salamander that is about 5 inches long. These salamanders have no lungs — instead they breathe through their skin and mouth. That’s why you are mostly likely to spot them in moist spots under fallen branches or in tree cavities, although they may be on a trail following a rain. Providing homes for creatures like ensatinas is one reason it is important to leave downed trees undisturbed. They eat worms, beetles, spiders, and a variety of other invertebrates. Females lay around 12 eggs on land in the late spring, which they guard until the babies emerge in the fall.
Ensatinas can drop their tails when threatened, but don’t worry they grow back
Ensatinas can live more than 10 years
Please don’t touch, ensatinas can secrete a toxic, sticky substance from their tails
The Bay checkerspot butterfly is a medium-sized butterfly that historically was found all along the Bay Area Peninsula. The bay checkerspot’s name comes from the black bands along the veins of its wings that contrast with its bright red, white, and yellow spots. Caterpillars hatch in the spring and spend the winter in a cocoon-like chrysalis which they emerge from as adult butterflies in late February to early May. The species is listed as threatened, but these butterflies are currently thriving on the rare serpentine grasslands of Coyote Ridge Open Space Preserve.
These butterflies and caterpillars spend their whole lives primarily living and feeding on the dwarf plantain
The Bay checkerspot has a wingspan of about 2 inches
The Bay checkerspot was once widespread along the Bay Area Peninsula, but factors such as pollution, pesticides, and habitat loss have greatly reduced their numbers
The California brown tarantula is brownish-black and can grow to 5 inches long. Although they may look intimidating, a tarantula’s venom can subdue only beetles, grasshoppers, or small spiders — they don’t harm humans. The spiders live underground and are primarily active at night. In the fall, males emerge and wander in search of females. You are most likely to spot them in Rancho Cañada del Oro or Sierra Vista open space preserves. When a male finds a female’s silk-lined burrow, he knocks to announce his arrival. Males die within weeks of mating, but females can live to be 25 or 30 years old.
When afraid, tarantulas can fling body hairs at predators, making them itch
Egg cases can contain more than 100 eggs
Tarantulas pose no danger to humans and are most likely spotted in the fall when males are hunting for females