Canadian History/The Wildlife of the Lands

The geography of Canada is an diverse as the cultures that now exist in it. From the rainforests in British Columbia to the tundra in the Northwest Territories to the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick.

Appalachian Region


Today some of the best and most extensive broad-leaved deciduous forests in the world still flourish in the Appalachians. To the north are the conifers (red spruce and balsam fir, which grow at the highest elevations) and the northern hardwoods: sugar maple, buckeye, beech, ash, birch, and red and white oak. The western slopes of the Great Smokies, with their abundant rainfall, produce trees that have reached record maximum height and diameter. Among these are the yellow poplar, buckeye, eastern Canadian hemlock, and chestnut oak.

The Appalachian forest is a highly complex interdependent system. It forms one of the great floral provinces of the Earth. There are the trees that bear luxuriant bloom, such as serviceberry, redbud, hawthorn, yellow poplar, dogwood, locust, sourwood, and many others. Among the numerous shrubs with particularly showy flowers are the rhododendron, azalea, and mountain laurel. Certain summits of the southern Appalachians are called heath balds—open meadows or grasslands interspersed with thick growths of heath.

Ferns, mosses, and mushrooms of many species also are part of the complex Appalachian plant life.

Bison, elk, and wolves, used to be common in the Appalachian, but now they, like caribou and moose, are mostly found in the northernmost corners of the region. Scattered through other areas are the black bear, white-tailed deer, wild boar, fox, raccoon, beaver, and numerous other small animals.

Coastal Plains


The Atlantic coastal plains support a diverse waterfowl community including dabbling, diving, and sea ducks as well as geese. Key species include black duck, blue-winged teal and common eider. Millions of seabirds also use this area throughout the year and an estimated 4.8 million shorebirds travel through the Atlantic Provinces every fall.

Many plants inhabit the sandy areas. These plants are small, slow-growing, and adapted to living in areas where many other plants cannot survive. The conditions where they grow are low in nutrients, and subject to disturbance by the wind, waves, and changing water levels. They do not compete well with other more aggressive plants and therefore can not establish in undisturbed, fertile areas. An example of a habitat where Coastal Plain Flora could thrive is an exposed, gently sloping, sandy or gravel lake shores. Pine forests cover the land.

Great Lakes


The Great Lakes region are filled with birds amphibians and mammals. Black bears, moose, Canadian lynx, bobcats and timber wolves roam the Northwoods of Lake Superior and northern Lake Michigan and Huron. The small pockets of deciduous forests ringing the lower Great Lakes are inhabited by white-tailed deer, eastern chipmunks, red squirrels, cardinals, wood thrush and screech owl. Throughout the region, migrating waterfowl, song birds, sandpipers and plovers rest and refuel along the region’s streams, rivers and wetlands, and various types of frogs and salamanders crowd in the wetlands.

This biodiversity is set in an diverse range of ecosystems, including deep and shallow aquatic systems, wetlands, streams and rivers, tall-grass prairies, deciduous forests, coniferous forests, boreal forests, cliff faces and beaches.

St.Lawrence Lowlands


Although the vegetation is typified by a broadleaf forest of sugar maple, American beech, basswood, white oak, red oak, shagbark hickory, black walnut and butternut, farm fields and man-altered sites are the norm today. Wildlife that thrives in this zone today must be able to take advantage of agricultural crops and suburban habitats. Many common species, such as white-tailed deer, grey squirrel, coyote, starling, house sparrow and ringbilled gull, are recent arrivals to this region. Reptiles include several endangered species (eastern spiny soft-shelled turtle, Blanding's turtle, box turtle, and fox snake, among others) and eastern Canada's only lizard, the five-lined skink. The climax forest in the deciduous forest zone is dominated by sugar maple and American beech, with hemlock dominant on shady north-facing slopes. White pine, red pine and red oak dominate the dry ridge tops.

