Alpine Animals – Above Tree Line In The Rocky Mountains

alpine zone animals

What animals live in this amazing world above the trees?

Surprisingly, there are many alpine animals that can be found above the tree line in the Rocky Mountains.  Here are some of the main ‘rock stars’.

Personally, I love to be in the area above tree line at the tops of mountains.  The unique vegetation and rocky landscape make it feel like a different planet.  The main time to explore this alpine zone is during a short window in summer.  Surprisingly many alpine animals call this unique area home.  These animals are well adapted to live in the alpine zone and are always a treat to see.

What Is The Tree Line?

First off, I just want to make sure it is clear what I mean when I say tree line.  At a certain elevation trees are no longer able to survive due to the extreme conditions, wind and cold.  The Rockies stretch far from north to south and tree line is higher in elevation towards the southern end of the rockies in Colorado and lower in elevation farther north.

In the Colorado section of the Rockies, tree line is around 11,000 to 12,000 feet.  At the far northern part of the Rockies in the Yukon, tree line is as low as 2,500 feet.

alpine zone animals

A yellow bellied marmot in the Rocky Mountains is a year round resident.

Alpine Animals – Mammals Above Tree Line?

There are many mammals that can be found above tree line, but not all of them live there year round.  During the summer many larger mammals can be found above tree line including big horn sheep, mountain goats, and even elk or deer.  These animals will head lower down during the winters.  Additionally, these herbivores’ predators, such as cougars, follow them up and then down.

Mammals that live year round above tree line have to be well suited for the extremely harsh winters.  As such they adopt one of the winter survival strategies of adaptation or hibernation.  This means that they either sleep or rest all winter in a burrow or den or they adapt.  The mammals that live above tree line during winter are all small and go into a state of dormancy.

alpine zone animals

A Pika lives above tree line all year.

Two small mammals that call the tops of mountains home all year include pikas, and yellow bellied marmots.  Those two also happen to be two of my favorite animals.

What Birds Live Above Tree Line?

There are not very many birds that call the alpine zone home year round.  In fact, the only one that lives at or at the border of it all year is the white tailed ptarmigan.  This bird can’t stand getting too hot and if it warms up will put snow on itself to cool off.

alpine zone animals

A white tailed ptarmigan in its summer plumage. Photo via Flickr.

During summer many other birds can be seen in the alpine zone above tree line.  These other birds that pass through the alpine zone include falcons, finches, larks, ravens, and sparrows.

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