WILDLIFE VIEWING: WILD CREATURES OF CANADA
Canada is renowned for her majestic geology. But our nation is also defined by an incredible variety of creatures who inhabit the snow-capped mountains, the vast prairies, the lake-speckled Canadian Shield and lengthy coastlines. Here are some of these iconic animals, and where—if you’re alert—you can spot them.
Canada is blessed with several species of bear. The fiercest are the grizzlies, who reside mostly in the western and northwestern part of the country in forested and mountainous areas. Grizzlies can be seen from spring to fall (they hibernate in winter) on cruises along the Great Bear Rainforest or on several guide-led outings. They can also be viewed in sanctuaries at Grouse Mountain, Vancouver, and Kicking Horse Resort near Golden, B.C.
Black bears, smaller than grizzlies although still formidable, are found throughout Canada and it’s not unusual to spot them while driving in remote areas or canoeing. Their fur can be black, brown and occasionally even white, such as with the ghostly kermode or spirit bear found along the central and northern B.C. coast. Although black bears, like grizzlies, are shy and generally avoid humans, if you encounter one, keep a safe distance away.
Polar bears are white like the snow of their northern habitat. Beware, they are not shy. In Churchill, Manitoba, the “Polar Bear Capital of the World,” you can take a tour from mid-October to early November aboard a large-wheeled tundra vehicle that lets you safely get close to these powerful, attractive animals.
Nothing is more evocative of Canadian wilderness than the spine-tingling howl of a wolf. The largest members of the dog family, wolves hunt in packs of six to ten throughout remote areas. You can learn
about wolves, and even go for walks with them, at the Northern Lights Wolf Centre in Golden, B.C. At Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, park rangers organize “Wolf
Howls” where you can imitate a howl, and hope to receive answering cries.
BIG HOOFED ANIMALS
Nothing sets the pulse beating like the sight of a large bull moose with enormous antlers stretching 1.8 m (6 ft.) across. The largest member of the deer family, moose are present in most forested wilderness areas. Adept swimmers, they are often seen in wetlands. Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland is an excellent viewing area all year. Bull moose can be aggressive, particularly during the autumn rut. Drive carefully in moose country, especially at night; moose encounters can cause serious damage.
Once large herds of bison/buffalo thundered across the plains of North America providing livelihood for Indigenous Peoples, but they were hunted close to extinction during the 19th and 20th centuries. Since then they have made a partial recovery and herds can be viewed in Wood Buffalo National Park in northeastern Alberta and southern Northwest Territories, as well as Prince Albert National Park in Saskatchewan, and in Riding Mountain National Park, Manitoba.
It is awe-inspiring, but rare, to see an immense herd of handsomely antlered caribou stretching far across the tundra. From late April to early May, Arctic Haven Wilderness Lodge in Nunavut will take you to watch the migration of approximately 350,000 caribou.
The beaver, Canada’s national symbol, is a big, aquatic rodent with a large flat tail like a paddle and prized thick fur. Found in waterways throughout Canada, beavers are industrious, felling trees with their sharp buckteeth and building lodges and dams. Primarily nocturnal, beavers are best viewed at dusk. A Beaver Boardwalk winds through wetlands and past a beaver pond in Hinton, Alberta.
Beluga whales, not much bigger than dolphins and white in colour, are called the canaries of the sea for their constant singing. Every summer about 3,000 belugas gather in the Churchill River delta in northern Manitoba. You can get close by boat tour and listen to them chattering via a hydrophone. Belugas are so gentle you can swim among them—a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Orca, a.k.a. killer whales, cruise all oceans, but are particularly abundant around Johnstone Strait near northeastern Vancouver Island and in the Salish Sea near Victoria. Extremely intelligent animals who live in matrilineal pods, their high dorsal fins slice elegantly through the water. Numerous boat tours are offered. You may also see grey whales up to 15 m (49 ft.) long, especially around Tofino during their migration twice a year in March and October, as well as dolphins, seals and sea lions.
The east coast and the St. Lawrence River are also prime sources for whale watching. Every summer some 15 species of whales including minke, humpback, finback and the right whale come to the Bay of Fundy to mate, play and feast on the bountiful food churned up twice daily by the powerful tides.
Salmon live in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and are renowned for spawning, that is fighting their way upstream to lay eggs and die in the same freshwater location where they were hatched. Spawning salmon, the lifeblood of the west coast, provide food for bears, foxes, wolves, eagles and more, who then fertilize the forest with their droppings. Spawning salmon can be seen in fall and the first half of winter at many locations, often far inland.
Featured on our dollar coin, loons are duck-sized birds, regally patterned in black and white. Excellent swimmers, they catch small fish in fast underwater chases. Other than in the extreme north, their eerie, echoing calls can be heard on numerous lakes across Canada, especially in the Canadian Shield.
The bald eagle, a noble raptor with a
2-m (6.6-ft.) wingspan, builds enormous nests in tall trees across most of North America. The bald eagle, with its white head and tail, is particularly abundant in western British Columbia. The best time to see eagles in B.C. is in fall and the first half of winter when they gather, sometimes in the thousands, at spawning rivers such as at Brackendale and the upper Harrison River.
Canada geese are so common across the country they have become a pest on some golf courses and parks. In the air, however, they fly in an elegant V-formation. Once
migratory, many now reside here yearround.
There are three major north-south migratory flyways (Pacific, Central, Atlantic) and nearly 600 Important Bird Areas in Canada (www.ibacanada.ca). At Oak Hammock Marsh, Manitoba, some days the sky is dark with birds and quacking reverberates like thunder. The Belleisle Marsh in Nova Scotia is excellent for summertime viewing of waterfowl, pied-billed grebe, short-eared owl, northern harrier, bobolink and warbler species, and there are countless bird classes found in the Bay of Fundy area. Beautiful flocks of gannets and colonies of puffins can be found on Bonaventure Island and the Magdalen Islands in Québec, as well as at the Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve in Newfoundland.
This is but a small sampling, a teaser, to encourage you to get outdoors and see the vast panoply of creatures that live in Canada.
BIGHORN SHEEP, LAKE MINNEWANKA, AB • SHUTTERSTOCK/NATALIA PUSHCHINA
DEER, OMEGA PARK, QC • SHUTTERSTOCK/MARK BRUXELLE
FOX KITS, SK • SHUTTERSTOCK/PICTUREGUY
GRIZZLY BEAR, YT • SHUTTERSTOCK/MARTIN MICHAEL RUDLOF
KILLER WHALE, VICTORIA, BC • CTC/PRINCE OF WHALES WHALE WATCHING