Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Animals

Surrounded by urban areas, Cuyahoga Valley National Park provides a refuge for wildlife. The park’s 33,000 acres contain forest, field, river, and wetland habitats that offer food, water, shelter, and open space to wild animals. The park’s fragmented configuration and land use history have a strong effect on the types of wildlife found here.

The park’s diverse wildlife is readily apparent. Any trip to CVNP offers opportunities for viewing wild animals in their natural setting, from painted turtles sunbathing on submerged logs to wild turkeys wandering across open fields. With populations that have increased an average of 9% per year over the past 12 years, white-tailed deer are the most visible mammal in the park, congregating in the early morning and late afternoon hours. Previous park studies have discovered 194 species of birds, 91 aquatic macroinvertebrates, 56 butterfly species, 43 fish, 32 mammals, 22 amphibians, and 20 species of reptiles.

Since CVNP’s establishment as a national park, several species that were extirpated from the park long ago have naturally reestablished themselves. Industrious beavers build their lodges and dams on many of the park’s streams and ponds. Coyotes, the masters of adaptation, have made their way back to the Cuyahoga Valley after a long absence. Other species are using the park in ways they haven’t in the past. Great blue herons, never before known to breed in the park, now raise their young in two boisterous rookeries along the Cuyahoga River.

In its role as a refuge, CVNP provides a home or a stopover point for several threatened and endangered species. A federally endangered Indiana bat was found within park boundaries in July 2002, the first instance of that species ever recorded in the park. Non-breeding bald eagles, which are federally threatened, have been seen perched high above the Cuyahoga River during winter months. Nineteen bird species that are considered threatened or endangered by the state of Ohio breed in the park or pass through during migration.

Birds

Cuyahoga Valley National Park's diverse landscape provides habitat for 194 species of birds, 105 of which breed in the park. A total of 15 of these species are "of concern" for conservation (either listed as federally or state-endangered). The park provides important habitat for such species.

Songbirds are found in CNVP throughout the year, though large numbers migrate through the area in spring and fall. To learn more about these songbirds, researchers are currently performing two studies. A study of the relative abundance of forest songbirds and their specific habitat requirements within the park is underway. Another study focuses on the potential value of electric utility corridors for migrating songbirds.

The park's riverine and wetland habitats support many different bird species. Great blue herons, not known to nest in the park before the 1980s, now raise young in two heronries within or adjacent to the park boundary. Starting in April, visitors can observe herons carting sticks to repair or build nests at two sites along the Cuyahoga River north of Route 82 and just south of Bath Road. Heron nest monitoring has found hundreds of nests perched high above the river and filled with squawking, awkward young from May to July. Wood ducks, Canada geese, and other waterfowl are found throughout the park.

Ten raptors are either summer or year-round residents of the Cuyahoga Valley. Hawk and owl nests have been monitored annually since 1993 to collect data on habitat, seasonal nesting periods, and reproductive success of known and newly reported nests. From 1996 to 1999, raptors were surveyed using broadcast calling techniques to determine distribution and relative abundance and to locate more nest sites. The survey found that turkey vulture, red-tailed hawk, and red-shouldered hawk species were the most abundant and widely distributed raptors in the area.

Amphibians

Amphibians (frogs, toads, and salamanders) are an important part of the ecological balance of many habitats. They are like sponges, soaking up water and air through their skin. Anything found in their environment becomes a part of them, making them prone to localized sources of contamination. They are, therefore, good indicators of environmental health. Current research efforts are ongoing to identify and quantify threats to amphibian populations and to provide useful information to park managers on environmental conditions.

A baseline inventory of the amphibians in the park was prepared through field studies from the summer of 1982 to the fall of 1983 and from park and literature records. This early study identified nine species of salamanders, eight species of frogs, and one toad in CVNP. Most of these species can be heard or seen along remnants of the Ohio & Erie Canal that run the length of the park and in many of the wetlands and ponds that dot the landscape. A short walk on the Towpath Trail on a late spring morning allows visitors to hear the quick "peep-peep-peep" of the spring peeper or the low resonant "rumm-rumm-rumm" of the bullfrog. The park's salamanders are harder to find, hidden in the forest near small temporary ponds or other wet depressions. Occasionally, however, migrations of salamanders are observed during rainy spring nights as they cross roadways to reach their breeding ponds.   

Park staff and volunteers have monitored frogs and marsh birds since 1995 as part of a long term Marsh Monitoring Program (MMP). The MMP established by Bird Studies Canada and Environment Canada in 1994 is a bi-national, long term monitoring program that coordinates the skills, interests, and stewardship of hundreds of citizens across the Great Lakes Basin to help understand, monitor, and conserve the region's wetlands and their amphibian and bird inhabitants. The program receives support from Environment Canada, U.S. Great Lakes Protection Fund, U.S. Environmental Protection Fund, and Great Lakes 2000 Cleanup Fund.

The MMP has been monitoring trends in marsh birds and calling amphibians using data provided by more than 600 volunteer participants. Recent population trends for certain Great Lakes marsh birds appear to be emerging. Only two marsh bird species, common yellowthroat and mallard, are experiencing a significant increase in abundance while populations that appear to be declining are the American coot, black tern, blue-winged teal, common moorhen/American coot, pied-billed grebe, red-winged blackbird, sora, tree swallow, and Virginia rail.

