Boundary Waters Wildlife
Many animals, such as deer, wolf, black bear and moose make the famous Boundary Waters Canoe Area wilderness their home. You may be fortunate to catch a glimpse of the illusive gray wolf (timber wolf) or view a moose at water’s edge while nibbling on fresh lily pads. Black bears and white tail deer, along with beaver, red fox, rabbits, mink, muskrat, raccoon, river otters, squirrels and chipmunks, live in this great wilderness. Opportunities to view wildlife are abundant if you are a quiet, patient, and attentive canoe/camper.
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The American black bear is definitely the most well-known Boundary Waters wildlife animal that canoeist into this amazing wilderness always ask about. The smallest and most common species of bear living in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area is the American Black Bear. Black bears are omnivores, with diets that vary depending on the season. A large portion of their diet is vegetation, and they are also fond of bees, yellow-jackets and their honey. They will gnaw through trees if hives are too deeply set into the trunks for them to reach. They will scrape the honeycombs together with their paws and eat them, paying no attention to bee stings. They also eat ants and their larvae.
Being inhabitants of the heavily forested areas of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, black bears sometimes become attracted to campsites because of the immediate availability of unattended food. It is important to hang your food pack from the limb of a sturdy tree making certain that the pack is a distance from the trunk to dissuade a hungry bear looking for a quick meal. Events such as this can occur, but are not frequent in the Boundary Waters due in particular to the level of education and information about the black bear which is provided to the many canoeists who enjoy the beauty and serenity of this marvelous area each year.
Black bears have quite broad skulls with narrow muzzles and large jaws. Females tend to have more slender and pointed faces than males. Their claws are typically black or grayish brown. The claws are short and rounded, thicker at the base and then tapering to a point. Claws from both hind and front legs are almost identical in length. Black bears have ears that are small and rounded, and are set well back on the head. Black bears are very dexterous, being capable of opening screw-top jars and manipulating door latches. They are also very strong and can run quickly.
The size of a black bears and its weight varies according to age, sex, health and season. They eat more in the late summer and early fall in preparation for winter hibernation. Thus, pre-den weight is significantly higher than that of their spring weight upon emerging from their den.
The black bear makes all kinds of sounds, some expressing aggression include growls, woofs, snorts, bellows and roars. Contented sounds include mumbles, squeaks and pants. Black bears tend to be territorial and non-gregarious in nature. Female black bears are most protective of their cubs. It is wise to avoid coming between a mother and her cubs.
Ely, Minnesota is most fortunate to be the home of world famous, bear researcher, Lynn Rogers, and the American Black Bear Center…a “must” place to visit when in Ely before or after your canoe trip adventure. One can observe black bears in their natural environment and learn much due to the extensive life-long research of Lynn Rogers.
GRAY WOLF (TIMBER WOLF)
No description of Boundary Waters wildlife would not be complete without including the gray wolf. Most often called the timber wolf, the gray wolf is native to Minnesota and is valued by many people as a wilderness symbol. The gray wolf can be found throughout northern Minnesota, where it runs in packs. These animals are extremely illusive and are seldom seen up close in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.
The general description of a gray wolf is of a large gray mammal with a long, bushy tail and dog-like appearance. Many say it looks like a tall German shepherd or a large coyote. A typical Minnesota wolf is mixed gray in color with yellowish sides and darker gray on the back. However, individuals vary from almost solid black to buff-white.
Adult wolves are about 41–63 inches in length and 32–34 inches in shoulder height. The tail is ⅔ the length of the head and body. Wolf weight varies and on the average a gray wolf will weigh about 80 pounds. Females in any given wolf population typically weigh 5–10 lbs less than males. Females in the pack nourish and feed their pups by regurgitating food for a period of time.
Gray wolves molt some of their coats in late spring or early summer. Gray wolves have very dense and fluffy winter fur, with short under fur and long, coarse guard hairs. Most of the under fur and some of the guard hairs are shed in the spring and grow back in the autumn period. The longest hairs occur on the back, particularly on the front quarters and neck. Especially long hairs are found on the shoulders, and almost form a crest on the upper part of the neck. The hairs on the cheeks are elongated and form tufts. The ears are covered in short hairs which strongly project from the fur.
The winter fur is highly resistant to cold. Wolves in northern climates, like the Boundary Waters Canoe Area can rest comfortably in open areas at −40° by placing their muzzles between the rear legs and covering their faces with their tail. Wolf fur provides better insulation than dog fur, and it does not collect ice when warm breath is condensed against it.
