Animals you might see

All nature lovers dream of seeing wild animals in their natural habitats! National parks, national park reserves and national marine conservation areas are home to a large variety of species, including some that are symbolic of Canada.

Along with this unique opportunity, however, comes the responsibility to treat wildlife with respect. We share this space with wildlife. To fully enjoy your experience while keeping your distance, binoculars and cameras with zoom lenses are strongly recommended. Remember, if you distract animals from their natural activities then you are too close.

In order to be well prepared, consult the following list: Ten tips to respect wildlife and stay safe!

By being discrete and respectful of their space, you will help ensure their survival as well as your own safety!

1. Moose

A moose bull standing in a forested area.
Moose can be found in many of Canada’s national parks. Photo: Parks Canada / J. Pleau

At 2 m in height, the moose is the largest of our antlered mammals. This king of the forest can be seen in many national parks across the country. You may see moose when visiting Riding Mountain or Prince Albert National Parks, and they are particularly abundant in Gros Morne National Park and Cape Breton Highlands National Park. You can recognize the male moose by its large, flat antlers that can grow to 1.5 m in width and that weigh nearly 30 kg!

When to watch it
From June to October, moose are more active at dawn and dusk. You will often see them around wetlands, lakes and rivers.

Fun fact
Male moose use their antlers to fight during mating season, in September and October. They lose their antlers between December and February and then grow them back in April. Moose antlers are covered in velvet from August to early September.

2. Mountain Goat

A Mountain Goat and her kid standing on a waterside cliff.
Mountain goat with a “kid” on a steep mountain side in Western Canada.

With their white coat, beard and small dagger-shaped black horns, mountain goats have an amazing ability to climb steep rock, snow and ice in the mountains, despite their stocky appearance. You can see mountain goats in alpine and subalpine areas of Jasper National Park, Banff, Yoho , Kootenay as well as other national parks in the mountains and in Canada’s north.

When to watch it
You can see mountain goats all year long, but they are easier to spot in the summer when their coats contrast with the mountains.

Fun fact
Despite their name, mountain goats are not closely related to other goat species.

3. Bighorn Sheep

A Bighorn Sheep ram displaying his large horn.
A Bighorn sheep ram in Western Canada. Photo: Parks Canada / Wayne Lynch

Bighorn sheep have a brown coat and a white rump. The older males (known as rams) have heavy, curled horns. Mainly grazers, bighorn sheep migrate seasonally between grassy slopes in the lower elevations and higher alpine meadows, but they keep close to steep, rocky “escape terrain” that they use to flee from predators. These social animals often live in groups of 10 to 20. You can find bighorn sheep among the steep rocky slopes of JasperBanffYoho Kootenay and Waterton Lakes National Parks.

When to watch it
You can see bighorn sheep all year long.

Fun fact
When two male bighorn sheep fight for dominance, they step back 10 to 12 m from each other and then lunge at each other head first. The sound of their horns clashing together can be heard from up to a kilometre away!

4. Common Loon

A Common Loon floating in the water beside its chick.
A loon swimming in the water on Wapizagonke Lake in La Mauricie National Park. Photo: Parks Canada / P.O. Boudreault

The emblem on our one-dollar coin, the common loon has a very striking appearance due to its checkerboard back of black and white spots, its black and shiny head, its white belly and its black and white striped collar separating its throat. The loon feeds mainly on fish, frogs, crayfish, leeches and aquatic insects. Although its breeding area covers nearly all of Canada, the loon is well-known at Wapizagonke Lake in La Mauricie National Park, where you have the best chance of admiring this bird. Listen for its characteristic call.

When to watch it
In July and August, when the eggs have hatched and the young loons are exploring with their family.

Fun fact
When in flight, the common loon has its head and neck angled downward, its legs are in tight against the back of its body, extending beyond its tail, giving it a humped appearance.

5. Grey Seals

Measuring up to 3 metres in length and weighing up to 450 kg, the grey seal feeds on a large variety of fish. You can recognize the grey seal by its long snout and its black coat with grey spots for males and silver grey coat with black spots for females and young pups. You can find the grey seal along the banks of the St. Lawrence at Forillon National Park or in many parks in Atlantic Canada including the Sable Island National Park Reserve which is home to the world’s largest breeding colony of grey seals

When to watch it
You can see the grey seal all year long sunbathing on rocks or poking their head out of the water, with a mischievous look on their face!

