The Owyhee Canyonlands and river system is a wildlife habitat area of national, if not international, importance. It provides upland and canyon riparian habitats for large and small mammals, predators, rodents, birds of prey, and even amphibians! From bighorn sheep, to lizards, to nesting raptors, the Owyhee River wildlife is unique and varied. On a multi-day trip through the Owyhee River wilderness, the vast river corridor offers ample opportunity for spotting wildlife of all kinds!

Red tailed hawk

Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk. Photo by USFWS.

Home to more than 200 species

The Owyhee Canyonlands is home to more than 200 wildlife species. Golden eagles, red-tailed hawks and other raptors soar above while swallows swoop among canyon walls. Redband trout and other fish delight anglers in rivers, while 14 species of bats dance through the air at dusk. Big game animals flourish here too, including elk, mule deer, pronghorn antelope and the largest herd of California bighorn sheep in the nation.

Birds of the Owyhee Canyonlands

Birds are some of the most plentiful Owyhee River wildlife. Birds in the area include songbirds, waterfowl, shorebirds and raptors. The high, well-fractured and eroded canyon cliffs are considered outstanding habitat for cliff nesting raptors. Today, the Owyhee Canyonlands provide home for a variety of raptors. Swainson’s, ferruginous, red-tailed and sharp-shinned hawks, as well as American kestrels, northern harriers, prairie falcon and golden eagles are abundant year-round. Bald eagles generally spend winter months in the canyons. Songbirds, mourning doves, chukar partridge, California quail and even the greater sage-grouse are drawn to the mixed sagebrush along the upland banks of the river. (Elshoff)

Owyhee River Raptor Habitat

Tall, fractured cliffs are perfect for nesting raptors

Bureau of Land Management Sensitive Species

The Owyhee River is considered Preliminary Priority Habitat for greater sage-grouse. Idaho BLM sensitive species include bald eagles, yellow-billed cuckoos, prairie falcons, ferruginous hawks, neotropical migratory bird species, several bat species, Columbia spotted frogs and western toads. Spotted and Townsend’s big-eared bats are also BLM sensitive species.

One of the most imperiled and important species tied to the sagebrush steppe ecosystem of the Owyhee Canyonlands is the Greater sage-grouse. An indicator species for overall ecosystem health, sage-grouse rely on vast expanses of unfragmented sagebrush for cover, diet, nesting and mating grounds. The Owyhee Canyonlands has been identified by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as one of six key strongholds for the Greater sage-grouse in the West. Thus, the degree to which this area is protected from development and fragmentation will be critical to the bird’s survival, as well as to the other species that live there.

Owyhee Sage Grouse

Photo of a sage-grouse by Kevin Smith for

Mammals in the Owyhee wilderness

Mammals range in size from California bighorn sheep, mule deer, pronghorn antelopes, bobcats and cougars to smaller coyotes, badgers, otters, raccoons, porcupines, and jack and cotton-tail rabbits. The presence of these species and others keep the Owyhee River wild and scenic and now draw in visitors who want to behold them and their majestic home (Harbin).

Owyhee River Wildlife

Bones from a large mammal on the Owyhee River

The upland and canyon riparian habitats support California bighorn sheep, elk, mule deer, pronghorn, and even wild horses! The Owyhee River, Battle Creek, Deep Creek, Duncan Creek and Wickahoney Creek support the majority of the bighorn sheep population in the Owyhee Canyonlands.

Owyhee River Wildlife

A wild horse spotted from camp during Guide School on the Owyhee River

Common large and mid-sized predators in the area include cougars, bobcats, coyotes, badgers and raccoons. Small mammals include rodents, rabbits, shrews, bats, weasels and skunks. Like birds, small mammals thrive in the well-fractured and eroding cliffs. Notably, these cliffs support spotted and Townsend’s big-eared bats.

Owyhee River Wildlife

On a side-hike during a multi-day trip on the Owyhee River, guides came across these cougar tracks

The waters along the entire Owyhee River system and its tributaries are considered outstanding habitat for river otters. Other wildlife that depend on the waterway includes several snakes, lizards and a few amphibians (frogs, toads and salamanders).

Western fence lizard

A Western fence lizard in the Owyhee Wilderness. Photo by BLM.

Experience the Owyhee River Wildlife Firsthand

The Owyhee River wildlife is varied and plentiful. The  stunning canyons are not only incredible to view from the vantage point of the river, they also provide essential habitats for large and small mammals, redators, rodents, birds of prey, and even amphibians! From bighorn sheep, to lizards, to nesting raptors, the wildlife on the Owyhee River is some of the best in the country. Join us on a Owyhee River multi-day rafting trip  to experience the wildlife firsthand!