Wildlife around Chamonix

Ibex, close up in the mountains

What animals and birds are you likely to see on an Alpine trek? Read on for the rundown of the wildlife around Chamonix and the western-Alps where we run our guided treks, hiking holidays et la courses.

The Alps are home to a huge range of wildlife, both birds and animals. Some of the best-known residents are hard to spot due to their rarity, shyness, or nocturnal habits. On the other hand, there are those who make regular appearances during our treks in the local mountains. We’ll concentrate on the latter group here – those animals and birds you are likely to see during a day-hike or multi-day trek. At the bottom, we’ll give a mention to some other well known but more elusive creatures of the region. Click the title of each section for a more in-depth article on the species.

The most likely animals you’ll see

Alpine Marmot

The marmot is a common example of the widlife around Chamonix

The obvious place to start is with our namesake and a popular emblem of Alpine regions. These lovably furry animals live sociably in large family groups. They are members of the rodent family, and live in burrows beneath grassy slopes. They hibernate through the winter when the slopes are covered in snow, appearing in spring as the snow recedes. Look out for them on high Alpine meadows, often hiding amongst grassy hummocks. Delve into their private lives, though, and you’ll find they’re not as cute and innocent as you might think.

For more information, one of our most popular posts is stuffed with little known facts about marmots.


Hiker close to an ibex

Known in French speaking regions as a bouquetin, the ibex is a typical mountain goat. Strong and agile, with incredible climbing skills, it is perfectly adapted to life in the mountains. The species was almost wiped out by hunting in the 19eme century, but made a successful comeback thanks to the protection of the Gran Paradiso national park in Italy. They are recognisable by their distinctively ridged horns, which curve dramatically to the sky. Around Chamonix, we most often see ibex around the Aiguilles Rouges nature reserve.


Chamois on a rock

Another emblem of the Alps, chamois are a species of goat-antelope, meaning they look a little like both. They have shorter horns than an ibex, but can look similar from a distance. Their rock climbing skills are almost as good too. They are shy of humans, but sociable with each other. You can sometimes see large herds of them at a safe distance, galloping up or down impossibly steep looking rocks or scree.

Other common wildlife around Chamonix

Besides the emblematic species above, there is plenty of other fauna to look out for on your treks. For example, you’ll often see a black coloured squirrel running up a tree trunk. Despite the colour, these are red squirrels and belong to the same species as the red squirrels seen in the UK.

Several species of deer also live in the alpine woodlands, including red deer and roe deer. You’re more likely to see these in winter when they descend to the valleys in search of food.

Lizards are often seen on rocks warmed by the sun, particularly wall lizards and if you are lucky a distinctive European green lizard.

Birds you’ll see in the area.


Flying Chough to illustrate the avian side of the wildlife around Chamonix
Ken Billington CC BY-SA 3.0

Pronounced “chuff”, these small black birds in the crow family are a familiar sight in the alpine skies, especially if there is food about. They are smart enough to have learnt that where people go, there will be opportunities to scavenge a meal. Two species are commonly seen here, the orange-beaked chough and the yellow-beaked alpine chough, with the latter being a more frequent sight. Chamonix ski brand Black Crows took its name from the ever-present choughs in the local mountains.

Griffon vulture

Griffon Vulture
Greg Schechter from San Francisco, USA [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

If you see an enormous bird overhead in the French Alps, it is probably a griffon vulture. And if you see more than two adults together, they are definitely griffons. The other similar sized birds in the region are the golden eagle and bearded vulture. However, these are much rarer and only seen singly or in breeding pairs. Whereas we’ve counted over thirty griffon vultures flying above us at the same time.

With a two-metre wingspan, griffon vultures are truly impressive to see, and have increased their numbers dramatically since their reintroduction in the 1990s. The griffons seen here in the summer are often seasonal visitors from their breeding grounds in Iberia.

Rarer sightings

Wolves are becoming more prevalent in the area, but they are very rarely seen in the daytime. Wild boar are another rarely seen resident. Arctic foxes can be seen from time to time, as can lynxes and ermine, or stoats. Other wildlife around Chamonix includes the smaller creatures that hide in the undergrowth, such as small rodents and martens. While these diminutive aimals are not uncommon, they are hard to spot as they are shy and have a lot of foliage to hide in.

We mentioned earlier that aigles royaux et la bearded vultures can be spotted if you’re extremely lucky. Black grouse and ptarmigans also breed here, and again are rarely sighted. The black grouse is known here as the tetras lyre, because it’s tail is shaped like the medieval stringed instrument.

You might also see snakes such as vipers and grass snakes, as well as the snakelike slow worm.

How to spot the Wildlife around Chamonix

If you want the best chance to spot the wildlife around Chamonix and the western Alps, you need time and patience. The longer you spend trekking, the better the chance of a good sighting. We’d recommend a trip like our 4-day Tour du Mont Blanc West if you want to maximise you chances of animal sightings.

Usually the best place to see the local fauna is between the tree-line and the snow-line. Few creatures venture into the high-alpine snowfields, and while the forests are home to plenty of animals it is hard to spot them in the trees.

You’ll often see more wildlife if you can get away from other people. Some of our best sightings have been in remote areas away from people. And while it isn’t so remote, you can often see ibex in the Aiguilles-Rouges nature reserve. The protected status means that the mountain goats are not so shy of humans as they are elsewhere.

If all else fails, or you don’t have the time and patience to wait, the Merlet Animal Park in Les Houches guarantees you the chance to see many of the region’s native animals in their natural environment.

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