CODY, Wyo., January 27, 2021 – Spring is traditionally a time of rebirth, and many wildlife species in northwestern Wyoming’s Cody Yellowstoneregion embrace that tradition literally.
Although the first official day of spring this year is Saturday, March 20, for most area residents the season truly begins when bear cubs and bison calves make their debut.
“Around here, when the next generation of bison, bears and other species make their debut, you know that winter is finally winding down,” said Claudia Wade, executive director of Cody Yellowstone, the marketing arm for the region that includes the towns of Cody, Meeteetse and Powell and the valley east of Yellowstone National Park. “Spotting these babes in the woods is a time for celebration, and this year when we are on the cusp of being able to return to normal, that first sighting will be especially significant.”
Pro tips for safe spring wildlife viewing
Keep your distance from wildlife and humans alike. The National Park Service recommends staying at least 100 yards away from bears and wolves and 25 yards from other wildlife. Wildlife watchers should also observe Covid-19 protocols by staying at least six feet from humans not in their travel group.
Drive carefully and keep and binoculars handy. “Throughout the spring, you can often observe wildlife along the Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway on the way to the East Gate of the park,” said Wade. “If you do pull off to get a better view, remember to do it safely.” Deer, elk, bears and bighorn sheep are among the species that are often observed near roadways.
Early morning and dusk are the best times of the day to spot animals in the wild.
Bison jams happen. Bison survive the harsh Yellowstone winter by avoiding unnecessary exertion, and that frequently means that herds will lumber down paved, cleared roads instead of through deep snow. Lucky travelers who encounter a so-called bison jam should savor the up-close view of these mighty creatures as they slowly pass stalled traffic. Visitors should stay in their vehicles, keep windows rolled up and not try to touch or speed up the animals.
Never feed the wildlife.
The roads into Yellowstone National Park reopen to private wheeled vehicles on a staggered schedule. Cody offers access to the East and Northeast Gates. The East Gate reopens to private vehicles on May 7. The opening date for the Northeast Gate varies, depending on the weather. Check here for the latest information on opening dates, road construction and more.
Know where you’re going. Visit the Cody Visitor Center for mapsand other information about the region.
About the next generation of wildlife in Cody Yellowstone
Bison calves are often the first of the young ones to make their debut. Reddish-colored, fuzzy-furred bison calves are quick studies, and they can keep up with their mothers as soon as two hours after birth. It takes a village to protect a bison calf, and all adult bison surround young calves when predators such as wolves and bears are nearby.
Black bear cubs were born during the winter, and they spend the first couple of months of their lives nursing and dozing while their semiconscious mamas continue to slumber in their dens. The bear cubs finally see daylight around the month of April. Mothers spend the next 16 to 18 months teaching their babies how to survive in the wild.
Moose cows aren’t quite as patient with their young. Once they give birth to a new calf – typically in May or June – they chase away the previous season’s calves. While not known for their intelligence, moose are predictably unpredictable, particularly when protecting a calf. Moose cows will chase human observers and other wildlife if they perceive a threat. Moose are frequently spotted near the Northeast and East entrances to Yellowstone.
Bighorn sheep produce one or two lambs annually. Born in May or June, the lambs immediately begin the multi-year process of growing their horns. For this species, size matters. The horns on male Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep can weigh as much as 40 pounds, and the size of horns can influence a ram’s rank in the herd.
Elk thrive throughout the region, particularly in East Yellowstone Valley along the North Fork of the Shoshone River. Usually born in late May and June, elk calves like most ungulates can walk within an hour or two of birth. An elk cow’s protective strategy when predators are near is to run away in hopes the predator will follow her and not notice the newborn lying motionless in the grass.
Wolf pups begin appearing in April and May, and their packs will remain with them for three to 10 weeks as they learn bit by bit how to be a wolf in Yellowstone. Their playful antics with their littermates make wolf-watching in spring especially fun. While wolves roam throughout the Greater Yellowstone region, the best sightings are often in the Lamar Valley inside the park.
River otters are also born with an entertainer’s spirit, but they are a little harder to spot. Born in March and April, these aquatic nomads stay with their moms for a year as they learn how to find fish and other food and swim underwater for minutes at a time.
Eagles emerge in mid-April and fly from their nests three to four months after that. This remarkable once-endangered bird is one of 19 raptor species in the park. Northwestern Wyoming is home to bald eagles and golden eagles. Bald eagles feed on fish, and their nests can often be found in trees close to water. Golden eagles are more frequently spotted in valleys where they can accommodate their preference for rabbits and other small mammals.
What else to know
Plan inside fun when the weather isn’t cooperating. Cody is home to numerous museums including the Smithsonian-affiliated Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Heart Mountain WWII Interpretive Centerand By Western Hands Museum & Gallery.
Book accommodations now. Cody’s many hotels, lodges and inns are accepting reservations for spring travelers now. There are options for every budget and preference.