Lava Beds National Monument

Lava Beds National Monument



You might be surprised by the variety of wildlife that overcomes dry summers, cold winters, and scarce water to thrive here; bird watching is especially good year-round.

The Klamath and Tulelake Basins are world famous bird watching destinations. The Lava Beds should be part of any birder's travel plans to these areas, as the Monument provides a variety of habitats for both migratory and year-round resident species.

There are two hardy species of amphibians in the park.

Bats are some of most interesting mammals in the Lava Beds.

Crustaceans & Cave Invertebrates
Hiden in deep, dark caves, a few crustaceans and other invertibrates live secret lives.

Insects & Above - Ground Invertibrates
Many colorful and interesting insects can be found in the park.

From kangaroo rats to mountain lions, a variety of mammals are found here.

Several species of lizards and snakes live here, including rattlesnakes.


Because the Monument spans three very different habitats and is adjacent to the wetlands of Tulelake Wildlife Refuge, a good variety of birds can be found here. The southern most area of the park is the highest, receives the most precipitation, and supports a ponderosa pine forest. Farther downhill to the north, the middle elevations are a juniper and shrub woodland. Extending to the northern boundary are lower grasslands and sagebrush. These three areas provide habitat to some birds that specialize in living in them, and some birds at are “generalists,” able to live in some or all of these habitats. A selected few are listed below according to where they are most often found.

Pine Forest 
White-headed Woodpecker
The unique plumage of the White-headed Woodpecker makes it unmistakable. This bird is also unique in that it forages for insects and grubs like other woodpeckers, but also eats the seeds of conifer trees, especially during the winter months. It nests in cavities made in dead but standing trees, often called "snags". It relies on natural wildfires to create these snags, and has become rare because of fire suppression and habitat reduction from logging.

Dark-eyed Junco
These common birds are easily identified in flight by their prominent white outer tail feathers. They are often visitors to suburban backyards, and frequent birdfeeders for seeds. Small flocks mix with chichadees, titmice, and other small birds.

Yellow-rumped Warbler
A common bird in small flocks among junipers and pines in open woodlands, these very active birds seem to be in constant motion. They often chase and catch flying insects in acrobatic dogfights.

Sharp-shinned Hawk
Typical of other hawks in the “accipiter” family, this bird is best identified by its short, broad, rounded wings, straight squared tail, and red eyes. Females are considerably larger than males. The Sharp-shinned Hawk is very agile, and thus able to hunt small birds while flying swiftly through a dense forest.

Pygmy Nuthatch
These lively, insectivore/seed eaters can frequently be seen in mixed flocks with Red-breasted Nuthatches, Juniper Titmice, Dark-eyed Juncos and other permanent residents of Lava Beds. Nuthatches climb down tree trunks headfirst in search of insects. On cold winter nights it huddles together with other nuthatches in a protected roost site, and allows its core body temperature to drop to near hypothermic levels. Their song is a distinctive "meep meep" heard from high in the trees.

Juniper & Shrub Woodland
Purple Martin
Due to predation and habitat destruction, Purple Martins in the Eastern United States have evolved to exclusively select manmade martin houses in which to nest. In the western U.S. however, this largest species of swallows continues to prefer natural nesting cavities, such as holes drilled into dead standing trees by woodpeckers. Here at Lava Beds, Purple Martins choose to roost and breed in rock crevices near cave entrances. Mornings and evenings these birds, which are designated as a “sensitive species” in the state of California, can be observed flying near the mouths of caves in search of insects.

Lazuli Bunting

The male Lazuli Bunting is a sight to behold with bright blue plumage, white wing patches and orange breast. After returning from their winter in the tropics, males sing loudly from the tops of trees to establish territories and attract a mate. Don’t confuse it with the similarly colored Western Bluebird, which is larger and has a narrower beak.

