Last updated on November 27, 2022 by Wandering our World

The Lake Tahoe region is a modern-day Eden with its crystal clear waters and panoramic views of the mountains.

Located at the border between Nevada and California, this region and the lake basin is teeming with rich flora and fauna making Lake Tahoe a fantastic place for spotting wildlife.

Most tourists are familiar with Lake Tahoe’s scenic beauty and recreational activities. But the wildlife here is also an aspect of the region that you should look forward to when visiting. 

To help you out, here’s some of animals of Lake Tahoe you could see, including information on where to spot them!

CONTENTS:

  1. Dangerous Animals In Lake Tahoe
  2. Common Animals At Lake Tahoe
  3. Rare Animals At Lake Tahoe
  4. Fish In Lake Tahoe
  5. Birdlife At Lake Tahoe
High angle view of a lake, Lake Tahoe, Sierra Nevada, California, USA. The lake is a shimmering purple color due to the sky
iStock.com/CelsoDinez

Five Dangerous Animals In Lake Tahoe To Watch For

Lake Tahoe is home to about 290 species of animals. Out of those there are a few dangerous animals in Lake Tahoe that you should be aware of when visiting:

1. The Black Bear

The black bear is the poster child for the Lake Tahoe basin. The region has over 25,000 black bears, with the females weighing between 100 to 200 pounds and the males between 250 to 350 pounds. Despite the name, black bears actually vary in fur color, from blonde to black.

Black bears in Lake Tahoe are known for being ‘opportunistic omnivores,’ meaning they eat almost anything they stumble on. You can spot the bears throughout the year. However, the best time for sightings is mid-August as the bears enter ‘hyperphagia.’

Black bears have a sense of smell that’s ten times stronger than a bloodhound, so they can smell food from hundreds of miles away! They also have excellent vision and long-term memory.

Recommended: An Insider’s Guide To Lake Tahoe’s Emerald Bay!

A Black Bear walking through the forest seems amused.
iStock.com/mountinez

2. Coyote

Coyotes abound in the Lake Tahoe region, similar to bears. This apex hunter does a splendid job of blending in with the natural terrain of Tahoe and you could be near a coyote if you hear a growl, bark, yelp, wail, squeal, or howl while visiting.

This cunning animal loves to hunt for rodents at night, which means you have a better chance of catching it in action during the evenings.

Alternatively, you can also sometimes spot them near the highways of the Tahoe basin.

On a spring day, a coyote is standing on top of a hill and looking at the camera.
iStock.com/Cybernesco

3. Mountain Lion

The mountain lion is a big cat family member which specializes in stealth hunting. This feline is also known as a cougar, puma, red tiger, and deer tiger.

Mountain lions love to hunt for deer and sometimes smaller animals like mice and rabbits. These lions are aggressive and can even attack any human who stands in their way.

They are ‘chase creatures’ by instinct, meaning that if you start running when you see one, it’ll chase you.

Mountain lions have a body covered with beige fur and a whitish-gray belly and chest. The tip of the tail, ears and snout area has black marking. The males are generally heavier and bigger than the females.

Portrait of Beautiful Puma in autumn forest. American cougar - mountain lion, striking pose, scene in the woods, wildlife America
iStock.com/Evgeny555

4. Bobcat

The bobcat is a medium-sized wildcat that’s often confused with a lynx. This creature has long legs, large paws and tufted ears and is twice the height of a domestic cat. In terms of coloration, the bobcat is brown or brownish red with a white underbelly and black-tipped tail. The cat derives its name from its tail which appears ‘bobbed’ or ‘cut.’

Bobcats are hard to spot as they are elusive and crepuscular, meaning they are only active for a few hours. They are stealth predators, mainly preying on small animals like rabbits, birds, and small rodents.

Bobcats rarely attack humans, but still it’s best to watch them from a distance.

Bobcat on tree trunk looking at camera
iStock.com/Anita Elder Design

5. Great Basin Rattlesnake

The Great Basin rattlesnake is a member of the pit family and one of the most dangerous snakes in the U.S. This snake has a rough-looking exterior that’s either light brown or gray with a row of brownish blotches running from the midline of the back.

Rattlesnakes are venomous, meaning their venom has the potential to cause you harm. But a fascinating fact is that their body is not poisonous, and you can eat them (it tastes like chicken apparently).