Gray wolves in the wild of the Boundary Waters are social predators that live in families or packs consisting of a mated pair which monopolizes food and breeding rights, followed by their biological offspring and, occasionally, adopted subordinates. Captive wolves that are unrelated are often portrayed as strictly hierarchical social structures with a breeding "alpha" pair which climbs the social ladder through fighting, followed by subordinate "beta" wolves and a low ranking "omega" which bears the brunt of the pack's aggression.
Territorial behavior is obvious. Wolves in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area wilderness are highly territorial animals, and generally establish territories far larger than they require to survive in the wilderness habitat of northern Minnesota. They do this in order to maintain a steady supply of prey. Wolf packs travel constantly each day in search of prey.
Wolves howl to assemble the pack (usually before and after hunts), to pass on an alarm (particularly at a den site), to locate each other and to communicate across great distances. Howling is made up of a frequency which may lie between 150 and 780 Hz, and consists of up to 12 harmonically related overtones. The pitch usually remains constant or varies smoothly, and may change direction as many as four or five times.
Ely, Minnesota is also home to the International Wolf Center, located just 10-12 minutes from River Point. To learn more about the gray wolf, think about visiting this museum. This is also the perfect place to explore before your 4 or 6-Day Wolf Howl canoe trip adventure with a knowledgeable River Point guide. At this multi-million dollar interpretive wolf center facility, known internationally for its research and natural history on the timber wolf, you can have a "close encounter" with the resident wolf pack as they roam their 1 1/4 acre home at the Wolf Center, playing, eating, sleeping, and tussling with each other.
You can even go on a Wolf Howling excursion in preparation for your own “wolf howling” with the experienced guide on your canoe trip.
Minnesota's moose are the largest wild animal in the wilderness forest of the Boundary Waters, and is the one wildlife animal that most everyone wants to see on their BWCA canoe trip. Minnesota is also one of the only states to have moose. The moose is the largest extant species in the deer family and are dark brown to black in color. The front shoulder hump and flap of skin hanging below the throat are characteristic of a mature moose. Moose are distinguished by the antlers of the males that can measure five feet across and weigh up to 40 pounds. Moose typically inhabit boreal and mixed deciduous forests of the Northern Hemisphere.
The size and weight of moose is most interesting. The average adult moose stands 6–7 ft high at the shoulder. Males weigh 950–1200 pounds, and females weigh 600–800 pounds. All moose are herbivores and are capable of consuming many types of plant or fruit.
The average adult moose needs to consume about 9500 calories per day to maintain its body weight. Much of a moose's energy is derived from terrestrial vegetation, other non-grasses, and fresh shoots from trees such as trembling aspen, striped maple, willow and birch, which make up a large portion of vegetation in the Boundary Waters. Moose generally need to consume a good quantity of aquatic plants, like lilies and pond weed. While much lower in energy than willow and birch trees, these plants provide the moose with its sodium requirements. As much as half the diet of a moose usually consists of aquatic plant life.
Moose are excellent swimmers and are known to wade into water to eat aquatic plants. This feeding pattern serves a second purpose in cooling down the moose on summer days and ridding itself of black flies. Moose are attracted to marshes and river banks during warmer months, as both provide vegetation to eat and water to cool them and to swim in.
In the winter, one can often find moose on the edges of the roads or highways licking the salt that is used as a snow and ice melt. To prepare motorists for moose encounters, moose warning signs are used on roads in regions where there is a danger of collision.
Moose have long spindly legs, making these animals particularly dangerous when hit by passenger cars with low ground clearances. Generally, when colliding with a moose at high speed, the car's bumper and front grille will break the moose's legs, causing the body of the moose to fly up and over the car's hood and deliver the bulk of the animal's weight into the windshield. Highway #1, which connects River Point Outfitting Co. to both Ely and the North Shore of Lake Superior is known for moose sightings. One must be especially watchful for moose when driving this highway…with camera ever-ready!
The male moose will drop its antlers after the mating season and conserve energy for the winter. A new set of antlers will grow in the spring. Antlers take three to five months to fully develop, making them one of the fastest growing animal organs. They initially have a layer of skin, called "velvet," which is shed once the antlers become fully grown. Immature bulls may not shed their antlers for the winter, but retain them until the following spring.
