Discover the hidden world that comes alive after dark throughout California. From mysterious owls to stealthy raccoons, this article will explore fascinating nocturnal creatures that call the Golden State their home.
Table of Contents
Nocturnal Animals In California
- Scientific Name: Castor canadensis
American beavers, “keystone species” native to California, serve as ecosystem engineers, crucial in creating and sustaining diverse habitats across the state.
They are North America’s largest rodents and have distinctive features like a wide flat tail used in dam building and for producing alarm warnings. They’re aquatic creatures with webbed feet that can live up to 24 years and are prevalent around wooded ponds, lakes, and rivers.
Beavers are herbivores who feed on trees, plants, and even crops. Breeding occurs mainly in January and February, with kits leaving the lodge after 2 weeks.
- Scientific Name: Procyon lotor
In California, raccoons are classified as furbearers. These nocturnal creatures mate there from late January to early February and are common throughout the state, bar the desert.
During the day, they sleep in hollow trees, logs, or abandoned dens and become active at night, reaching peak activity during dark hours. While not true hibernators, they can sleep for extended periods in the cold winter months.
Known for their grayish-brown fur, black-ringed tails, and distinctive black mask around their eyes, raccoons are often spotted in urban areas, rummaging through garbage cans at night. These charismatic mammals have a well-developed sense of touch they use during feeding.
3. Virginia Opossum
- Scientific Name: Didelphis virginiana
Virginia opossums are nocturnal marsupials first introduced to California in 1910. They have since spread throughout the state, occurring widely in western California along the entire coast and interior, west of Sierra Nevada, with a few records in northeastern California.
They favor diverse habitats such as riparian areas, moist woodlands, brushy landscapes, wetlands, and agricultural and residential zones, that offer food and cover. They are less commonly found in dense conifer forests and grasslands.
These creatures weigh 4 to 7 pounds and are about 6 to 8 inches tall at the shoulder, with females being smaller. Their unique fur, white at the base and black-tipped, provides a grayish-white appearance, while their hairless tails are well-suited for grasping.
Opossums feed on insects, fruits, crayfish, and more, making them highly adaptable to various habitats, from woodlands to residential areas.
4. Northern Flying Squirrel
- Scientific Name: Glaucomys sabrinus
Found throughout various forested areas in California, the northern flying squirrel is a familiar resident in coniferous habitats spanning from ponderosa pine to lodgepole pine forests. These include regions like the North Coast, Klamath, Cascade, Sierra Nevada Ranges, and the Warner Mts.
Living in trees near rivers and streams, these omnivores have a diverse diet. This includes seeds, nuts, and fruits from various trees and shrubs, along with lichens, fungi, arthropods, eggs, and even birds.
Despite their name, these tree squirrels don’t truly fly; instead, they gracefully glide with the help of a patagium – a fold of skin – showcasing a light brown hue with pale underparts. They maintain yearlong nocturnal activity, making them fascinating creatures to observe in the California wilderness.
5. Big Brown Bat
- Scientific Name: Eptesicus fuscus
The big brown bat, widely distributed in California, thrives in various North American environments. This species, with a wingspan of 32.5–35 cm, was first described in 1796.
Big brown bats play a crucial role in pest control, with a diet focused on night-flying insects, including agricultural pests like cucumber beetles. These bats roost in caves, tunnels, tree cavities, and human structures during the day. Nocturnal by nature, they become active usually 1-2 hours after sunset.
6. Western Screech-Owl
- Scientific Name: Megascops kennicottii
These small owls with stocky bodies are common year-round in woodlands across the state. Part of their scientific name “kennicottii” is after the American naturalist Robert Kennicott.
The species are nocturnal, often seen sitting on perches before swooping down and catching their prey. They mostly feed on insects, small mammals, and birds – listen for their series of whistled notes that accelerate at the end and that are given at night.
Western screech owls can be found in different wooded habitats, but mostly prefer riparian and deciduous areas; also urban areas and parks.
Other owls found in the state include flammulated owls, great horned owls, barn owls, barred owls, long-eared owls, short-eared owls, northern saw-whet owls, burrowing owls, spotted owls, great gray owls. Read about other common nocturnal birds found in CA here.
7. American Black Bear
- Scientific Name: Ursus americanus
California has seen a significant rise in its black bear population, now estimated to be between 30,000 and 40,000 bears. That is a significant increase from the 1982 count of 10,000 to 15,000.
These large mammals, with fur ranging from black to dark brown, exhibit impressive eyesight and a keen sense of smell, excelling in climbing and swimming. They are highly opportunistic and will eat nearly anything, feeding on both plant and animal matter. Males during breeding season are territorial and mate with multiple females in June and July.
Read More: Photo guide on Ohio’s nocturnal animals
- Scientific Name: Canis latrans
Coyotes are found throughout most of California. According to the California Department of Fish and Game, they have a population ranging from 250,000 to 750,000 individuals.
These adaptable creatures thrive in various habitats across the state, excluding city centers. Their fur color varies from tan-brown in arid regions to darker hues in mountainous or humid areas. Coyotes breed primarily in the early months of the year.
Opportunistic eaters, they prey on small mammals, deer fawns, and sometimes even adult deer, displaying a broad dietary range that may include domestic poultry and livestock.
9. Red Fox
- Scientific Name: Vulpes vulpes
Red foxes are widely distributed in lowlands in central and southern California.
They are one of two fox species found in the state (the other being the gray fox) and measure similarly to a small dog. If you see them in the wild, you will notice distinctive red or orange coloration and a long, bushy tail with a white tip.
They hunt for mice, meadow voles, and rabbits, but also consume insects, birds, eggs, fruits, and berries, in addition to scavenging carrion and garbage when available. These animals are active at night and can be occasionally found in residential neighborhoods, taking advantage of available food and shelter options.
- Scientific Name: Lynx rufus
Bobcats are common in various throughout most of California. They vary in color from grayish brown to reddish brown and have distinctive black spots on their legs and lower sides. Bobcats typically measure 16-22 inches at the shoulder and weigh between 12 to 25 lbs.
They prefer heavily forested areas and feed on cotton rats, mice, cottontail rabbits, and squirrels. They occasionally include white-tailed deer in their diet during hunting season or the fawning season.
California is home to a remarkable array of nocturnal creatures. This article highlighted ten animals that inhabit the state at night, delving into the lives of American black bears, bobcats, beavers, coyotes, possums, raccoons, and others.
If you enjoyed this article, feel free to read our guide on South Carolina’s nocturnal animals.