Nature & Mountains

Which animals can be found in the mountains in spring? 

The mountains are the ideal playground for nature lovers who love to get outdoors in good weather.

But, we’re not the only ones who enjoy the peace and quiet of these beautiful surroundings. Many wild animals, such as marmots, golden eagles and ibexes, make their home in these mountains, far from the hustle and bustle of human life.

If you are out and about in the mountains, it’s possible that you could come face-to-face with one of these animals, whatever time of year you are visiting.

However, spring is probably the most difficult time to spot them. It marks the beginning of their mating season, which also means the birth and rearing of babies, so they’ve got a lot to do!

But if by chance, you surprise them during courtship or perhaps during their daily family walk, it’s sure to be a magical and unforgettable moment.

So, here are some of the animals you might come across during your next walk in the Alps this spring.

Don’t forget your binoculars!

The ibex – the iconic animal of the Alpine summits

⚖️ Weight: between 65 and 100kg for the male and 35 and 50kg for the female

📏 Size: between 85 and 92cm for the male and 70-78cm for the female

🍏 Diet: plants and grasses

⛰️ Where to see it? High up, on steep, rocky slopes

The largest French colony of ibexes can be found in the Vanoise Park, in the Alps, so you have a good chance of seeing them if you’re walking in this area.

At the first sign of new buds, when the high snow melts, giving way to lush green grass, it is time for the ibex to build up the weight and strength it lost during the winter.

It’s also time for the pregnant female to give birth, so she hides away in places that are inaccessible to predators, where she feels safe and secure.

The young goat is soon up and walking, and will follow its mother onto the rocky outcrops. Just a few days after the birth, they will be on the move again, looking for fresh pastures.

So if you see a herd of ibex in the spring, get out your binoculars! There’s every chance that a doe could be followed closely by her young.

But although this mountain animal is usually quite approachable, it’s a different matter in spring. It’s very protective of its young, and won’t hesitate to let you know if you are getting too close.

So it’s best to admire them from a distance, rather than risk getting into trouble.

Two majestic ibexes are quite at home on rocky terrain
Make sure to look out for ibex in the Alps in spring! © Maurienne Tourisme

The fox – the most cunning of wild animals

⚖️ Weight: 6 to 7kg on average

📏 Size: 40cm on average, to the withers

🍏 Diet: Mainly small animals, but also birds, insects and berries

⛰️ Where to see it? In forests, at dusk, or around mountain refuges

Spring is the best time to see foxes. It’s a time of increased activity for this small wild animal, which needs to feed its cubs. Born towards the end of May, the cubs are still too young to hunt on their own, so it’s up to the father to bring home the food until his family is a little older.

This little animal, which is easily recognisable by its flamboyant red coat, has many characteristics.

It’s cautious and knows how to keep out of sight when it’s hunting, so you’ll need to be patient if you want to spot one. However, many foxes are becoming more used to humans, and will often come to mountain refuges to look for food left behind by visitors. You’re more likely to see one here than in the forest.

A clever animal, it can play dead if it feels in danger and will wait for its prey to let its guard down.

The red fox - the most cunning animal in the Alps
You have a good chance of spotting a red fox as they’re becoming more and more used to humans! © Lesya Tyutrina

The black grouse – a great seducer

⚖️ Weight: 1.3kg for the cocks and 1kg for the hens

📏 Size: about 50cm

🍏 Diet: leaves, buds, bark, seeds, flowers, fruit and insects

⛰️ Where to see it? In pine forests close to clearings, at the upper tree line

The black grouse is a rare bird that lives in Alpine forests and is easily recognisable by its deep black and bright red plumage.

If you come across it in May, it will probably be during its courtship display, as it looks for a female to breed with. It’s a beautiful sight to see (and hear), but be careful not to disturb it by getting too close or making too much noise. Mountain birds are particularly vulnerable at this time – any disturbance can disrupt their mating or egg-laying.

Instead, listen out for its cooing, which is just as impressive. Get up at dawn to have the best chance of hearing it – the grouse rises early to sing and dance undisturbed!

The black grouse lives in coniferous forests. Its plumage is deep black, its tail feathers are white and the top of its head is flaming red.
Make sure to approach the black grouse with caution, so as to not disturb its chance of mating.