Fun fact
Grey seals can dive down 200 metres and remain underwater for up to 25 minutes.

A herd of Grey Seals sunbathing on a rock in the water.
Grey seals relaxing on a rock in Forillon National Park.

6. Atlantic Puffins

A gathering of Atlantic Puffins standing on rocky terrain.
Atlantic Puffins in Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve. Photo: Parks Canada / Olivia Jomphe

Mating for life and using the same burrow year after year, Atlantic puffins are fascinating to watch with their multi-coloured beaks. Clumsy in the air, Atlantic puffins are much more at home underwater where they can hold their breath for more than a minute. When you visit the Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve to see the colonies of Atlantic puffins, you will notice that they engage in billing. When billing, the partners face each other and strike their beaks together repeatedly while shaking their heads from side to side to strengthen their bond.

When to watch it
You can see the Atlantic puffins from mid-May to mid-August.

Fun fact
The Atlantic puffin has a hard time taking off and often crashes when landing!

7. Muskox

A herd of muskoxen running through a barren, flat field.
A herd of muskoxen in Northern Canada.

These large and shaggy beasts roam the tundra feeding on roots, mosses, and lichens. The muskox’s keen sense of smell helps them find food hidden under the snow in winter – they lift and drop their massive heads to break the snow crust when it becomes too hard to paw through. Both male and female muskoxen have impressive horns, although the females’ are less massive. You can see the muskox in the Canadian tundra in Aulavik, Qausuittuq and Quttinirpaaq National Parks and many others.

When to watch it
You can see muskoxen from mid-June to mid-August.

Fun fact
It is not surprising that muskoxen can easily survive in - 40 °C temperatures: their under-coat, called “qiviut”, is eight times warmer than sheep’s wool and finer than cashmere!

8. Whooping Crane

A Whooping Crane outstretching its wings in a marsh.
A whooping crane in Wood Buffalo National Park.

Measuring 1.5 m in height, the adult whooping crane, an endangered species, is the tallest North American bird. A whooping crane flies with its long neck extended forward and legs trailing equally straight behind. The crane is spectacular in flight! The bird spirals upwards (aided by thermal activity), glides down, dropping as low as 70 m above ground, and then begins spiralling upwards again. This spiralling and gliding is energy efficient and allows the cranes to fly great distances.

When to watch it
Each spring, whooping cranes travel from the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas to Wood Buffalo National Park to build their nests. Although seeing whooping cranes is rare due to them nesting in remote areas, they can occasionally be seen in June, July and August.

Fun fact
A nesting whooper frequently bugles loud and clear during the early morning hours. This sound carries over several kilometres!

9. American White Pelican

An American White Pelican flying in front of pine trees.
An American white pelican in Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area. Photo: Parks Canada / Greg Stroud

The American white pelican is a very large bird. It measures between 1.25 and 1.65 m in length with a wingspan of up to 3 m. Unlike other pelicans that drop plunge-dive to catch fish, the American white pelican simply floats along the water and scoops up fish with its distinctive long orange beak. A good place to observe the American white pelican is along the north shore of Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area in Nipigon Bay and Black Bay at Hurkett Cove.

When to watch it
May and June are the best months to observe the American white pelican.

Fun fact
American white pelicans search for food alone or co-operatively in groups! In the latter case, they gather and flap their wings while dipping their beaks to scare fish to shallower waters where they are easier to catch.

10. Burrowing owl

A parliament of burrowing owls sits in a grassy field.
A group of Burrowing owls in Grasslands National Park. Photo: Parks Canada / Robert Postma

The burrowing owl is a peculiar little owl that is endangered in Canada. It nests underground in burrows abandoned by prairie dogs, foxes, coyotes and badgers! Smaller than a pigeon, the burrowing owl weighs between 125 and 185 g and measures 19 to 20 cm in length. Remarkably well adapted to the prairies, it hunts both during the day and at night, feeding on insects, snakes, frogs and small mammals. You can see the burrowing owl at Grasslands National Park.

When to watch it
The burrowing owls are easiest to spot in September as they prepare to migrate.

Fun fact
A clever bird, the burrowing owl imitates the sound of rattlesnakes to scare away predators!

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