These snakes become more active as the weather warms up. They come out of hibernation during springtime and spend most of their time sitting and waiting for predators.

A bite from a rattlesnake can lead to painful swelling, bruising, tissue damage, and bleeding problems. Left unattended, the bite can be fatal.

The Tahoe Tribune reports that bites are common between April and October. You should be careful by staying aware of your surroundings and using a walking stick as a precaution.

great basin rattlesnake showing its fangs
iStock.com/EdwardSnow

Nine Common Animals At Lake Tahoe To Try & Spot

1. Douglas Squirrel or Chickaree

The Douglas squirrel, chickaree or pine squirrel is a feisty little tree squirrel from the family Sciuridae. This animal has a brownish-gray back, an orangish belly, and a white to tawny eye-ring.

The squirrel is distinctively smaller than its counterpart, the Western Gray squirrel, which overlaps its territory. You’re likely to spot the latter on the West of Lake Tahoe.

The Douglas Squirrel is among several varieties of squirrels in Lake Tahoe. You can spot it on the trees in the Sierra Nevada forest, often chewing on pine cones.

You can also often hear this squirrel as it is very noisy with its chatter, screeches, chirps and rattle calls.

A selective focus shot of a Douglas squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglasii) sitting on a branch amongst trees
iStock.com/Wirestock

2. Mountain Beaver

The mountain beaver is a common inhabitant of Lake Tahoe. This burrowing rodent is less than half-a-metre in length and weighs less than 2kg (4.4 pounds).

Most of the features of the mountain beaver are small – small eyes, ears, and limbs. It has a white spot under its ears, and all its digits except the thumb end in long, sharp, curved claws. Its thumb is partly opposable and has a nail.

Many taxonomists consider the mountain beaver as the most primitive living rodent species. This rodent is not really a beaver but was named as such because they gnaw bark and dispose of tree limbs like an actual beaver.

3. Racoons

The raccoon is one of the most common animals in Lake Tahoe and North America in general.

Raccoons have the peculiar habit of snaring many of their meals in water. These nocturnal creatures feed on almost anything – from fruits and plants, to frogs, birds eggs, crabs, insects, and mice.

raccoon on a tree in the forest.
iStock.com/Maryna Rayimova

4. Mule Deer

A key distinguishing feature of the mule deer is its large ears, which makes up three-fourths of the length of its head. This mammal has a distinguishing black forehead that contrasts its slightly gray face too. Whilst in summer, the mule deer adorns a tannish brown coat; and in winter, its coat is brownish-gray.

An interesting fact about mule deers is that they’re known to live in extensive family networks. It’s also the only deer known to mourn its loved ones, and it has an intricate social network led by a female deer.

Mule deers add to the magic of Lake Tahoe. However, this creature is migratory and has the habit of migrating between Lake Tahoe and Carson valley – 40 miles east of Lake Tahoe. The best time to see the mule deer is early morning before dusk.

5. Porcupine

Porcupines are known for their quills and aggressive response when threatened, and they’re the only quill-rodent species active from early evening to dawn.

The thousands of quills on its back protect it from predators. This creature does not throw its quills. Rather, the quills detach easily and remain embedded in the attacker.

You can usually find them roaming around the Lake Tahoe basin at night. Porcupines love to spend most of their time on trees and are actually very good climbers.

porcupine in the forest
iStock.com/BirdHunter591

6. Golden Mantled/Ground Squirrel

The golden-mantled/ground squirrel is another species of squirrel that calls Lake Tahoe home. This squirrel has grayish-brown fur on top, with two white and two black stripes bordering each other. Its underside is lighter, with its head, face, front paws, and chest exhibiting a coppery red color.

The ground squirrel loves feeding on piñon nuts, insects and plants. This squirrel is the most common and tamest of all the squirrels in the Lake Tahoe region.

Although it’s commonly confused with a chipmunk, the ground squirrel is larger, and its stripes do not extend up to the cheeks as is the case with the chipmunk.

7. Chipmunk

Chipmunks are members of the squirrel family but are smaller than their bushy-tailed cousins. They are distinguished from squirrels by alternating dark and white stripes on their cheeks and backs.

Chipmunks are excellent swimmers and climbers and they can be found throughout Lake Tahoe. They like to live alone in holes and burrows called dens.

