Terrestrial Animals, Pacific Northwest
Although there are over 400 species of mammals living in North America, there are only 36 species living on Vancouver Island. Our biggest is, of course, our bears, both black and grizzly. The Black Bear range covers all of Canada from Newfoundland & Labrador to British Columbia, as well as much of the US, and parts of Mexico. Males are about 170 cm in size and are slightly larger than females. Because black bears hibernate, they must gain a tremendous amount of fat reserves in the fall. They characteristically drop more than a quarter of their body weight during hibernation. Females nursing newborns during this time can lose almost half their total weight during hibernation.
Their litters vary but a female can have up to four cubs, depending on the size and health of the mother. Females mate every two to three years, in summer, the fertilized egg develops in fall, and bear cubs are born during late winter.
Black bears can swim well and will often climb trees to looking for fruit, insects, and buds. They have a powerful sense of smell and incredible hearing, but their eyesight is poor. They can be seen at any hour of the day, but are, for the most part, nocturnal. I see more bears at dusk or dawn than at any other time.
These bears are omnivorous but their diet consists of mostly sedge’s & plants including wild fruits and berries like salmonberries, except for the period of salmon runs on Vancouver Island, when they eat fish or fish eggs, almost exclusively. They also feed on insects for most of the year, as evidenced by the many stumps & logs that they rip apart all over the Island, in search of this food source.
In recent years, there has been a huge increase in bear to human confrontations, with bears usually on the losing end. Even large centers like Victoria & Nanaimo are experiencing escalating troubles due to encroaching bears. To me, the bears are not the problem – the problem is us, and how we deal with our trash, fallen fruit on the ground, feeding pets outside and bird feeders that should also be set out of reach of bears. Once a black bear learns about city food (IE. garbage, bird feeders, pet foods & fruit trees), they will search out these food supplies, and become problem bears, which means they often become dead bears. So, take some time, and examine your yard for ways to make it undesirable to bears. This could save bears!
Although there are over 400 species of mammals living in North America, there are only 36 species living on Vancouver Island. Black bears being one of them, we do have a lot of bears here though, so seeing them is not too difficult. Two of my favorite places to view bears during the salmon spawn are the Quinsam River System at Campbell River, just below the counting fence above the hatchery and along the Quatse river located just south of port hardy. The last time I took a walk along the quatse river during the salmon spawn, I saw a black bear with two cubs feeding on salmon, then just around the corner I saw a big male fishing, then a little further up the river, there were two young bears, maybe two years old, fishing together, most likely siblings. So when walking here in the fall, please be bear aware.
When hiking in the backwoods of Vancouver Island keep an eye out for wildlife. Look for tracks that passing creatures leave behind, in order to help identify animals living in your area. When the salmon are spawning, look for bear tracks along waterways. Find a good reference book on animal tracks to help identify the various forest creatures.
The Island is still an exciting place to look for animals, though! To increase your chances of seeing wildlife, you can look for clues when you are out & about.
Watch for things like dome-shaped clumps of grasses seen in our beaver ponds, they are likely built by muskrats. Piles of used pine cones are left over from feeding squirrels. Flattened grass where a deer spent the night. Tell-tail signs of animal life are everywhere!
Keep an eye out for tracks that passing creatures leave behind, in order to help identify animals living in your area. Their scat provides indications as to their diet.
Vancouver Island is home to large animals like Roosevelt elk and wolves; smaller ones, like short-tailed weasels and gray squirrels; and wee little ones like the Keen’s mouse and the hoary bat. Roosevelt elk are the largest member of the ungulate family – even larger than the elk found on the mainland! Roosevelt elk inhabit Vancouver Island in great herds. We have transplanted 3 small herds of elk to BC’s mainland, as part of plans to create breeding herds there.
A telltale sign of the Roosevelt elk is the large white patch on its rump, and of course, the fact that no other member of the deer family on the Island is as big as they are!
Calves are born in May and June. The cow will usually leave the herd to give birth in isolation, and then return to the herd in about 4 weeks with her calf in tow. The rut begins in early fall with bulls bugling to make their presence known to the cows. Although a herd may have several bulls, only one will be the dominant male, and he will defend his harem against all challengers, even bulls within his own herd. When a young bull forces a challenge & loses, he is ousted from the herd.
I was sitting by the Salmon River one foggy morning, having my coffee, when all of a sudden, across the river, a big bull came strutting out to the river bank, head held high, velvet swinging from his antlers. As he reached the water’s edge, about 20 meters from me, he raised his head and started to bugle. This went on for more than 20 minutes before he wandered back into the bush. I was spellbound, to say the least! Elks’ antlers are shed and grow back every year. New antlers are covered by a rich, green, velvety membrane that elks rub off on trees. During this process, they can look pretty awesome, with their velvet hanging in tatters as they lift their heads to bugle.
In their first year, bulls have one spike, in their second, they have 3 – 5 points and 3-year-old bulls have six points that they grow back annually.
They all have their place and are quite interesting to observe. So, get out & take a walk on the wild side, and see what’s in your area!