BWCA and Quetico Park Wildlife

BWCA and Quetico Park Wildlife

Over 52 species of mammals and 150 species of birds inhabit the BWCA and Quetico Park. While on your canoe trip you may see a tiny shrew weighing a fraction of an ounce, or a huge bull moose weighing in at over 1200 pounds. Animals native to the region include moose, beaver, bears, bobcats, bald eagles, peregrine falcons and loons. The Boundary Waters is within the range of the largest population of wolves in the continental United States, as well as an unknown number of Canada lynx. Woodland caribou once inhabited the region but have since disappeared due to loss of habitat and encroachment by deer.

Traveling and portaging through the BWCA or Quetico Park as silently as possible will afford you with the best possibility of seeing wildlife up close. If you hear a rustling or crashing in the woods, sit quietly and be patient. Moose, deer and other mammals frequently lack good eyesight, but have a great sense of smell. Usually they will smell your presence and if you remain still they will move into the open, or right by you after realizing that your smell is not a "threat" to them. Going out on an early morning or late evening paddle will offer additional opportunities to view wildlife as they move to the waters edge to feed and drink.

Following is just some of the wildlife you may encounter on your canoe trip.


MOLES AND SHREWS - This small flesh eating mammal spends much of its time underground, under rocks, under logs and sometimes even underwater. This tiny creature is covered with dense fur, has very small eyes and teeth and a long slender nose. Moles and shrews feed mainly on insects and earthworms. The pygmy shrew is the smallest living mammal, 3 inches long including the tail. Look for this animal along the shoreline, scurrying under rocks and logs.

BATS - Yes, we do have bats in the northwoods but since they feed on insects (black flies & mosquitos) they are a welcome member of the forest family. Six species are found in our area. Bats are nocturnal, navigating by emitting a high pitched sound inaudible to humans. Their large ears detect the echoes made when these sounds bounce off of nearby objects. During the winter months, the bats will hibernate or migrate to a warmer climate. As dusk settles in, look into open areas above fields or your campsite and you're sure to see the erratic flight of several bats searching for their evening dinner of insects.

RABBITS AND HARES - The snowshoe hare is the most commonly seen member of this family in our wilderness area. Brown in the summer, his coat changes to white by mid-November. Extra large back feet allow the hare to bound and leap over deep snow. A population cycle which peaks every 7 - 11 years determines the ease in which you'll find the hare. This group is an important natural food source for the many furbearing mammals and birds of prey. The cottontail is seldom seen this far north. Watch the grassy areas near camp and swampy parts of the portages for hares.

MOOSE AND DEER - This vegetarian group is a common sight in the canoe country. The moose is a majestic sight to be had, bulls weighing in excess of 1500 pounds. The white-tailed deer is best know for its large white tail which is raised in alarm as a flag as it runs from danger. At one time, the woodland caribu also roamed this area. Plans are underway to reintroduce the caribou to the area. Shallow bays and rivers holding underwater vegetation are the places to view moose. In early summer, cow moose will keep their young calves near the water. As you paddle, watch the shoreline for deer as they come to the waters edge for a drink.

CARNIVORES - Members of this large group are known as flesheaters. All have large canine teeth for tearing flesh, although some will also eat berries and fruit. The dog family includes coyotes, foxes and timberwolves. The coyote resembles a large-eared medium size dog. The timberwolf is noticeably larger with longer legs and nose. Both the coyote and wolf are wary of humans and rarely seen. Listen closely in the late evening hours and you may hear the howling of wolves in your area. Watch the portage trails for wolf scat, often containing deer hair. The fox is dainty in comparison with coloration ranging from red to silver in our area. The fox will often investigate your empty firegrate when you leave camp so watch the campsites as you travel, you may see a fox digging around the ashes checking for food scraps.

WEASEL FAMILY - This group includes pine martens, fisher, otter, mink and skunks. Pine martens are a tree dwelling weasel, about the size of a small house cat. Coloration on the head and chest can be silver to orange and the rest of the coat is usually a brown/black. This fox like animal is usually seen chasing squirrels in the pines. The fisher is a larger mammal with a darker coat. Since the fisher lives in a very dense cover, chances of spotting one are slim. Mink are an aquatic weasel with glossy dark fur with a white spot on the chin. Several mink are sometimes seen traveling together, loping along the shoreline, investigating every rock, log and stick along the way. Weasels have a long, slender body with short legs and a white tipped tail. Brown in the summer, white in the winter it is referred to as an "ermine" in the fur industry. You'll have to be quick to spot this fast mover! River otters have a sleek, 3 foot long body with a small head and ears. Much of their time is spent in the small head chasing fish, frogs, and crayfish. Otter will often investigate you as you fish or paddle through a lake. You may think that they are "snorting" at you when actually they are just trying to get a good smell to figure out what you are. Watch your stringers if you have them tied up at shore, the otter will steal your fish in a hurry. A few striped skunks wander our area - few would fail to recognize this critter. Don't ignore their raised tail!

