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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.