France's wide variety of elevations, climates, and natural vegetation created habitats suitable for many species of animals. However, the spread of human habitation sharply reduced the number and diversity of these creatures. Today greater protection of animals and their habitats is helping to reverse the trend. Areas located farthest from human activity have retained a higher proportion of wildlife.
Among the larger mammals, red deer are common in forested areas in northern France, and fallow deer, usually kept in compounds, are sometimes found wild in the Massif Central. The smaller roe deer is the most common species, with the ability to thrive even on the outskirts of major cities. Small populations of chamois and ibex live in the Alps and Pyrenees, and mouflon (wild sheep) inhabit Corsica. Wild pigs can be seen in all parts of the country. Small numbers of brown bears live in the high Pyrenees, and other common carnivores include red foxes and wildcats. Skunks, marmots, and several species of mink and marten are also abundant, along with hares and voles. Beavers are rare and protected by law.
Birdlife is widespread in the Mediterranean region and includes rollers, bee eaters, and blue rock thrushes. Many ducks, geese, hawks, rooks, starlings, thrushes, and robins migrate from Northern and Eastern Europe to France for the winter. The Camargue is the only region in Western Europe where flamingos, egrets, and herons nest. White storks inhabit Alsace and often build nests on roofs and chimneys.