In the mixed wood forest zone, undisturbed sites consist of sugar maple, yellow birch, eastern hemlock and white pine. Boreal species such as white spruce, black spruce and balsam fir dominate in cool, damp habitats. Moose and wolf, snowshoe hare, martin, spruce grouse and other boreal species intermix with species more typical of southern areas such as the cardinal, white-tailed deer and raccoon.

Interior Plains


Trees and shrubs are most commonly found in the eastern region. Trees found in the Prairies include white spruce, black spruce, balsam fir, tamarack, water birch, Bebb willow, peachleaf willow, wolf willow, lodgepole pine, box elder, choke cherry, black cottonwood, eastern cottonwood, bur oak, trembling aspen, and balsam poplar. Just a few of the other plants that grow here are spear grass, wheat, blue grama grass, sagebrush, yellow cactus, prickly pear, buckbrush, chokecherry, Saskatoon berry bush, alkali grass, wild barley, red sampire, sea blite, Parry oat grass, June grass, yellow bean, sticky geranium, bedstraw, chickweed, needle grass, thread grass, snowberry, American silverberry, rose, silverberry, dryland sedge, black hawthorn, greasewood, plains larkspur , death camas, wild lupine, smooth aster, prairie sedge, and cattail.The only large carnivore in the Prairies is the black bear.

Large herbivores include whitetail deer (a recent invader), mule deer, pronghorn antelope, elk, and moose. Small carnivores include coyote, badger, red fox, longtail weasel, mink, river otter, black-footed ferret, and striped skunk. Rodents are numerous, such as the black-tailed prairie dog,white-tailed jack rabbit, snowshoe hare, Richardson’s ground squirrel, Franklin’s ground squirrel, thirteen-lined ground squirrel, least chipmunk, northern pocket gopher,olive-backed pocket mouse, Ord's kangaroo rat, white-footed mouse and beaver.

Some of the birds of prey are the ferruginous hawk, red-tailed hawk, Swainson’s hawk, burrowing owl, northern saw-whet owl, short-eared owl, long-eared owl, and turkey vulture. Songbirds include black-billed magpie, northern oriole, Audubon’s warbler, grasshopper sparrow, lark sparrow, ruby-throated hummingbird, cedar waxwing, lark bunting,chestnut-collared longspur, and black-billed cuckoo. Birds of the forest that are found here include ruffed grouse, sharp-tailed grouse, sage grouse, northern flicker, downywoodpecker, red-headed woodpecker, and western meadowlark. Some of the waterfowl found here are the American avocet, great blue heron, snow goose, Canada goose,northern pintail, blue-winged teal, mallard, gadwall, redhead, western grebe, lesser scaup, ring-necked duck, canvasback, Eskimo curlew, piping plover, and whooping crane.

Among the amphibians that can be found here are the northern leopard frog, striped chorus frog, plains spadefoot, American toad, great plains toad, and tiger salamander.

The area has several species of snakes and lizards, including the plains garter snake, gopher snake, western rattlesnake, western terrestrial garter snake, short-horned lizard, and prairie skink.

Predatory fish in the Prairie waterways include northern pike, carp, and sauger. They prey on such fish as the lake whitefish, goldeye, lake chub, brassy minnow, emerald shiner and yellow perch.

Just a few of the insects are the German cockroach, boreal spittlebug, silver-spotted skipper, spring azure, American copper, monarch butterfly, mourning cloak, eastern black swallowtail, migratory grasshopper, and pallid-winged grasshopper.

Three of the mollusc species in the Prairies are the valve snail, umbilicate promenetus, and globular pea clam.

Canadian Shield


The Boreal Shield


Trees to the north are coniferous, but broadleaf trees appear further south and trees normally found in much warmer climates, such as the yellow birch and sugar maple, can be found in the south of the ecozone. Bogs and other wetlands, cover one-fifth of the land. Tree species that can be found here include the white spruce, black spruce, balsam fir, tamarac, trembling aspen, balsam poplar, white pine, red pine, jack pine, eastern white pine, red maple, mountain maple, eastern red cedar, eastern hemlock, black ash, speckled alder, pin cherry, and paper birchwhite birch. Some of the other plants that grow here are shrubs, like sphagnum moss, willow, alder, Labrador tea, blueberry, bog rosemary, feathermoss, cottongrass, sedges, kalmia heath, high bush cranberry, baneberry, wild sarsaparilla, bunchberry, shield fern, goldenrod, water lilies and cattails.

