Maybe the rabbits tell it best. In the grazing lands and hayfields of the Big Valley, a mile east of the Main Ranch, the Big Thompson becomes a lazy, prairie stream and the well-developed riparian vegetation shelters eastern cottontails. The native and tame pastures on the Main Ranch support desert cottontails. The west end of the Ranch, on Palisade Mountain, is habitat for mountain cottontails. Our three species of cottontails demonstrate that Sylvan Dale is a microcosm, a "cross-roads" for species that, combined, range nearly from coast-to-coast—from Washington DC to Washington State, and from Alberta to Costa Rica.
Check out the birds at Sylvan Dale. You’ll see American dippers on the river by the Antique Dining Room. This species is typical of middle to high elevations in the mountains to the west of the Ranch. The lowest elevation nest known in Colorado is at Sylvan Dale, on the cliffs of the Little Canyon, a quarter mile downstream from the Jessup Lodge at about 5240 feet. Most years canyon wrens—Southwestern birds–nest above the dippers on the cliff!
With so much ecological diversity in a small area, it’s not surprising that Sylvan Dale is popular with local birding groups, like Fort Collins Audubon. The Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory does research on the Ranch (as do faculty and students from Colorado State University, the University of Colorado, and the University of Northern Colorado.
Over 70% of the Ranch is protected by perpetual conservation easements with Legacy Land Trust or Larimer County Open Lands, part of them funded by Great Outdoors Colorado. This assures wildlife habitats forever, untrammeled by human activities.
Because of its strategic location—and its protection by conservation easements—Sylvan Dale has been able to partner with the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife to restore bighorn sheep and wild turkeys to the neighborhood. Bighorns are among our most popular "watchable wildlife." Skid-marks in the Narrows of the Big Thompson Canyon indicate how successful mountain sheep restoration has been! If you don’t see (and hear) turkeys on a horseback ride up Sulzer Gulch, you’re just not paying attention.