Did you know that there are a plethora of diverse wildlife living in the many Orange County regional parks, which consist of thousands of acres, including regional historic sites, acres of open space and many miles of regional riding and hiking trails. Within the park lands, you can come across mature oaks, sycamores, and elderberry trees, streams and official trails that can be traversed by foot or on bicycles. Some parks are designated as wildlife sanctuaries. Some wildlife that can be encountered there include:
Bats are the only flying mammal. They are beneficial to the ecosystem as pollinators, seed dispersers, and insect predators. Of the 11,000 bat species, 16 species can be found in Orange County: Mexican long-tongued, Western yellow, Western red, Hoary, Townsend’s big-eared, Western pipistrelle, Big brown, California myotis, Western small-footed myotis, Long-eared myotis, Yuma myotis, Pallid, Mexican free-tailed, Pocketed free-tailed, Big free-tailed, and Western mastiff. Some bats have been found in the Laguna Niguel Regional Park.
While coyotes are sometimes found in urban areas, they are also frequent visitors of our regional parks, such as Peters Canyon, Laguna Niguel, Talbert, Caspers, and Irvine Regional Parks. They play an important ecological role helping to maintain healthy ecosystems and species diversity. As the top carnivore in some ecosystems, coyotes regulate the number of skunks, raccoons, and foxes, which helps to boost biodiversity.
More than half of California is prime mountain lion habitat and they can be found wherever deer are present, since deer are a mountain lion’s main food source. Foothills and mountains are the most suitable mountain lion habitat, while valleys and deserts are considered unsuitable. Some of the regional parks where you can encounter mountain lions are: Peters Canyon, Irvine, and Caspers Regional Parks. Some wilderness parks, such as Whiting Ranch, are often closed due to mountain lion sightings.
The opossum commonly found in urban Orange County generally poses no threat to human or pet populations. The opossum is the only pouched animal in North America. As meticulous groomers, opossums consume about 95 percent of the ticks which hitch a ride on their mammalian bodies.
Raccoons were formerly only found in relatively undeveloped areas; however, with the onset of urban sprawl, their natural habitat was lost. They are usually seen foraging for food at night and in the early morning hours in garbage cans, pet dishes that are left outside, vegetable gardens, and other man-made sources.
The common skunk is about the size of a plump house cat. Skunks are not good fighters or runners but possess a strong-smelling gland at the base of their tail. When cornered or bothered, they stamp their front feet in warning and aim their gland at their target.
Orange County contains 20 different species of snakes, but only a few species are poisonous.
Rattlesnakes include the Speckled Rattlesnake, the Red Diamond Rattlesnake, and the Southern Pacific Rattlesnake and are found in desert-like and brush covered regions, the foothills and adjacent districts, mountainous areas, and around subdivisions located in formerly “wild” areas. The active season for rattlesnakes starts toward the end of spring when they come out of hibernation. The main food source for rattlesnakes are rodents, therefore, rodent and snake control go together.
Non-venomous snakes include the Gopher Snake, King Snake, Rosy Boa Snake, Coachwhip or Red Racer Snake, Striped Snake, Ringneck Snake, and the California Mountain King Snake. The Gopher Snake can be confused with a rattlesnake as when it is disturbed, it may hiss loudly and vibrate its tai and it has diamond-like markings like a rattlesnake. The King Snake feeds on other snakes, including rattlesnakes. The California Mountain King Snake is considered rare and is protected by California state law.
Ducks and Geese
There are many species of ducks that migrate through Orange County. The most common species is the Mallard, which nests close to water, such as ponds, swimming pools, fountains, and flood control channels. Some of the regional parks where you can find mallards and other ducks are Talbert Nature Preserve and Laguna Niguel Regional Park.
Canada Geese (top left)
Canada Geese are often seen in Laguna Niguel Regional Park and occasionally you can also spot Snow Geese there, along with the Greater White-fronted Goose, which flies into Laguna Niguel Regional Park as well at times.
Brants are a species of goose and are often seen at many of the South Orange County regional parks, like the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park because their favorite habitats are estuaries that rise and fall with the tides and because the estuaries usually grow a wide variety of seagrasses and aquatic vegetation that the brants like to eat.
Egyptian Geese (right)
Egyptian Geese are found in parks, golf courses, pool areas, and residential wetlands. The population numbers only 100– 200 at now. It is easy to identify with its large, pale size and dark eye patches, a dark breast spot, and conspicuous white wing patches. They are seen at. They feed primarily on vegetables and human-supplied foods.