Wildlife of British Columbia: 13 Species To Look Out For This Summer

1.Raccoons

raccoon-grass

Raccoons are an integral part if the ecosystem on the mainland coast of British Columbia. They are versatile scavengers requiring only a source of food, water and a safe place to nest. According to Canadian Geographic “Raccoons are one of the few animals that is successfully able to go from family pet back to wild animal”.

These mischievous little fellows are best recognized by the black band across their eyes. Raccoons also have a big, busy tail with alternating black and light-brown rings. While most raccoons are grey they can also be black, albino, or brown. Raccoons only live for around five years.

Local knowledge: Raccoons are common in Whistler. If you leave any kind of food scraps or garbage outside they will find it, and they don’t care if they leave a big mess.

2.Beavers

North American Beaver - Ontario, Canada

The beaver is Canada’s national symbol and it has represented the country for over 300 years. A beaver is a giant rodent with big buck teeth for felling trees and branches, and a flat, paddle-like tail to steer it through the water. One thing that most people don’t know about beavers is that they have a clear layer that covers their eye – like their own version of swimming goggles – to protect them from underwater debris.

A beaver’s teeth never stop growing. They break and snap as they chew through logs which stops them from getting too long.

Local knowledge: Beavers spend most of their days building their den. The best time to see beavers in Whistler is at sunset when they set out to find food along the river banks.

3.Canada Geese

Canadian Geese flying into a sunset

Canada geese are migrating birds and year after year the next generation will return to the same nesting ground as their parents – often staying in the same nest.

This iconic bird is actually a waterfowl but, unlike most other waterfowl, Canada geese spend as much time on land as they do in the water, and can be found in most wetland areas. Canada geese migrate south in the winter and north in the summer. You may have seen them in their distinct flying “V” pattern. This formation helps the geese save energy because the rest of the flock benefits from the air currents passing the leader, allowing them to fly longer distances. The formation also lets any changes to flight speed or direction be communicated quickly and efficiently to all geese in the flock.

Local knowledge: The best place to spot Canada geese in Whistler (and in most areas) are lakes and wetlands. Every spring flocks of Canada geese descend on Rainbow Park, Lost Lake and Alpha Lake Park.

4.Coyotes

Coyotes in Canada lounging in the sun

Coyotes are a member of the Canid family like dogs, wolves and foxes and (because of their opportunistic nature) have become a common sight in urban areas of British Columbia. Like urban foxes in the UK and raccoons in Whistler, coyotes are generalist feeders who come into our towns and cities looking for food to feed their young. It is estimated that there are between 2,000 – 3,000 coyotes in BC’s lower mainland.

Local knowledge: Coyotes are carnivores and prefer to eat rats, mice, shrews, voles, squirrels, and rabbits. However, if you’re out hiking with a small/small-medium sized dog be aware that coyotes maybe active in the area.

5.Black Bears

Black bear and cub in whistler

There are three species of bear in North America: the black bear, grizzly bear and polar bear. The most common (and the smallest) is the American black bear but, despite their name, they come various shades of black, blue-black, dark brown, brown and cinnamon.

Black bears naturally like to avoid conflict so will generally avoid urban areas unless in search of food (like the coyote and the raccoon). Their gentle and calm nature can sometimes be the cause of bear-human conflicts, when humans think they can get close to the bear to take photos leaving the bear feeling trapped and afraid. In the summer months the black bear is incredibly common in Whistler and it’s very likely you’ll come across one. Before you do, read our post: 5 Safety Tips: What To Do If You See A Bear In Whistler

Local knowledge: Black bears have long non-retractable claws that make them excellent tree climbers. This is one of the first places they’ll go when they feel threatened. When you’re in Whistler take a walk down the Fitzsimmons Nature Trail where you’ll see trees that are scarred with bear claw marks.

6.Hoary Marmot

Hoary Marmut on a Hill in the Mountains

Hoary marmots inhabit the mountains of North America, and are the largest species of ground squirrel anywhere on earth.
They are a very vocal animal and have a system of loud and distinct alarm calls, whistles, and trills to warn off predators like coyotes, eagles, and foxes. In fact, another name for the hoary marmot is “the whistler” which is where Whistler mountain got its name.

You’ll be able to spot a hoary marmot right away, they can easily be identified by their short, heavy limbs, broad head, long yellow teeth, and silvery-grey fur, and squirrel-like tail. They feed on leaves, flowers, grasses, and sedges (which is why they love alpine meadows), and are social animals who can often be seen play fighting, wrestling, and social grooming.

Local knowledge: Because hoary marmots live on rocky mountain slopes, hillsides and in alpine meadows, the Whistler Blackcomb alpine hiking trails are the best place to see these funny little creatures. In the summer they can be found basking in the sun on large rocks.

7.Cougars

Mountain Lion on moss covered rocks during spring time

Cougars are the second largest cat found in the Americas. Their colour ranges from light tawny red to dark brown and they have around fourty different names, including mountain lion, puma and panther. Known for their large paws, long tail and terrific speed (average sprint speed of a cougar is 56km an hour), cougars are one of the top predators in our region and have one of the largest ranges of any animal in the western hemisphere.