Western Bluebird

Male Western Bluebirds are bright blue with patches of chestnut on the breast, flanks and back. Females are overall much more drab with a distinctive white eye ring. This bluebird prefers to hunt insects in open woodlands or at the edges of fields, perching on fenceposts and then swooping down to snag prey.

Canyon Wren
Like most wrens, this small bird is very active and is often seen hunting for insects on rocky outcrops and cliffs. Rock, Bewicks and Marsh Wrens are also common in the park, but Canyon Wrens have a distinct and beautiful song; a long, melodic line of descending notes that echo in canyons throughout the west.

Western Scrub Jay
This loud songbird, like most Corvids (jays, magpies and ravens), is very intelligent. It will remember where it has cached food and if observed, will relocate stashes. You might be able to recognize the Western Scrub Jay in flight by its long tail, blue coloration on the upper side of the body and its undulating flight pattern. When perched, its grey back and white eyebrow and throat are diagnostic.

Townsend's Solitare
Townsend’s Solitaires can easily be viewed near the visitor center and the Cave Loop drive. These slender gray birds are highly territorial during the winter months in which they aggressively defend patches of juniper trees and their valuable berries. Though they are usually insect eaters, these birds eat almost nothing else during the winter.

Great Basin Shrub & Grasslands
Western Meadowlark
These magnificent birds can often be seen perched on fences or small bushes as it surveys its territory. This state bird of Oregon has a loud, sweet, melodic song. They are ground-nesters, common in most upland habitats that lack trees.

Sage Thrasher
The smallest and only thrasher resident at Lava Beds, the Sage Thrasher prefers sagebrush and bitterbrush dominated landscapes intermixed with native grasses. This bird has demonstrated a strong distaste for cheatgrass which is an invasive grass over much of the western United States including Lava Beds National Monument.

Northern Harrier
The Northern Harrier can be viewed winging low over open grassland areas of the Lava Beds in the search for rodents and other small mammals. Differences between the male and female of this species are obvious. The undersides of the male are white while the back is pale gray, whereas the female is colored in a palette of brown and white. Both male and female have an unmistakable white rump, visible in flight. A characteristic unique to this hawk is a “circular facial disc,” similar to that of owls, which serves to funnel sounds to their ears and better hear the rustling of their prey as they scurry through vegetation.

Brewer's Sparrow
A small sparrow which can best be identified by all-over drab, gray coloring and complete white eye ring. A summer resident at Lava Beds, the Brewer’s Sparrow has adapted to life in a dry environment by conserving water through biological adaptations greatly reducing its loss of body fluids. During the summer months, this sparrow can subsist on a diet of seeds and insects with very little supplemental water. Another victim of habitat destruction and fragmentation, Brewer’s Sparrow census numbers have been decreasing steadily.

Great Horned Owl

Widespread across most of North America, this large owl is easily identified by cat-like ear tufts. Great Horned Owls are not particular about nesting sites, choosing other birds’ nests, buildings, trees or crevices in cliffs and are frequently visible rearing young at the Petroglyph unit of Lava Beds. They are efficient hunters, preying on both birds and mammals (even skunks!). The “hoo hoodoo hooo hoo” of the great horned is the most recognized of owl songs.


It's not suprising that we only have two species of amphibians in the park. Then again, it might be suprising we have any at all, with our warm, dry summer, lack of permanent surface water, and rough terrain. Yet there is enough shelter and moisture in some lava tube caves or under the rocky talus of lava flows to protect them, and they can breed in the pools of water that collect there after infrequent rains. They are most often seen hopping across roads after these summer storms.

Boreal Toad
Bufo boreas, the Western Toad, is widespread throughout the American west. The subspecies Bufo boreas boreas found at the Lava Beds is commonly known as the Boreal Toad, named for the cooler mountain climates it lives in. They are incredibly tolerant of a wide range of temperatures, often active as soon as mountain snows begin to melt.

