The Baldwin Hills were once teeming with a variety of mammals, at a time when lowland streams and scrub-covered hills characterized the landscape and the native Tongva people lived off the land. This expansive natural landscape had allowed for a dense population of rodents, rabbits, and hares that supported a wide network of larger carnivores. Today, the smaller mammals that remain are considered generalist species that can thrive in human-dense areas. In addition to the highly degraded and shrinking habitat, many of the small mammals living in the Baldwin Hills face the threat of a substantial population of feral cats that prey on them.
Through a series of field surveys performed in 2000 and again from 2014 to 2015, researchers were able to compile a list of mammals that currently exist in the Baldwin Hills. The 2000 survey was limited to Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area and used live traps and visual observation (actual sightings, scat identification, roadkill) to identify species. In the 2014-15 survey, motion detecting cameras were placed in Culver City Park, Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook, Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area, and Stocker Corridor to capture around-the-clock animal presence in the area.
The following mammals are confirmed to be occurring in the Baldwin Hills based on these survey results.
Eastern Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger) – Introduced
You have likely seen the Eastern Fox Squirrel in other Los Angeles parks or city parks throughout the country. This widespread and commonly spotted squirrel naturally occurs in the eastern part of North America and is an introduced species in California. They are most often found in Culver City Park or Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area where there are scattered trees and open grass. The Eastern Fox Squirrel is easily identified by its grey and fox-like orange coloring as it scampers across lawns and leaps between trees.
California Ground Squirrel (Otospermophilus beecheyi)
Though less common than the Eastern Fox Squirrel, the California Ground Squirrel can be spotted in grassy areas, along roadsides, and openings in chaparral vegetation. Because of its affinity for these more disturbed habitat patches, this native squirrel has persisted in the Baldwin Hills despite the pressures of urbanization. Its speckled grey coloring distinguishes it from the more orange tones of the Eastern Fox Squirrel. Though not observed during the 2000 survey, its presence was confirmed by trail cameras in the 2014-15 survey.
Botta’s Pocket Gopher (Thomomys bottae)
The gopher that has been digging in your garden is most likely Botta’s Pocket Gopher. Common in disturbed areas where the soil is less compact, this pocket gopher creates its burrow by digging through the soil with its teeth. This species’ presence has been confirmed by multiple surveys throughout the area through observation of active burrowing sites. You will most likely find their burrows near the roads and trails throughout the Baldwin Hills. If you’re lucky, you might catch one poking its head out, on the lookout for hawks and snakes!
California Vole (Microtus californicus)
The California Vole is another common rodent found in the Baldwin Hills. Voles are often mistaken for mice or gophers because of their similar appearance and behavior. The most distinctive sign of the California Vole’s activity in the Baldwin Hills is the presence of “runways”, or shallow tunnels of trampled and cut grass. These mouse-like rodents are often found in grassland habitat in the Baldwin Hills, where they eat seeds and burrow.
House Mouse (Mus musculus) – Introduced
As the name suggests, House Mice are those ubiquitous critters you sometimes find in your attic or around your yard. Along with the Black Rat, the House Mouse is an Old World rodent species and was introduced into North America sometime after its spread through Asia, Africa, and Europe. These mice are very common in urban areas and can easily coexist with humans. The House Mouse has consistently been confirmed as residing in the Baldwin Hills through multiple surveys.
Black Rat (Rattus rattus) – Introduced
The Black Rat is another introduced species from the Old World, that can happily cohabitate with humans. Fitting with its name, the Black Rat is almost entirely covered with black fur, except for a small white or lighter patch on its underbelly. This omnivorous rodent can be found eating leftover picnic food, seeds and leaves, or even cat and dog food left outside. Though the 2001 survey did not trap any Black Rats, the 2014-15 survey confirmed its presence through trail cameras.
Desert Woodrat (Neotoma lepida)
The Desert Woodrat is one of the most abundant rodents in the Baldwin Hills, frequently seen in past surveys. It is most often found in rocky areas or near the Prickly Pear Cactus stands that are found on many of the south-facing slopes. It often uses the cactus as a food and water source. This tiny pack rat is nocturnal, so it may be difficult to spot during the daytime. But you might find evidence of its presence in the form of small nests made from little twigs and rocks.
Deer Mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus)
The Deer Mouse is one of the most common of mice found in North America. This tiny mouse has large ears and eyes and can also be identified by its white underside and feet. Its widespread presence was confirmed in the 2001 survey of the Baldwin Hills. Because of its abundance, it is likely an important food source for the snakes, birds of prey, and carnivores that reside in the Baldwin Hills.
Western Harvest Mouse (Reithrodontomys megalotis)
Another small mouse seen throughout the Baldwin Hills is the Western Harvest Mouse. Based on its locations in surveys, it seems this mouse favors areas with coastal scrub and grass vegetation. This species was trapped in the 2001 survey and there are records of its great abundance in a 1982 report of the area. One sign of the Western Harvest Mouse’s presence is its grassy, spherical nest that is suspended above ground.
Desert Cottontail (Sylvilagus audubonii)
This common rabbit is a common sighting in the Baldwin Hills, especially in early morning or evening. The Desert Cottontail gets its name from its small, white tail that resembles a cotton ball. This species can be seen grazing on grass and low shrubs, usually near areas of low, dense brush. You can identify this rabbit by its erect ears and light brown body with a white belly that can often be seen as it runs away. The Desert Cottontail was observed in both the 2001 and 2014-15 surveys.
Black-tailed Jackrabbit (Lepus californicus)
The Black-tailed Jackrabbit is a rare sight in the Baldwin Hills compared to the Desert Cottontail. Despite the name, jackrabbits are actually hares, not rabbits. The most noticeable difference between a hare and a rabbit might be the hare’s much larger ears and body. The Black-tailed Jackrabbit is nocturnal and is most likely found in semi-open areas of sagebrush. Though it was not trapped or photographed in either survey, the 2001 survey found one individual as roadkill, indicating its presence at that time. If you see a jackrabbit, be sure to take a photograph and report it on iNaturalist!
Visit our guide on iNaturalist for a full list of mammals recorded in the Baldwin Hills!
For more information:
- Mesocarnivores in the Baldwin Hills – Miguel Ordeñana and James P. Dines (2016)
- Mammals of the Baldwin Hills – James P. Dines (2001)
- Baldwin Hills Animal Life – Dave Marqua (1978)
- Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History – Eastern Fox Squirrel
- Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History – California Ground Squirrel
- Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History – Botta’s Pocket Gopher
- Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History – California Vole
- ARKive – House Mouse
- ARKive – Black Rat
- Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History – Desert Woodrat
- Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History – Deer Mouse
- Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History – Western Harvest Mouse
- Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History – Desert Cottontail
- Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History – Black-tailed Jackrabbit