Some of the characteristic large herbivores of the region include woodland caribou, barren-ground caribou, white-tailed deer, and moose. The larger carnivores in the Boreal Shield are the black bear, lynx, bobcat, and wolf. Small herbivores and herbivores include raccoon, striped skunk, eastern chipmunk, beaver, muskrat, snowshoe hare, red-backed vole, red squirrel, least chipmunk, porcupine, woodchuck, southern bog lemming and arctic hare. They are in turn preyed upon such smaller carnivores as the marten, short-tailed weasel, fisher, ermine, mink, river otter, coyote, and red fox.

Aquatic mammals found off of the eastern coast of the ecozone include grey seal, harp seal, hooded seal, ringed seal , sperm whale, orca, Atlantic pilot whale, fin whale, blue whale, northern right whale, bowhead whale,and humpback whale.

Birds of prey in this ecozone include the boreal owl, great horned owl, hawk owl, bald eagle, red-tailed hawk, turkey vulture, and broad-winged hawk. The yellow rumped warbler, blue jay, evening grosbeak, gray jay, common nighthawk, raven, mourning dove, cardinal, wood thrush, rock ptarmigen, willow ptarmigan and white-throated sparrow are just a few of the songbirds found here. The forests hold such species as spruce grouse, ruffed grouse, sharp-tailed grouse, and the pileated woodpecker. Spring brings large flocks of waterbirds to nest and breed in the wetlands or just to feed for the rest of their migration further north. They include the common loon, sandhill cranes, hooded merganser, American black duck, wood duck, Canada goose, great blue heron, ring-necked duck, and bufflehead. Shorebirds and seabirds found off the eastern coast include the herring gull, double-crested cormorant, and Atlantic puffin, along with various murre, eider, tern and pelican species.

Many species of reptiles and amphibians live in the Boreal Shield. Some of the frogs and toads include the spring peeper, wood frog, mink frog, and northern leopard frog. Yellow-spotted salamanders, blue-spotted salamanders, eastern redback salamanders, and eastern newts can be found in moist areas. The common snapping turtle and painted turtle are two of the turtle species that live in the ecozone. Two types of garter snake, the maritime garter snake and common gartern snake, as well as the redbelly snake, make their home here.

Predatory fish in the ecozone include the lake sturgeon, brook trout, lake trout, northern pike, muskellunge, largemouth bass, sauger, and walleye. Some of the fish that they prey upon include cisco, (lake herring), blackfin cisco, lake whitefish, rainbow smelt, lake chub, golden shiner, and yellow perch. Anadramous fish, which live in the ocean but enter freshwater to spawn, include the silver lamprey, northern brook lamprey, American brook lamprey, sea lamprey, alewife and Atlantic salmon.

The valve snail, ordinary spire snail, eastern elliptio, arctic-alpine fingernail clam, and globular pea clam are just a few of the mollusc species in the Boreal Shield.

Insects are common in the Boreal Shield; some of the species include the German cockroach, red turpentine beetle, boreal spittlebug, spring azure, American copper, monarch butterfly, mourning cloak, and bush katydid.

Taiga shield


A patchwork of wetlands, meadows, and shrublands covers this area. The northern edge of the ecozone is delineated by the tree line, and it is north of this that the more typical arctic tundra begins.

Trees in the Taiga Shield include black spruce, jack pine, green alder, paper birch, willow, tamarack, white spruce, balsam fir, trembling aspen, balsam poplar, white birch, and dwarf birch.

