Animals of the Dolomites (and where to find them)
Discovering the wildlife heritage of the Dolomites
If we were to talk to the animals that live here, they would describe a rich, varied habitat, where thick woods, alternating with lush, forage-rich meadows, provide shelter and food. They would also tell us about fresh Alpine grasslands, fast-flowing streams and impressive walls interspersed by narrow gorges and hiding places.
From a wildlife point of view, the Dolomites are truly unique. Thanks to their geographical location, habitat diversity and unspoiled nature in vast areas of the mountain chain, the nine mountain systems recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site boast the presence of almost all the typical Alpine wildlife species: from the tiny wren to the imposing brown bear, from the colourful fire salamander to the ermine that in winter is camouflaged by its white fur, from the noisy jay to the silent roe deer.
Many species are difficult to see in nature, but a walk from the valley floor up to the peaks, in any Dolomite valley, can certainly be full of surprises. Starting at low altitudes, in the thick broadleaf woodlands, it is not uncommon to hear groups of tits trilling as you pass by, followed by the characteristic “yaffling” (which sounds like someone’s maniacal laughter) of one of the numerous species of woodpeckers that are widespread in this area of the Alps.
In the clearings on the edge of the forest, you may come across a frightened shadow which, after an enquiring glance, will bound away: it is the roe deer that is present in large numbers in the woods of the Central and Eastern Alps. It is one of five species of hoofed animals that populate the Dolomites, together with the majestic red deer, mouflon and, at higher altitudes, ibex and chamois. In particular, the latter is a common inhabitant of high-altitude pastures and it is easy to meet it, provided you move silently in the first or last hours of the day and strain your eyes to see its camouflaged silhouette.
In the same areas, when the sun is high in the sky, acute and repeated whistles indicate where to look to spot the families of marmots and, raising our eyes to the sky, we will probably see the reason for this warning: an eagle circling overhead searching for prey.
As the sun goes down, if you go back into the woods, you could be frightened by ghostly sounds. Don’t worry, it’s not the legendary Dahu, with asymmetric limbs, the Hippotaurus of the Alps, nor one of the dragons that populated the tales of earlier mountain people, but simply some “lords of darkness”: owls, tawny owls and little owls that herald the beginning of a new night of hunting.