Wildlife of Osoyoos Lake and Area

Can you spot the large bird disguised as shore brush in the oxbows at the north end of Osoyoos Lake? Photo Credit: Neil Bousquet


A unique ecosystem

Osoyoos Lake is beautiful.  It teems with wildlife and many rare species that can only be found in its wetlands and oxbows. 

Osoyoos and the southern part of the valley northward to Kaleden enjoys the arid desert habitat and climate shared by vast tracts of land to the south comprising the North American Desert. This is a conglomeration of hot deserts in Northern Mexico and California and the cooler, or cold, Great Basin Desert of Idaho, Utah and Nevada.

Our southern valley may be considered the final northern extremity of this system.  The level benches, or Kame terraces that rise from the lakes and river course of the Okanagan are sedimentary deposits formed at the end of the last great ice age, and support a rich and diverse community of plants and animals known as the antelope-brush ecosystem. This is the pocket desert, an endangered and important Canadian ecosystem that defines Osoyoos and its surrounding area.

The entire valley serves as a crucial ‘corridor’ for migrating birds, animals and insects travelling between northern Canada and southern and central USA. Even plant life has used this corridor over time to spread grasslands from the south to the central interior of BC. Some of the migrant species and many of the resident species are on the endangered species list.

Osoyoos boasts its own climate zone, called the ‘Osoyoos Arid Biotic Zone’ hence the desert landscape and high summer temperatures.

All species in nature are part of a closely-linked chain, dependent on each other for food, shelter, and reproduction. This is particularly true in the Osoyoos area because there are several unique ecosystems that are linked to each other: the water courses and wetlands and the lush vegetation that surrounds them; the sagebrush, bunch grasses and antelope-brush habitat of the dry benchlands; the ponderosa pine/blue bunch wheat grass and rocky slope ecosystems; then at higher altitude, the Douglas fir and alpine meadows.

Osoyoos Lake and its adjacent riparian areas form an integral part of this chain: indeed, every lake, river and tributary of the Okanagan is of the utmost importance to the wildlife of this valley.

Rapidly disappearing

The area’s natural habitat is shrinking at an alarming rate due mostly to increased population and development. Other factors include agriculture and ranching, logging, golf course construction, and civil engineering and utility infrastructure.

The South Okanagan-Similkameen grasslands are among the top four most endangered ecosystems in Canada.

Wetlands in the Okanagan have been reduced to 5% compared to 100 years ago.

The Okanagan River was listed by Earthwild International in 2003 as the third most endangered river in Canada.

Osoyoos Lake and its surrounding area is home to one of the highest concentrations of endangered species in Canada.

Suggested areas  to observe wildlife:

sẁiẁs Provincial Park (Haynes Point) and wetlands boardwalk area Hike & Bike trail along Okanagan River channel near Roads 18 & 22 for riparian birdwatching.

The bridge at Road 18 is probably the best place to watch sockeye salmon returning upriver to spawn – peaks in late October.

Strawberry Creek trail

Golden Mile trail

Below are some of the more well known or endangered species to be seen in and around Osoyoos Lake. This list is not intended to be fully inclusive.

Remember that wildlife surrounding Osoyoos Lake often overlaps with the wildlife of the Osoyoos desert ecosystem. Please check out the Osoyoos Desert Centre website for more information on plants, mammals and birds of the south Okanagan.

Colour Key: Endangered/Threatened Species: Red-Listed Species considered threatened or vulnerable: Blue Listed Commonly found species Invasive species that are causing environmental problems due to increasing numbers
Amphibians Habitat Comments
Tiger Salamander Wetlands, ponds, small lakes, grasslands Small population, small BC range, declining
Great Basin Spadefoot Toad Dry grasslands, wetlands, small ponds Small BC population concentrated in S. Okanagan
Bullfrogs Wetlands, lake shoreline, small ponds Introduced to S. Okanagan about 30 years ago. Highly invasive
Reptiles Habitat Comments
Western Rattlesnake Cliffs, grasslands, forest Small BC population, slow reproductive rate, persecution
Yellow-bellied Racer Grasslands, open forest, rock outcrops Small BC population concentrated in S. Okanagan
Gopher Snake Grasslands, shrub/steppe, open ponderosa pine forest Small BC population concentrated in S. Okanagan
Painted Turtle Wetlands, small ponds Habitat threatened
Birds Habitat Comments
Loon Lakes, wetlands Shy and hard to find
Great Blue Heron Wetlands, riparian woodland Habitat threatened, sensitive to pollution
Sandhill Crane Wetlands, Marshes Small breeding population extirpated in S. Okanagan
Canada Goose Parks, golf courses, areas of cut grass near water Their excrement can carry serious disease
Mallard Duck Ponds, lakes, rivers Very common
Killdeer Lake shorelines, wetlands
Bald Eagle Throughout the Okanagan/Similkameen The juvenile is often mistake for the Golden Eagle
Osprey Grasslands, riparian areas Large nests are often built on telephone poles
Sage Thresher Grassland, sagebrush shrub/steppe Small population and range in BC, habitat threatened
Red-Tailed Hawk Grassland, sagebrush shrub/steppe
Red-Winged Blackbird Wetlands, riparian areas Migratory; they summer in the Okanagan
Plants Habitat Comments
Chocolate Lily Mid and high mountain slopes, forest floors
Antelope Brush Shrub/steppe, grasslands The S. Okanagan antelope brush ecosystem is one of the four most endangered ecosystems in Canada
Toothcup (Scarlet Ammannia) Along lake shoreline Habitat threatened
Oregon Grape
Russian Olive tree Riparian areas, wetlands
Bunchgrasses Grasslands, sagebrush/steppe
Eurasian Milfoil Okanagan River and Osoyoos Lake Highly invasive water weed
Purple Loosestrife Stream and river banks, wetlands A growing threat to the Okangan
Cattails Stream and river banks, lake shoreline, wetlands Commonly found
Sagebrush Grassland adjacent to rivers and lakes in the S. Okanagan There are three different varieties
Sumac Grasslands, riparian areas
Mammals Habitat Comments
Badger Grasslands, open forests Habitat loss, persecution
Nuttalls Cottontail Rabbit Dry grasslands, open ponderosa pine forests Small range in BC
Beaver Ponds, rivers and streams
Coyote All elevations of the valley
White-Tailed Deer
Mule Deer
Black Bear Ponderosa pine forests
Fish Habitat Comments
Sockeye salmon Deeper waters of Osoyoos Lake Habitat threatened by high temperatures, lack of oxygen and shade
Rainbow Trout Wide-ranging throughout the lake Introduced species
Widemouth Bass Wide-ranging throughout the lake Introduced species
Smallmouth Bass Wide-ranging throughout the lake Introduced species
Whitefish Wide-ranging throughout the lake Introduced species
Carp Wide-ranging throughout the lake Introduced species
Click here for more on fish and fishing in Osoyoos Lake
Crustaceans Habitat Comments
Western Ridge Mussel Shallow waters and reeds along lake shoreline Last seen in Osoyoos approx. 10 years ago
Mysis Shrimp Osoyoos and Okanagan Lakes Introduced in the 1960’s to provide food for declining salmon stocks: however it was found to compete with salmon fry for food
Insects Habitat Comments
Behr’s Hairstreak Buttterfly Antelope/sagebrush grasslands Habitat threatened


More Info:

Endangered species and ecosystems (BC Ministry of Environment)

How the endangered species list works and how species are ranked (Provincial government)

Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre

The antelope brush ecosystem


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