Striped Skunk

Scientific: Mephitis mephitis
Spanish: Mofeta rayada
Awaswas: Yawi

Diet: Insects, small mammals and birds, eggs, crabs, berries, and nuts
Habitat: Widespread throughout North America, especially mixed woodlands and suburban greenspaces
California Status: Least Concern

Skunks are famous for the powerful, smelly spray that they use to deter predators, but they give warning before spraying and are typically docile. We can thank them for eating insects and rodent pests.

Gray Fox

Scientific: Urocyon cinereoargenteus
Spanish: Zorro gris
Awaswas: Yuréh

Diet: Rodents, rabbits, birds, fruit
Habitat: Rocky, wooded, and brushy regions as well as suburban habitats
Status: Least Concern

While gray foxes are common throughout North America, deforestation and urban development have lead to increased competition from red foxes. The grey fox is the only member of the canine family that can climb trees, and they are also known to double back on their own tracks to confuse predators.

Black-tailed Deer

Scientific: Odocoileus hemionus
Spanish: Ciervo de cola negra
Awaswas: Tote, Tooche

Diet: Grasses, shrubs, berries, lichen
Habitat: Grasslands, forests, woodlands
California Status: Least Concern

Deer are most active in the evening and early morning when they venture into open spaces to graze on grasses and other plants. During the day and night, they often seek cover under the canopy in forests or woodlands. Deer are an important food source for large predators like mountain lions. If predator populations decline, deer populations can boom, causing over-grazing of grasslands.

What relationship do you think humans have with deer, both historically, and today?

Pacific Gopher Snake

Scientific: Pituophis catenifer
Spanish: Serpiente de Gopher del Pacífico
Awaswas: Siwot

Diet: Small mammals, birds, lizards
Habitat: Grasslands, open woodlands
California Status: Least Concern

This strong constrictor will kill its prey by coiling its body or pressing the animal up against the wall of its burrow. While they are not venomous, gophers snakes will sometimes vibrate their tails to mimic a rattlesnake and warn off predators. You can differentiate these harmless reptiles from rattlesnakes by the lack of a triangular head and rattle.


Scientific: Procyon lotor
Spanish: Mapache
Mutsun: SaSran

Diet: Seeds, nuts, fish, frogs, invertebrates
Habitat: Forests, marshes, urban and suburban areas
Status: Least Concern

Bandits Or Just Well Adapted?

Raccoons are now common in urban areas, attracted to the availability of food found in our gardens, garbage cans, and pet food bowls. These intelligent animals can solve complex problems, which helps them thrive in urban environments.

What features might help racoons succeed in urban areas?

Western Gray Squirrel

Scientific: Sciurus griseus
Spanish: Ardilla gris occidental
Awaswas: Hiré

Diet: Nuts and seeds
Habitat: Woodlands, coniferous forests, suburban greenspaces
Status: Least Concern

Western gray squirrels live in Santa Cruz all year long. They use their long tails for balance as they run and leap among branches. Squirrels store acorns and nuts in shallow holes or caches in the ground but do not always re-find their stores, which can sprout into new trees. They mostly eat seeds and are known to steal from people’s bird feeders, making them a common neighbor for humans. They nest up in trees in “dreys”, which are made out of twigs and lined with moss or fur. Their alarm call sounds like a bird chirp and it is used to warn others of a predator or danger in the area. 

Fun Facts:

  • Squirrels can live up to 8 years old.
  • Their teeth never stop growing – they can grow up to 6 inches per year. Their teeth are never that long though because they are constantly wearing them down when they eat hard seeds. 
  • Squirrels are rodents and belong to the Family Sciuridae.
  • A group of squirrels is called a scurry.

California Quail

Scientific: Callipepla californica
Spanish: Codorniz de California
Mutsun: Heksen

Diet: Seeds, leaves and small insects
Habitat: Coastal sagebrush, chaparral, foothills, woodland
California Status: Least Concern

California’s State Bird
California quail are hardy and adaptable birds found throughout the state. They scratch at the ground foraging for seeds, keeping close to cover in case predators approach. Quail are hunted by Native people for food and for their feathers which can be used to decorate baskets.