BLACK BEAR - The black bear travels the canoe trails as well. Bears range in weight from 50-300 pounds, some reaching 600 on occasion! Colors range from glossy black to cinnamon brown. Keep those food packs in the air and a clean camp! The raccoon is a rare sight, more common in the central section of Minnesota. The cat family includes the solitary and nocturnal lynx and bobcat. These cats are rarely seen, because the area sits at the southern limit of the lynx range and the northern extreme of the bobcat's range.

GNAWING MAMMALS - Rodents greatly outnumber other mammal groups in the forest. Since their food is mainly vegetable matter, rodents have long chisel-like incisors. The squirrel family is distinguished from other rodents by its hair-covered tail. With the exception of flying squirrels, they are active during the daylight hours. The very common red squirrel can be heard chattering throughout the area. This rusty colored rodent becomes quite tame at many campsites. The flying squirrel lives in hollow trees and is seldom seen during the daylight hours. Their flight is actually a "glide" made possible by a fold of furry skin stretched between the front and hind legs. The flying squirrel is covered with a velvety gray coat and has large round eyes. Chipmunks are a busy ground scavenger with black and white stripes on their backs to distinguish it from other rodents. Another easily tamed forest friend! The woodchuck is a stocky brown animal adapted to burrowing, usually ground on rocky hillsides. Our areas largest rodent is the beaver, reaching 60 pounds. He is covered with a rich brown fur. You can find beaver in most lakes and ponds of the canoe country, their dams and lodges dotting the landscape. Watch the shoreline for "beaver chews" and you may see a beaver working on a tree or stick. If you get too close, he'll swim into the lake and slap his large, flat tail as a warning to other beavers that a danger is near. Rats and mice are a large group of rodents. The muskrat is an aquatic rodent that makes a house similar to that of the beaver. The muskrat is about 20 inches long with beautiful brown fur and a silver-tipped belly.


BIRDS OF THE CANOE COUNTRY - Shorebirds, songbirds, birds of prey, ducks... 155 species of birds breed in the Superior national Forest. Birds account for over 79% of the wildlife in the canoe country. Most are overlooked. Many small and inconspicuous song birds are hidden by thick foliage. Seeing them requires much patience, stalking, and braving the insects of the thick woods.

Everyone wants to see the northern bald eagle and everyone should. Nests are scattered throughout the canoe country. Soaring eagles can be seen often as you gaze into the sky. Watch closely and you may see the eagle dive for fish. The osprey depends almost entirely on fish for it's diet inlike the eagle which also scavenges for meat. Osprey build a huge nest, almost 6 feet across, usually in a large, dead tree near the shoreline.

The common loon will be seen by every canoe travler at one time or another. Pairs can be found on almost every wilderness lake. Low, loosely formed nests hold one or two eggs. When hatched, you'll see the young loons riding on moms back. The haunting call of the loons and their spectacular water dancing antics will be one of your lasting memories from our area.

The common raven is the large bird often seen feeding on roadside kills. This bird will also follow wolf packs where it will scavange the remains of wolf kills. Nests can be found of cliff ledges or tall pines. When you see a flock of "circling" black birds, you are seeing turkey vultures, often mistakesn for eagles. If you can get a close look, you'll see that the birds head is actually quite bald. This scavenger will eat just about anything he can find laying around. Both the raven and vulture winter in our area.

The friendly gray jay, also known as the Canadian jay or lumberjack, will snitch tidbits of food right off your plate. The birds are quite tame and unafraid of people. Whenever you find spruce, tamarack or cedar, you're sure to find the gray jay. This year round resident looks like a bluejay except the feather colors are not as brillant. Many varieties of sparrows inhabit our forest, the most common being the white-throated sparrow. A distinctive call, one low note followed by four high notes, will help you recognize this bird.

Many people report hearing "some one trying to start a motor". This "drumming" noise is our ruffed grouse, beating his wings in rhythm to attract a mate or show off for his competition. This chicken-like bird is not afraid of humans in the wilderness area. You may see them strolling through camp or crossing your portage trail.

Other common birds you may see are the robin, bluejay, rose-breasted grosbeak, evening grosbeak, wren, chickadee, blackbird, warbler, northern flicker, sapsucker, and American Crow.

Ducks common to the area are the mallard, black mallard, wood duck, common merganser, hooded merganser and pied-billed grebe. An interesting characteristic of the common merganser; this fish eating duck uses a "dump nest". Several hen mergansers will lay their eggs in one nest. Some lucky (or unlucky) hen sits on the entire lot! Sometimes you'll see 20-30 chicks all following one hen. The common merganser hen has a grey body, white chest and a rusty red colored crest on the head. The male is black and white with brilliant orange feet and bill.

VIEWING WILDLIFE - Traveling and portaging as silently as possible will afford you with the best possibility of seeing wildlife up close. If you hear a rustling or crashing in the woods, sit quietly and be patient. Moose, deer and other mammals frequently lack good eyesight, but have a great sense of smell. Usually they will smell your presence and if you remain still they will move into the open, or right by you after realizing that your smell is not a "threat" to them.

Going out on an early morning or late evening paddle will also offer additional opportunities to view wildlife as they move to the water's edge to feed and drink.

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