Marsh birds and frogs are monitored at two sites in the park (Lock 29 and Ira Trailhead Beaver Marsh) as part of this long term monitoring project. Marsh birds are monitored twice each spring using broadcast calling surveys. Frogs are monitored three times each spring using point counts.

Additional research on amphibians in CVNP is being performed by Cleveland State University, John Carroll University, and the University of Akron. Researchers are examining changes in amphibian abundance and species richness with the goal of identifying and quantifying important threats to amphibian populations in CVNP.

Reptiles

Observant visitors exploring the Beaver Marsh or other wetlands along the Cuyahoga River are sometimes rewarded with the sight of a northern water snake sunning itself on a half-submerged log or a common snapping turtle peering through the duckweed covering its head like a veil. Twenty species of reptiles are found in CVNP including 11 snakes, 8 turtles, and 1 skink. All species are native with the exception of the red-eared slider, an exotic turtle species.

No poisonous snakes have been found in the park, although two species—northern copperheads and Massasauga rattlesnakes (an endangered species in Ohio)—have been identified in nearby counties. The stocky, dark-colored Northern water snake is sometimes mistakenly identified as a water moccasin, a poisonous snake not found in the state.

None of the park's reptiles are threatened or endangered. However, three species of turtles—the eastern box turtle, the spotted turtle, and Blanding's turtle—have been designated species of special interest in Ohio. These species, like all species of animals and plants within CVNP, are protected.

Mammals

Small mammals make up the majority of the mammal population in CVNP. With much of the park covered with fields or forests, mice, moles, voles, chipmunks, squirrels, and other small mammals are abundant. If you hear rustling leaves while hiking through the woods, one of these small critters is usually the culprit.

Along roadsides, white-tailed deer and woodchucks graze on grasses and forbes in open fields. At night, you may catch a glimpse of raccoons or opossums scurrying across the road, in a hurry to find food or shelter before the day begins.

Many of the park's wetlands are filled with beaver and muskrat activity. Where a tree once stood, there may be nothing left but a stump and woodchips, signs of the beaver's need for food, shelter, or a dam. Mink, in search of fish, snakes, or other foods, often visit wetlands or streams but are rarely seen.

The ground is not the only place to look for CVNP's mammals. Seven species of bats have been found in the park, three of which were identified in a 2002 bat survey. A federally endangered species never before identified in the park, the Indiana bat, was found during the survey.

Insects, Spiders, Centipedes, Millipedes

Despite being the most diverse and abundant animals in natural ecosystems, insects and other related invertebrates (e.g. spiders, millipedes, etc.) are greatly under appreciated. More species of insects exist than all other animal species combined. They have survived on earth for more than 300 million years and may possess the ability to survive for millions more. Insects are vital to the complex cycle of life, furnishing food for other creatures and breaking down natural materials to chemicals and nutrients for recycling into new life. Whirling, buzzing, singing, chewing, vibrating with energy, they are all around us.

Studies of invertebrates in CVNP include butterfly monitoring and inventories of dragonflies, bees, ants, and spiders. Butterflies are important pollinators and are also significant in nutrient recycling, both as consumers and as prey for other species. Many species are restricted to unique ecological conditions, making them valuable indicators of ecosystem quality and change. In 1996 CVNP was invited to participate in a long term butterfly monitoring program initiated by the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. After eight years of monitoring, a total of 54 species of butterflies have been recorded along the selected transect in CVNP. The long term project has grown to over 65 transects in 22 counties in all parts of Ohio.

The 10 most commonly seen butterflies in CVNP are the European Cabbage White Pearl Crescent, Alfalfa (Orange Sulphur), Great Spangled Fritillary, Common Wood Nymph, Eastern Tailed Blue, Clouded Sulphur, Silver-spotted Skipper, Zabulon Skipper, and Viceroy.

Dragonflies (Order Odonata) are among the best insect fliers, capable of hovering and even flying backwards. They have four silky transparent wings and huge wrap-around eyes. With names like jewelwing, dancer, rubyspot, damsel, and bluets, dragonflies are considered beneficial insects that feed on mosquitoes, gnats, and flies and are harmless to humans. The biggest threat to dragonflies is the loss of wetland habitats and pollution of streams.

A statewide census of dragonflies and related damselflies has identified 157 species in Ohio, approximately one-third of all species found in North America. Little is known about the dragonflies and damselflies in Northeast Ohio; information on abundance, distribution, and identification needs to be updated. Researchers are searching the Cuyahoga River and wetland areas within CVNP to establish the existence of rare or previously unknown dragonfly species of Northeast Ohio.

Spiders are generalist predators and play an important role in the food web by stabilizing insect populations and providing an important food source for birds, amphibians, and other small vertebrates. Spiders are very sensitive to small changes in environmental variables and habitat structure. Therefore, spiders are good ecological indicators of contaminants, disturbance, vegetation complexity, and the diversity of other taxa. The Ohio Spider Survey reports that more than 580 spider species have been recorded in Ohio. Several hundred species may reside in the park. To learn more about the role that spiders play in the park, a preliminary spider inventory in major park habitats was initiated in 1999.

Insects and their relatives, along with other species of plants and animals in the park, can be enjoyed through such activities as observation, study, and photography. They are protected from collection, harassment, or other activities that may injure or alter their environment.