The chough, or mountain crow

⚖️ Weight: 160-240g

📏 Size: 38cm, with a 75cm wingspan

🍏 Diet: insects, berries, seeds, small fruits, the remains of your picnic and food waste

⛰️ Where to see it? In tourist areas

If you spot a black bird in the Alps, don’t be deceived – it’s not a rook or a raven, but a chough, a bird you’ll only see in the mountains. Unlike the raven, its beak is bright yellow, its legs are red and its song is much more melodious – you can hear it by clicking here.

This is one of the mountain birds that you are most likely to come across when you’re out walking, especially if you leave a few crumbs from your picnic!

And don’t miss its dizzying aerial ballet – an unrivalled acrobat, this bird likes to soar high in the warm air currents up to its nest, hidden in the cliffs, sometimes more than 3,000m high.

The chamois – the best climber in the Alps

⚖️ Weight: between 35 and 50kg

📏 Size: About 80cm to the withers

🍏 Diet: vegetation and plants

⛰️ Where to see it? Halfway up the mountains, on steep, stony slopes

This typical mountain animal can be seen all year round.

Part of the same family as the ibex, the chamois has the same fondness for steep and rocky terrain, but the two species differ in many ways and are not easily confused.

Here are some of the characteristics that will help you identify a chamois:

  • The size of its horns: they are much thinner and shorter than those of the ibex, and measure just 15-30cms
  • The colour of the horns are different too – they are black
  • Its size – it is much smaller and lighter than the ibex – less than 1m at the withers
  • The colour of its coat: unlike the ibex, the chamois has two colours. It’s light brown to orange, with white spots on its head and tail in the summer
  • Its gait – it moves in small jumps
  • It’s very shy, and won’t let you approach it
Parmi les animaux montagnards typiques des Alpes, on trouve le chamois. Sur cette photo, il est accompagné de son petit qui est à l'affût des bruits alentours.
You may be lucky enough to spot a chamois with its young! © Office de Tourisme de Combloux

The marmot – the mountain mascot

⚖️ Weight: between 4 and 8kg;

📏 Size: 50-70cm

🍏 Diet: clover, flowers, buds, roots, bulbs, seeds, fruit, bark and some insects

⛰️ Where to see it? On sunny slopes

Spring is definitely one of the best times to see a marmot. Rising temperatures mark the end of a long period of hibernation for this animal, which emerges to search for food to regain the weight lost during the winter. And they need their strength – spring is their breeding season!

But these little animals are quick to hide, so you’ll need to keep your eyes and ears open. The marmot lets out a shrill cry to warn others of impending danger, so you’ll know it’s there.

Click here to hear its cry.

The bearded vulture – the biggest bird in the Alps

⚖️ Weight: between 5 and 7kg

📏 Size: A wingspan of about 2m 80cm

🍏 Diet: carcasses (bones, tendons, ligaments…)

⛰️ Where to see it? In the sky, at high altitudes

With its huge wingspan, the bearded vulture is one of the most iconic birds of the Alps, and the largest vulture in Europe.

It’s not difficult to spot, due to its size, the contrasting colours of its plumage and the little tuft of feathers under its beak, from which it gets its name.

It’s a scavenger, meaning that it feeds on dead animals. After collecting the bones, it takes them up into the sky, several metres above the ground, and drops them onto rocks, so that they break. Then it can eat the contents. That’s how it earned the nicknames “the bone breaker” and “the cleaner of the pastures”.

But this giant of the skies is facing extinction… only four breeding pairs have been counted in the Vanoise Natural Park. Not too many!

Le gypaète barbu est un animal montagnard, typique des paysages alpins. Il doit son nom à la petit barbe qu'il y a sous son bec.
You’ll have to look very closely to find a bearded vulture, they’re extremely rare!

Whether you come to La Clusaz, Chamonix or Annecy in the spring, it’s the perfect time to discover the incredible wealth of wildlife that inhabits the mountains. Birds, mammals, cattle… there are many animals living in these spaces – so many that you’ll certainly not manage to see them all in a single walk.

So, why not spend a few days in one of our comfortable chalets? That would give you more time to follow the tracks of these incredible mountain animals. We can’t wait to see your photos!

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