Like other toads, their think, warty skin allows adults to live away from water for long periods of time. However, they must return to standing water to lay up to and incredible 16,000 eggs in long strands anchored to aquatic vegetation. Their dark tadpoles metamorphose into young toads only a half-inch long, but they can grow to five inches over the next few years.

Pacific Tree Frog
Technically a member of the tree frog family, this smallest amphibian in California (up to two inches long) is found in many habitats, including ones with few trees. It's range includes most of the west coast, from up to 11,000 feet in the mountains to coastal wetlands. Like the Boreal Toad, it lives at the Lava Beds in the cooler, moist microclimates at cave entrances and under the jumble of large rocks in lava flows.

These frogs have the incredible ability to change their skin color and tone in about ten minutes, according to their surroundings. This is slower than chameleon and anole lizards can change colors, but still serves the same purpose to hide from predators. They sport a variety of colors, including brown, tan, almost white, bright green, or salmon-pink.

Pacific Tree Frogs eat just about anything smaller than themselves, primarily insects and other small invertebrates. They breed in surprisingly small pools of rainwater, and are the most commonly encountered amphibian in the park.


Bats are some of the most interesting animals at the Lava Beds, home to at least 15 different species. Park staff works year-round to monitor and protect the bats and their habitat, the lava tube caves.

Here the bats find just the right conditions to roost, raise their pups, and hibernate - but not all in the same cave! They actually use many different caves for all these purposes. Rangers constantly monitor which caves are in use, and close them if needed to protect newborn bats and their nervous mothers from disturbance.

A few rules to follow regarding bats:
-Please respect cave closures
-If you find a single bat, do not touch a bat or otherwise disturb it. Quietly leave the area.
-If you encounter several bats, quietly leave the area, and let a ranger know where you saw them. You may have found a new colony of Townsends Big-Eared Bats!

The Bats of the Lava Beds
While some bats around the world eat fruit or drink nectar from flowers like a hummingbird, all the bats here are insect eaters. Bats are a big help to farmers because they eat many insects that can damage crops. Besides caves, some bats may roost in the cracks of rocky cliffs, in the loose bark or hollows of trees, and in some man-made structures. Here are a few of the 15 species you might see while visiting the Lava Beds:

Townsend's Big-Eared Bat
Rare and considered threatened with declining populations in most areas, this species is still doing well at the Lava Beds. Because of this, the park works hard to protect them and keeps track of their population. They regularly use several caves in the Cave Loop area to raise their young. These caves have to be closed to all visitors becase the mother bats, very timid by nature, can be so scared by just one person walking past that she flies away and abandons her young, called a "pup." Since these bats gather together in maternal colonies of several dozen female bats and their flightless pups, one careless person can cause the death of that entire generation of bats.

Mexican Free-Tailed Bat
Named for the way their tail is longer than the membrane of skin between their feet, these bats migrate all the way to the jungles of Central America and the Amazon for the winter. They return to the Lava Beds by the tens of thousands and live remote caves in the park. They consume ton upon ton of insects over the marshes and fields of the Tulelake Basin and are a great benefit to local agriculture.

Hoary Bat
A bat that you will not find in a cave, these furry bats live in forests and roost in trees. They are found all over North America all the way into the cool forests of Canada, and are the only species of bat in Hawaii. They live generally solitary lives and are very hard to find.


From kangaroo rats to mountain lions, a variety of mammals are found here. Squirrels, mule deer, and kangaroo rats are the most commonly encountered mammal in the monument. However, there are many other species often found during the course of a visit. They have all adapted to living in this dry environment, and many take advantage of the shelter provided by the numerous lava tube caves.

Bats, flying mammals common at night and in the caves, are discussed on their own page.

California Ground Squirrel
The park's most often seen mammal in the warmer seasons, these squirrels are easily identified by the dark gray patch between their shoulders. They often perch on small trees, shrubs, or rock outcrops and survey the area for predators or territorial rivals.