Recently, there was a scare as chipmunks, squirrels and other wild rodents of the region tested positive for bubonic plague. The risk of getting infected from a bite of these animals is why keeping yourself and your pets at a safe distance is best.

A chipmunk sits on a green moss-covered rock surrounded by fallen green, yellow and brown leaves.
iStock.com/Dave Jonasen

8. American Marten

The American Marten is a carnivore and a member of the weasel family. This creature is similar to the mink in terms of color and size, but the difference is in location, as minks tend to live around streams and coastal areas.

The American marten is slender with a size that resembles a domestic cat. It has dense fur, which varies from pale yellow to dark brown, with darker feet and legs. The area around its muzzle is a different color that ranges from gray to light brown, with a short dark line that starts from the corner of each eye and extends to the forehead.

The marten’s throat and upper chest range from pale to deep orange. Ears are straight and rounded, whereas their body length varies from 19 to 25 inches (48-65 cm), excluding the tail.

They can weigh nearly 4 pounds (1.8 kg). The tail makes up almost a third of the creature’s total length. Martens also have sharp, non-retractable claws for holding their prey and climbing.

You’re likely to spot an American marten on the west and south sides of Lake Tahoe.

9. Yellow-Bellied Marmot

The yellow-bellied marmot is also known as the whistle pig, groundhog, or woodchuck. This burrowing rodent is about the size of a domestic cat but has a heavy set of short legs and a furry reddish-brown tail.

Yellow-bellied marmots have grizzled brownish fur, a yellow belly and whitish spots between the eyes. Their ears are small and round, with a small white muzzle and a black nose. Male marmots usually pack more weight than females. This creature loves to spend most of its time on the ground and occasionally climbs shrubs and trees.

Lake Tahoe high elevation makes it a great place for the yellow-bellied marmot. You can find these creatures at the lake year-round as they breed from the lake level to the tree line.

Yellow-bellied marmot standing on hing legs looking around
iStock.com/Jeremiah Psiropoulos

Eight Rare Animals At Lake Tahoe You’d Be Lucky To See

Lake Tahoe is home to some sensitive species that the federal or regional agencies consider at risk, endangered, or threatened. They include:

1. Osprey

The Osprey, also known as the sea hawk, fish hawk, or river hawk, is a large type of hawk with a distinctive look. This bird of prey is slender with long narrow wings and long legs. When they fly, their wings stretch out, giving an M-shape form when viewed from below.

Ospreys have brown feathers on the top and white underneath. Their wings are mostly white, with a distinguished dark patch at the wrists and the head is also white with a brown stripe through the eye.

This bird is one of the most successful hunters, as it captures its prey 80% of the time. It is also the only raptor able to dive deep into the water to catch fish. You can find this bird frequently in the Tahoe area.

Osprey taking fish from water in action
iStock.com/Bebedi

2. Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog

The mountain yellow-legged frog was once an abundant species in the Sierra Nevada and the Transverse ranges but is now a rare find.

This frog’s decline is due to several reasons, such as the introduction of non-native trout in the Alpine lakes. The trout feeds on tadpoles and young frogs, leading to the disappearance of the mountain-yellow-legged frog in most of its known historical locations.

Scientists predict that this frog could be extinct within decades.

This frog is medium-sized, with a length of 1.5 to 3.75 inches (40 to 95 mm). The males are smaller than the females, and both genders have a mix of brown and yellow covering their outer skin. Some are gray, red or greenish-brown with dark spots or blotches on their back. This frog has a yellow or light orange underside beneath its limbs.

3. Northern Goshawk

The Northern goshawk is another unique bird that’s found in Lake Tahoe. This bird is bigger, wilder and more aggressive than its relatives – the Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks.

The goshawk got its name from the old English term ‘goose hawk’ due to its habit of preying on birds. The bird was once called “cook’s hawk” because of its success at snaring meat from a pot too.

This bird is quite common in the east of the Lake Tahoe basin. It’s a shy bird that avoids humans and our activities.

Northern Goshawk
iStock.com/AGD Beukhof

4. California Spotted Owl

Like the Northern goshawk, the California spotted owl is a rare bird in the east of Lake Tahoe.

This bird is a subspecies of the spotted owl, along with the Northern spotted owl and Mexican spotted owl.