Other plants in the area include ericaceous shrubs, cottongrass, lichen, moss, sedge, sphagnum moss, Labrador tea, feathermoss, northern Labrador tea, yellow pond lily, cattail, water parsnip, water smartweed, water horsetail, water arum, marsh five-finger, ground juniper, kinnikinick, lichens, goldenrod, grass of Parnassus, shrubby cinqfoil, sweet gale, northern comandra, wild rose, wood horsetail, wild chives, twinflower, feathermoss, soapberry, cupidberry, crowberry, bearberry, high-bush cranberry, fireweed, fire snag, rock harlequin, fragrant shield fern, creeping juniper, prickly saxifrage, mountain cranberry, and gooseberry.

About fifty species of mammals are found in the Taiga Shield, including the large herbivores barren-ground caribou, woodland caribou, and moose. Wolves, black and grizzly bears and the lynx are the larger predators. Smaller predators include the coyote, red and arctic fox, muskrat, wolverine, weasel, mink, marten, otter, and least weasel. The smaller herbivores include the snowshoe hare, beaver, brown lemming, red-backed vole, northern red-backed vole, and red squirrel.

Spring migration brings a multitude of bird species through this region, including various ducks, geese, loons and swans. Some stay, but others continue north to the arctic to breed. Representative birds of prey are the osprey and bald eagle. Shorebirds and seabirds found here include northern phalarope, Bonaparte’s gull, arctic tern, greater scaup, mew gull, Characteristic waterfowl are the arctic, pacific, and red-throated loons, red-breasted merganser, and the green-winged teal. Forest birds in the ecozone include northern shrike, tree sparrow, gray-cheeked thrush, raven, red-breasted merganser, red-winged blackbird, yellow warbler, common redpoll, white-crowned sparrow, flicker, and yellow-rumped warbler. Two representative ground-dwelling birds are the spruce grouse and willow ptarmigan.

Three species of amphibians, the mink frog, wood frog, and blue-spotted salamander live here, but there are no reptiles.

The American copper butterfly is found here, as are the molluscs muskeg stagnicola, arctic-alpine fingernail clam, and globular pea clam. Those are the animals.

Intermountain Region


The Canadian Intermountain is a landscape of varying elevation and climate that has resulted in a tremendous diversity of habitat types, including desert, grasslands, shrub-steppe, riparian, wetlands, dry and moist coniferous forests, and alpine tundra. Since there are enormous variations in climate and vegetation, there are many different kinds of animals, ones that can survive in dry, desert areas, others that can live in wet, rain forests and other that habituate high mountain altitudes. The alpine tundra is too harsh for trees, yet plants and animals nestle near the ground. Although harsh in climate, there are hot springs occasionally dotting the mountains. In the subalpine area, trees are small and stunted, mostly fire and cold tolerant conifers. The bent and gnarled bodies of spruce and fir trees tell the story of hard summers and harder winters near the mountain tops. There are forests of both coniferous and deciduous trees thriving in the moderate climate. Trees such as Douglas fir, western hemlock, western red cedar, yellow cedar, white spruce, lodgepole and Ponderosa pine, birch grow in great variety because of the long growing seasons and temperate climate.

The region hosts a diverse range of wildlife: over 1,500 species of native vascular plants, 373 bird species, 43 species of native freshwater fish, 29 species of amphibians and reptiles and 94 species of native terrestrial mammals. As many as 24 waterfowl species occur here, totalling an estimated 1.6 million breeding birds. The region is frequented by 198 types of landbirds, 17 waterbird species and 18 breeding shorebird species.

Western Cordillera


Plants in the ecozone are as varied as the landforms they grow on. Vegetation that may be common in one area are often completely absent from another. Trees in the area include Engelmann spruce, alpine fir, interior Douglas fir, lodgepole pine, western white pine, Rocky Mountain ponderosa pine, trembling aspen, western hemlock, Rocky Mountain red cedar, balsam poplar, paper birch, black spruce, white spruce, and western larch. Some of the other species found here are sagebrush, rabbitbrush, antelope-bush, mountain avens, bunchgrass, pine grass, and bluebunch wheat grass.