American Pika
The pika is a fascinating little relative of rabbits - it is not closely related to rodents like squirrels, mice and rats. In fact, it is often called a "rock rabbit," even though they lack tails and have small, rounded ears. Pika usually live in cold alpine areas. They survive in the lava beds because they keep cool in the caves and cave collapse areas, where they live among the rocky talus as they would on high mountain slopes. Their population in the Great Basin has been studied as an example of how climate change can impact species dependant on cooler temperatures.

Woodrats, often called "packrats," are commonly found in caves and in old juniper stands. In both places, their large nests of twigs and branches are conspicuous. Look for them in the trees near the last sharp turn at the top of the Schonchin Butte trail. If you hear a loud hissing while exploring a cave, it's an angry little woodrat trying to defend his home. Don't be alarmed, these little guys make lots of noise, but stay well hidden.

Kangaroo Rat
Any visitor that drives monument roads at night is likely to encounter these little rodents hopping around on their hind legs, their long tufted tail flying around behind them. The secret to their success in this environment is their body's ability to generate water from the seeds and vegetation they eat. They never have to drink liquid water their entire lives!

Black-Tailed Jack Rabbit
There are two kinds of rabbits: true rabbits such as the desert cottontail commonly found in the monument, and the hares. Jack rabbits are a kind of hare, easilly identified by their larger size, longer legs, and remarkable ears. They use these ears the same way elephants do, to cool themselves in warm weather by circulating blood through them. Their large surface area allows body heat to radiate away.

Burrowing predators, badgers are our largest member of the weasel family. They are not common, but might be seen throughout the park. They have a fierce demeanor, and should not be approached, despite only being the size of a stocky housecat. They eat almost anything they can catch, but primarily hunt burrowing rodents. They are powerful diggers, and quickly excavate deep into the dens of their prey with a tremedous display of flying dirt.

The park's smallest and most common wild cat, the largest males grow to around 30 pounds, females to 20. They have a very small tail, and are spotted all over. A mother and her cubs are often seen at night on the park roads, another good reason to obey speed limits and be on the lookout for wildlife when traveling around the park.

Mountain Lion

Call them what you will: panther, puma, cougar, or mountain lion, these large cats are majestic animals. They average 150 pounds as adults, though some reach an astonishing 250 pounds. Besides their much greater size, they have a very long tail and even coloration, easily distinguishing them from bobcats. They are "crepuscular," meaning most active at dusk and dawn, when visitors are encouraged to hike in groups and understand how to be safe in "lion country."

Mule Deer
Larger than white-tailed deer, mule deer are named for the resemblance of their ears to those of mules. Common year-round, in winter they gather into herds along Hill Road at the north end of the park, attracted by the farm fields and water of the Tulelake basin. Seemingly abandoned, fawns are often discovered hiding in tall grass or shrubs to evade predators. If you find one, please leave it alone; It's mother is somewhere nearby, also waiting for you to move along.

Adopt-a-Bat Program

The Adopt-A-Bat Program gives visitors to the monument an opportunity to participate directly in bat conservation. The proceeds received from this program are used to develop educational materials that are sent out to local schools to educate school children about bats, and for the bat research program.

Bats are unique animals. They are the only mammal that can fly. They have their very own taxonomic order, Chiroptera (kï-'räp-ter-a), which means "hand-wing." There are over 950 species of bats worldwide, second only to rodents in number, and at least 15 species live at the Lava Beds. Bats are also some of the most threatened animals on earth because of the rapid destruction of critical habitat and their slow rate of reproduction. Female bats mature slowly and, depending on the species, usually have only one baby (pup) per year.

Bat behavior and ecology is a fascinating field of study. The diversity of bat species and their wide range of habitats make them critical parts of the ecosystems in which they live. People play a vital, active role as participants in, and stewards of, the natural world that we all depend on for our survival.

You can help the bats! For a donation of $10, new adoptive bat parents receive the "Bat House Builder's Handbook," as well as several other items to help you learn about bats and bat conservation.