It’s a beautiful bird with white spots on its head and chest, plus a barred tail. It has dark brown eyes surrounded by large facial disks and a yellow bill. Most owls have eyes that are yellow to red-orange.

California spotted owls love to eat squirrels and woodrats. They can live up to 17 years and prefer being active at night.

The primary reason this bird is endangered is the decline in old-growth forests where they live. But you could still be lucky and see this hunter in action when visiting Lake Tahoe.

5. Lahontan Cutthroat Trout

The Forest Service and California Department of Fish and Game reintroduced the Lahontan cutthroat trout into Lake Tahoe.

This fish is the largest subspecies of cutthroat trout and is the state fish of Nevada. It can grow from 8 to 22 inches in length and weigh about 4 ounces.

The Lahontan cutthroat trout are still few in Lake Tahoe and this fish was actually listed in 1970 as a threatened species under the Federal Endangered Species Act.

However, efforts to restore it have been successful, and you can see this trout in Lake Tahoe.

6. Forster’s Tern

The Forester tern is a slender, long-tailed, long-winged seabird with a long-pointed bill and short legs. This bird visits the Lake Tahoe basin from May to September to breed. Like the Osprey, the Forster’s tern embarks on a long journey from Tahoe to Central and South America every year.

With a height of almost 15 inches and a wingspan of about 3 feet, the Forester tern hunts over shallow waters, diving with its beak first to capture prey.

This bird is often confused with the common tern. But there’s a difference, as the Forster’s tern has a long tail and a distinctively black eye patch.

Forster's tern flying in beautiful light
iStock.com/rancho_runner

7. Sierra Red Fox

The red fox is the largest and most prevalent of the true foxes. It is located in the entire northern hemisphere. But, the Sierra red fox, which is a subalpine of the red fox, is situated only in the high elevation reaches of the Sierra Nevada and Southern cascade mountains.

The Sierra red fox is about one meter long. It has an elongated snout, pointy ears, and large tail. Its coat is thick and has it small toe pads specially equipped to survive in the cold.

The Sierra red fox is an endangered species with unfortunately just an estimated 18 to 39 individuals left in the wild. The reasons behind this massive decline are human encroachment, wildfire and climate change.

The remaining individuals are believed to live south of Lake Tahoe in the region south of California State Highway 88. Their territory extends into the easternmost portion of Yosemite park. When it comes to spotting wildlife in Lake Tahoe, this fox is one of the rarest finds.

8. Bufflehead Duck

The Bufflehead duck is a small duck with a short bill and a large head. The male and female are different as the males have a large white patch on the head and chest. Its back is dark, and a portion of the head has purple-green iridescence. Females, on the other hand, are brownish with a distinctive single white patch on the cheek.

Buffleheads are highly active and forage on aquatic insects, molluscs, and crustaceans. This duck can dive and stay submerged for about 13 seconds.

Initially, the Bufflehead duck was restricted to California in the small, isolated parts of the state’s extreme northeastern corner. But from late 1999 to 2000, the duck rapidly spread southward and started breeding throughout the Tahoe region and the Northern Sierra Nevada. Climate change is one of the factors believed to cause the shift.

A closeup shot of a bufflehead flying over still water
iStock.com/Wirestock

Fishing At Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe has its fair share of fish, making it an ideal spot for those who enjoy fishing.

There are several main species at the lake – the Mackinaw (Lake Trout), Rainbow Trout, Rainbow Trout and the Kokanee Salmon.

Lake Tahoe is synonymous with Mackinaw as it is the most common fish in its waters, whilst the Rainbow Trout and Brown trout constitute 4% of the fish population.

There are also other fish of various sizes in the lake, including small fish in shallow waters like the whitefish, catfish, sculpin, crappie and more.

looking down through heavy forest onto Lake Tahoe USA and mountains in distance and boat creating wake in water down below.
iStock.com/Susan Vineyard

Birdlife In Lake Tahoe

Bird lovers have every reason to visit Lake Tahoe with its diversity of birds. One of the most common birds is the Mountain Chickadee, with its high-pitched sound. Other birds found in the region include:

  • The white-headed woodpecker
  • Common merganser
  • Wilson’s phalarope
  • The Bald eagle
  • Yellow-headed Blackbird
  • Steller’s Jay

Many other birds appear at the lake, making it a must-visit place for birdwatching.