The large herbivores include caribou, mule deer, white-tailed deer, moose, mountain goat, California bighorn sheep, and American elk. The large carnivores are the black bear, grizzly bear, wolf, lynx, bobcat, and cougar. Some of the small herbivores here are hoary marmot, yellowbelly marmot, Columbian ground squirrel, beaver, golden-mantled squirrel, yellow pine chipmunk, redtail chipmunk, beaver, northern bog lemming, and pika. Small carnivores that are found here include coyote, red fox, marten, wolverine, muskrat, badger, marten, mink, pallid bat, and striped skunk.

Birds of prey such as northern saw-whet owl, short-eared owl, long-eared owl, burrowing owl, cooper's hawk, red-tailed hawk, sharp-shinned hawk, northern goshawk, and turkey vulture are found here. The shorebirds and seabirds of the area include long-billed curlew, spotted sandpiper, American bittern, common snipe, killdeer, and black tern. Songbirds of the Montane Cordillera include Steller’s jay, black-billed magpie, sage thrasher, white-throated swift, red-winged blackbird, cedar waxwing, cassin's finch, house finch, purple finch, brown creeper, and American dipper. Waterfowl that are found here include sandhill crane, northern pintail, blue-winged teal, mallard, gadwall, redhead, ring-necked duck, canvasback, and Canada goose. The birds of the forest include blue grouse, sharp-tailed grouse, spruce grouse, chukar, California quail, Lewis' woodpecker, and downy woodpecker.

Some of the characteristic frogs and toads of the area are the wood frog, spotted frog, and western toad. One of the salamander species present here is the long-toed salamander. Snakes found in the region include rubber boa, common garter snake, racer, western rattlesnake, night snake, and western terrestrial garter snake. One of the lizards found here is the western skink.

Fish species that live in the ecozone include lake whitefish, chiselmouth, lake chub, peamouth, leopard dace, and redside shiner. White sturgeon and sockeye salmon both come to freshwater to spawn.

Molluscs found here include pig-toe, western-river pearl mussel, western floater, and arctic-alpine fingernail clam.

A few of the insects that live here are red turpentine beetle, boreal spittlebug, spring azure, mourning cloak, and migratory grasshopper.

Arctic Region


Arctic Cordillera


Not much can grow in the harsh conditions, where killing frosts can come at any time during the year and even soil is rare. Three-quarters of the land here is bare rock; and even lichen have a hard time to grow. Trees here are barely recognizable, always stunted versions of themselves. Plants that do grow here are usually tiny species that often grow in thick insulating mats to protect themselves from the cold or are covered in thick hairs that help to insulate and to protect them from the bitter wind.

Some of the plant species found are arctic black spruce, arctic willow, cottongrass, kobresia, moss species, wood rush, wire rush, purple saxifrage, Dryas species, sedges, Diapensia, arctic poppy, mountain avens, mountain sorrel, river beauty, moss campion, bilberry, and arctic white heather.

The conditions here are far too harsh for reptiles and amphibians to survive, and insects are also rare here.

Muskoxen and barren-ground caribou are the only large herbivores in this ecosystem, while polar bears and the arctic wolf are the only large carnivores to be found here. Smaller herbivores include the arctic hare and the collared lemming. Arctic foxes and ermines are some of the smaller carnivores found here. Marine mammals include narwhals, beluga whales, walrus, and ringed and bearded seals.

The furry-legged rock ptarmigan is a common bird in this desolate place. Characteristic birds of prey include the gyrfalcon and snowy owl. Some of the more common shore- and seabirds are the thick-billed murre, black-legged kittiwake, ruddy turnstone, red knot, black guillemot, common ringed plover, little ringed plover and northern fulmar. Songbirds found in the Arctic Cordillera include the hoary redpoll, common redpoll, snow bunting, and lapland longspur. The snow goose, common and king eider, and red-throated loon are some species of waterfowl that live here.

Northern Arctic


The entirety of the Northern Arctic lies above the tree line, so no full-sized tree species can be found here. Very few plant species can survive in these conditions. Plants are generally stunted and become more so to the north.

