Wildlife Introduction

Wildwood Canyon is home to a rich and wild community of amazing plants and animals.  The unique location of the park against the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains and its elevation at 3,000 feet means that it receives more rainfall than the surrounding valleys and cities.  Consequently, there is a greater assortment of plants and a different assemblage of animals.  This park protects an important habitat corridor for a variety of species, some of which are native only to California.  

All forms of life living in the park are specially adapted to live and thrive in the Mediterranean Climate found at Wildwood Canyon.  The cool wet, and at times snowy, winters turn into hot, dry summers, where little or no precipitation may fall for months on end. In autumn, the hot, dry Santa Ana Winds that howl through the park can spread massive wildfires that burn acres of habitat and test the survival of the wildlife.  This constant cycle of extreme conditions dictates the kinds of plants and wildlife that can live in Wildwood Canyon.    


Mountain Lion







     The hot, dry summers, and cool wet winters that characterize the region’s weather is known as a Mediterranean Climate.  A Mediterranean Climate is found along the west coasts of continents along cold ocean currents between 30-40 degrees north or south of the equator. Around the world, the regions of a Mediterranean Climate include the Mediterranean Basin, parts of Chile, South Africa, Australia, and California.  Covering only about 2.5% of the world’s land area, yet containing 15% of its plant species, this climate’s abundance of biological diversity is well represented in the main habitats found in the park such as the Oak Woodlands, Chaparral, and Coastal Sage Scrub.  Being at the foot of the San Bernardino Mountains, Wildwood Canyon dwells in a “microclimate” within its parent Mediterranean climate, receiving colder and wetter winters than the surrounding valleys.


     The park includes three main plant communities: Oak Woodlands, Chaparral, and Sage Scrub.  Each plant community is a beautiful and vital part of the park in its own particular way.  Some plants commonly found in the park include ceanothus, chamise, sumac, various oak trees (including poison oak), elderberry, and sages. Below are some of the most common plants you may see on your own journey. 

Coast Live Oak: This magnificent drought-resistant tree is the grand hallmark of the Oak Woodland community and is endemic only along California coastal areas.  Some trees found here are over 200 years old. What starts as a small acorn can be transformed over time into a natural wonder that serves as a vital habitat and food source for many species of animals.   

Chamise:  A member of the chaparral community, chamise, also known as greasewood (due to the oily leaves), can be found as green shrubs on the north side of the Bernasconi Hills and Russell Mountains.  Preferring a bit more shade and moister soils than other common species in the park, this plant rebounds well after fires, sprouting from its stump.  This member of the rose family has small, evergreen leaves that are spaced in groups along the brown, woody branches and tiny white flowers form at the tips of the branches. The shrub can grow to be quite tall (4m, about 12 ft).

One of the most common members of the Chaparral community found at Wildwood Canyon, Chamise, also known as Greasewood, is adapted well to life after fire.  With an appearance similar to an overgrown rosemary bush, it may resprout right from its burned stump after wildfires.  

Buckwheat: A common plant growing throughout most of southern California, various buckwheat species are easily distinguishable by their short, narrow leaves, and beautiful white flowers that turn a rusty reddish color as the dry months take their toll on the plants. The plant rarely exceeds four or five feet in height.

Our Lord’s Candle Yucca: The sharp, bayonet-like leaves are pointed downward towards the center to help the plant channel water to its root system during storms, and they also serve to deter potential nibblers wary of having their mouths injured.  The yucca will continue to grow for years without flowering; it blooms following heavy winter rains, when it produces a stock of sweet-smelling flowers up to 20 feet tall!  After pollination by the yucca moth and the release of its seeds, the plant dies, having accomplished its goal of providing the next generation.  Keep an eye out for this California wonder!             



    Just as interesting as the plant life is the animal diversity found dwelling within the canyon.  Species from lower and hotter valleys, such as the Red Diamond Rattlesnake, intermingle here with other animals found more commonly in the high mountains, such as the Black Bear.  Additionally, about 100 species of birds may be found at Wildwood Canyon throughout the year, as the park is located in the avian migratory mega-route known as the “Pacific Flyway”.  Exposed hillsides and sunnier areas provide a place for “cold-blooded” reptiles to bask in the heat, while damper riverbeds are home to families of toads and salamanders.  Most exciting to visitors is the opportunity to spot one of the park’s large mammals, a group that is as diverse as anywhere is southern California.  Black Bears, Mountain Lions, Coyotes, Mule Deer herds, Bobcats, and Gray Foxes have all been spotted at the park.  

   Always remember to keep wildlife safe and healthy by not feeding or touching them.  Keep a respectful distance away from them, and you will see more of their natural behavior!

Black-Tailed Jackrabbit:  A large member of the rabbit family, this creature has extremely strong legs and very large ears.  It can be seen anywhere in the park.    

California Ground Squirrels: These little animals are arguably the most commonly seen mammal in the park.  They are primarily active in the daytime (diurnal), when you may see them foraging. They dig burrows underground and live in colonies.

Mountain Lion: The largest carnivore in California, the mountain lion (also called Cougar, Puma, or Panther) is a solitary creature, preferring to spend its days high in the hills or in remote valleys away from people. Its territory (the land it uses exclusively) can be over 100 square miles, so the same individual is not often seen in the same place on consecutive days.  Its main food source in this area is Mule Deer, and to catch it, the mountain lion can leap up to 20 feet!  The mountain lion is more related to a house cat than to any of the other large cats such as a lion or jaguar. It can purr like your house cat; it cannot roar!

Red-Diamond Rattlesnake The Red Diamond rattlesnake is endemic to the warm region around Yucaipa down into Baja California.  It is an amazing creature to be admired from afar as it is highly venomous. The tail rattle of all rattlesnakes is made of keratin (same material as your fingernails), and it can vibrate up to 50 times per second, which produces the rattling sound. If you hear this sound, you are being warned, so do not approach or try to find the snake!

Granite Spiny Lizard: Watch for these little creatures in warm weather when you will find them basking on rocks.  Males are dark with orange and blue tints and, while females are brown with orange markings.

Red-Tailed Hawk:  These grand raptors (birds of prey) ride thermal air waves in the sky as they search the ground for their next meal, which may be a rodent, reptile, or even another bird.  The characteristic red feathers on their tails are most obvious as they soar above you with the sun beaming through the feathers.      

Turkey Vulture:  Another large bird you may see soaring in the park is the turkey vulture. These birds circling in the sky are usually the first sign that an animal has died.  Their extremely powerful noses are much more sensitive than other birds, and they can smell a decomposing body from a distance. They prefer freshly dead animals, but they are sometimes seen eating live fish in drought areas where the water is drying up.