Local knowledge: In Whistler it’s rare to see a cougar because they prefer to roam in areas where they won’t be seen, such as steep mountains or dense forests.

8.Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

The largest heron in North America, the great blue heron has greenish legs, yellow eyes, a white head with a black dark grey stripe, and long thin feathers poking out of the plumage on its chest. Great blue herons choose a new mate each year and lay around 3-5 eggs that the female sits on the eggs at night, and the male sits on during the day. When the young reach ten weeks old they will fly the nest and never return to their parents.

Local knowledge: Great blue herons stand perfectly still in the water waiting for fish or bugs to catch and eat. One of the best places to see heron in Whistler is in the reeds in the lake at Alpha Lake Park, near Creekside.

9.Orca

Jumping orca whale or killer whale

The orca, or as its more commonly known the “killer whale”, is the largest species of dolphin on the planet weighing anywhere from 7,000 – 10,000 kg. The largest recorded orcas are a 9 meter male and a 7.7 meter female. There are two distinct types of orca living off Canada’s Pacific coastline, the first is the “resident” salmon eating orca, and the second is the “transient” orca which eat marine mammals, such as seals. Resident orca are the ones you’ll see close to the shoreline of BC. They range from southeast Alaska down to the coast of Oregon, and rely on echolocation to find the salmon that they feed on. In this region the chinook salmon makes up the majority of their diet.

Both types of orca are presently at risk due to a combination of factors including toxic contamination and a decline in prey

Local knowledge: The narrow passage that separates Vancouver Island from the rest of Canada is one of the best places in the world to observe the resident killer whales. The southern British Columbia resident orcas that you’ll see here were declared endangered in November 2008.

10.Common Loon

common loon

Named for their clumsy, awkward appearance when walking on land, common loons are migratory birds that breed in North America and parts of Greenland and Iceland. They stay all winter-long in Canada’s Pacific and Atlantic coasts, and are the namesake of the Canadian “loonie”, the golden one dollar coin which has a loon on the reverse side.

There are many Native American legends about common loons and, to this day, the Inuit people still legally hunt over 4,500 loons a year for subsistence.

These birds have disappeared from some lakes in eastern North America largely due to the effects of acid rain and pollution, as well as lead poisoning from fishing sinkers and mercury contamination from industrial waste.

Local knowledge: When autumn sets in, the loons will move south away from Whistler to winter where there is open water because they cannot take off from land, or ice-covered lakes.

11.North West White Tailed Deer

White Tailed Deer Doe

The white-tailed deer is the most common of all of North America’s large mammals. Although the deer is a good swimmer and runner (reaching speeds of 52 km/hr) it falls prey to a number of animals including the cougar, domestic dog, wolf, coyote, lynx, bobcat and bear.

Its diet consists mostly of green plants and nuts, and wooded vegetation in the winter. Like cows, white-tailed deer have four stomach compartments allowing them to feed on food that other mammals cannot process.

Local knowledge: The graceful and adaptable white-tailed deer is a strictly American species, with no close relatives on other continents. While you will see white-tailed deer in Whistler during the day, mostly in open meadows and on the ski runs, they are nocturnal animals who are frequently seen by drivers at night.

12.Wild Horse

A herd of wild horses in the mountains

When a horse is born it is called a foal. When it turns two years old a male is called a colt and a female is called a filly. A colt becomes a stallion about six years later, and fillies become mares.

A herd is made up of one adult male with a number of mares and their young. Once another colt reaches stallion age, he must either challenge the dominant stallion or leave the herd. It is the job of the stallion to protect the herd from predators.

Local knowledge: Every fall and winter horses thought to have come from Mount Currie, travel to their winter grazing grounds in Pemberton. There are about 60 horses in total that make their way to the urban area of this rural community to winter. The horses are a beautiful sight, but they use the highway as their road into town – as do the motorists. It’s common to come across cars pulled over and parked watching the horses roam. If you are passing through Pemberton please drive safely and watch for the horses on the road.

13.Grey Wolf

Female grey wolf in an open meadow near Golden, British Columbia

Like the cougar, the grey wolf goes by a few different names one being “timber wolf”. This majestic animal once inhabited most of North America, and the grey wolves of coastal British Columbia are a remnant of the much larger population that once inhabited the west coast temperate rainforests of Canada. Wolves lead a complex social life. They live in groups called packs which are typically composed of a dominant mated pair aka “The Alpha Pair”, the Alpha Pair’s offspring, and a mix of other adults.

The whole pack assists in the upbringing of pups. All the wolves will help to feed the mother and her young with prey from the hunt. Members of the pack will then act as “nursemaids” when the mother herself goes hunting and guarding the area from predators like grizzly bears.

Wolves are B.C.’s top carnivore and they play an important role in the predator–prey ecosystems. The BC Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations estimates the current B.C. population is estimated to be approximately 8500 wolves.

Local knowledge: There have not been any recent wolf sightings in Whistler. If you do happen to spot something that looks like a wolf, it is more likely to be a coyote. If you are certain it is a wolf, call the local conservation officer on: 1-877-952-7277. Here is a quick reference guide for how to tell the two apart, from westernwildlife.org

Wolf Coyote Comparison http://westernwildlife.org/