Some plants found here include purple saxifrage, mountain avens, arctic poppy, arctic willow, Dryas species, kobresia, sedges, cottongrass, moss, dwarf birch, northern Labrador tea, Vaccinium species, alder, alpine foxtail, wood rush, wire rush, moss campions, white arctic heather, arctic bladder campion, yellow oxytrope, mastodon flower, arctic lousewort, mountain sorrel, pygmy buttercup, river beauty, chickweed.

Only about twenty mammal species live here. The largest are the carnivorous polar bear, and arctic wolf and the herbivourous barren-land caribou and muskox. The smaller carnivores found here include arctic fox, ermine, and wolverine, while smaller herbivores include the snowshoe hare, arctic hare, brown lemming and collared lemming. Aquatic mammals that live in the waters off the coast include walrus, ringed seals, bearded seals, beluga, narwhal, and various other whales.

Most of the bird species migrate to the Northern Arctic in spring to mate, leaving in fall. Birds of prey that can be found in the northern arctic include gyrfalcon, rough-legged hawk, and snowy owl. Waterfowl include snow goose, brant, Canada goose, eider, oldsquaw duck, red-throated loon, arctic loon and king eider. Shorebirds and seabirds include the red phalarope, parasitic jaeger, red knot, dunlin, long-tailed jaeger, northern fulmar, glaucous gull, white-rumped sandpiper, black-bellied plover, and ruddy turnstone. Some forest birds of the ecozone are the willow ptarmigan, rock ptarmigan, hoary redpoll, snow bunting, lapland longspur, and horned lark.

No reptiles or amphibians can survive the conditions here.

Southern Arctic


The southern edge of the Southern Arctic is the tree line, a transition zone north of which no full-sized trees are found. Anything north of the tree line is defined as the arctic. The low temperatures, low precipitation, and high winds in most of the ecozone encourages low plants. Stunted forms of tree species such as dwarf birch, alder, arctic willow, white spruce, black spruce, tamarack, least willow, net-veined willow and blue-green willow grow here.

Other plant species that grow in the Southern Arctic include the heath, lichen, northern Labrador tea, Dryas, sedge species, sphagnum moss, cottongrass, ericaceous shrubs, Vaccinium, fragrant shield fern, shrub birch, crowberry, bearberry, moss campion, blueberry, mountain cranberry, cloudberry, and alpine club moss.

North of the tree line, life becomes difficult for animals as well as plants. Most impressive of the animals here is the caribou and their massive migrations. Many birds also migrate, though they fly over the ecozone as much as land in it.

Larger carnivores in the Southern Arctic include the grizzly bear, black bear and polar bear as well as wolves. The most common large herbivores are barren-ground caribou, woodland caribou, moose, and muskox. Smaller carnivores, such as the red fox, arctic fox, lynx, coyote, weasels, wolverine and ermine prey on smaller herbivores, which include the arctic ground squirrel, brown lemming, snowshoe hare, arctic hare masked shrew, tundra redbacked vole , and beaver. Aquatic mammals include walruses, various seals, belugas, and narwhals.

Many birds migrate here in the spring to breed, but spend the long cold winters further south. Many others pass over the Southern Arctic during their migrations to breed still further north. Four characteristic birds of prey include the snowy owl, gyrfalcon, osprey, and rough-legged hawk. Waterfowl that can be found here include Canada goose, yellow-billed loon, arctic loon, red-throated loon, tundra swan, whistling swan, snow goose, oldsquaw duck and sea ducks. Some common shorebirds and seabirds in the Southern Arctic are the semi-palmated plover, red-necked phalarope, lapland longspur, parasitic jaeger, and semi-palmated plover. Songbirds also live here, including the snow bunting, raven, American tree sparrow, and hoary redpoll. Willow ptarmigan, rock ptarmigan and spruce grouse are a few of the ground-dwelling birds.

This ecozone is too harsh for either reptiles or amphibians to live in.

Three species of molluscs that live in the Southern Arctic are the muskeg stagnicola, arctic-alpine fingernail clam, and globular pea clam.