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The Presidio is home to an extraordinarily diverse wildlife population. More than 600 species, from expansive birds of prey to North America’s tiniest butterfly, make their home in the park. But imagining this landscape 300 years ago would show a different world, inhabited by Tule elk, deer, and even grizzly bears. These animals slowly disappeared from the Presidio as San Francisco eagerly developed land for its growing population. Today smaller, more urban mammals like raccoons, skunks, and gray foxes have found a niche in the park. Even coyote are regularly spotted here.
The skies above the Presidio tell a similar story. Once, giant condors and bald eagles soared overhead; now dozens of raptors, including Great-horned owls and red-tailed and Cooper’s hawks, stalk prey from above. In all, more than 200 species of birds call the Presidio home. From year-round residents like Anna’s hummingbirds and red-shouldered hawks to migratory species like Barn Swallows and Red-throated loons, one of the most diverse bird populations among urban parks worldwide is found here. Each year the Presidio ranks among the top sites in the nation in terms of number of species found in the Audubon Society’s annual Christmas bird counts.
A patchwork of landscapes in the park, from tidal marshes and coastal scrub to woodlands, presents visitors with a wide variety of habitats to view wildlife year-round. Because the Presidio lies on the Pacific Flyway, a major bird migratory route reaching from South America to Canada, a host of transient birds stop here on their journey to rest and feed. This combination of diverse habitat and migrating species makes the Presidio a bird watcher’s paradise throughout the year.
Plenty of other winged beauties are waiting to be sighted in the park. The Presidio is home to North America’s smallest butterfly, the Western Pygmy Blue, which usually grows to no more than a half-inch (1.3 centimeters) in length. Although a fairly common butterfly, the Western Pygmy Blue was not seen in the Presidio until 2008 after Crissy Marsh was restored. They are typically found in salt marshes around San Francisco Bay, but had previously only been seen in San Francisco in the southeastern most part of the city. The butterfly’s larvae hatch into caterpillars that feed on pickleweed and the endangered California sea blite, which itself was introduced to the restored marsh in 2001. The Presidio also boasts an abundance of important, and much easier to spot, butterflies such as Monarch and Swallowtail butterflies.
Reptiles + Aquatic Species
Visitors should keep their eyes peeled to spot the elusive amphibians and reptiles of the Presidio. Reptiles such as alligator lizards are most commonly found in the forest or coastal scrub. A few other reptiles are found in riparian habitats or near ponds, where salamanders and other amphibians lounge under wet leaves and undergrowth. Several aquatic species, the three-spined stickleback fish for instance, can also be seen swimming in Presidio waters.