The social structure and reproduction of moose is interesting. Moose are generally solitary with the strongest bonds between mother and calf. Moose rarely gather in groups, although, there may be several in close proximity during the mating season.
Mating occurs in September and October in the Boundary Waters. The males will seek several females to breed with. Both sexes will call to each other during the breeding time. Males produce heavy grunting sounds that can be heard from up to 500 meters away, while females produce wail-like sound. As with other animals, males will fight for access to females. Moose determine which is of them is the larger animal, with the smaller bull usually retreating. Or, they may engage in a fight, which usually only involves their antlers.
Female moose have an eight-month gestation period, usually bearing one calf, or twins if food is abundant in May or June. The newborn moose have fur with a reddish hue in contrast to the brown appearance of an adult. Within a week after birth the newborn moose can walk and swim. The young will stay with the mother until just before the next young are born.
Moose have few natural predators. A full-grown moose has few enemies, but a pack of wolves can still pose a threat, especially to females with calves. American Black Bears and cougars can be significant predators of moose calves in May and June. In some areas, moose are the primary source of food for wolves.
Moose usually flee if they detect wolves in the area of the Boundary Waters. Wolves tend follow a moose at a distance of about 300-1200 feet. An attack on a young moose may last seconds. Attacks on adult moose can sometimes be drawn out for days. A pack of wolves will chase moose into shallow streams or onto frozen rivers, where their mobility is greatly impeded. Moose will sometimes stand their ground and defend themselves by charging at the wolves or lashing out at them with their powerful hooves. Wolves typically kill moose by tearing at their haunches which causes great blood loss. Wolf packs primarily target calves and elderly animals. Healthy moose between the ages of two and eight are rarely killed by wolves. However, it can and does happen.
Moose are an amazing animal to observe in the wild, and the opportunity to do so increases when on a Boundary Waters canoe trip.
WHITE TAIL DEER
The white-tailed deer, known simply as the whitetail, is a medium-sized deer native to the United States and is found in all but five states and is abundant in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area wilderness and around the River Point Outfitting Co. facility. You will enjoy seeing them during your canoe trip.
The deer's coat is a reddish-brown in the spring and summer and turns to a grey-brown throughout the fall and winter. The deer can be recognized by the characteristic white underside to its tail, which it shows as a signal of alarm by raising the tail during escape, which is a form of communication to the other deer.
The North American male deer, or buck, usually weighs from 130 to 300 pounds but, in rare cases, bucks in excess of 375 pounds have been recorded. The female deer, or doe, usually weighs from 90 to 200 pounds. Length ranges from 4 to 6 feet long, and have a 6 to 12 inch tail. Deer have dichromatic (two-color) vision; humans have trichromatic vision. So what deer do not see are the oranges and reds that stand out so well to people. This explains why wearing orange or red during deer-hunting season does not alarm the deer.
Buck deer re-grow their antlers every year. Bucks without branching antlers are often termed "spikehorn", "spiked bucks" or "spike bucks". The spikes can be quite long or very short. The number of points and the length or thickness of the antlers are a general indication of age. Spiked bucks are different from "button bucks" or "nubbin' bucks", that are male fawns and are generally about six to nine months of age during their first winter. They have skin covered nobs on their heads.
Antlers begin to grow in late spring and are covered with “velvet”. Typical antlers are symmetrical. A buck's inside spread on the antlers can be anywhere from 3–25. Bucks usually shed their antlers when all females have been bred, from late December to February.
Whitetail deer eat large varieties of food in the Boundary Waters, commonly eating legumes and on other plants, including tree leaves, buds, bark, branches, twigs, and grasses. They love cedar trees and will stand on their hind legs to feed off of the higher branches. They also eat varieties of fruit, such as wild grapes, found in the forest. Their special stomach allows them to eat some things that humans cannot, such as mushrooms that are poisonous to humans and Red Sumac. Diet varies according to the season.
Males compete for the opportunity of breeding females in the Boundary Waters. White tail deer mate from November to early December in the Boundary Waters. Sparring among males determines dominance. Bucks will attempt to copulate with as many females as possible, losing physical condition since they rarely eat or rest during the rut. During the mating season, bucks travel widely to search for females. They will also scrape small patches of ground on which they urinate. These scrapes may tell bucks that other bucks are in the area. If there are numerous males in a particular area, then they will compete more for the females. If there are fewer males or more females, then the selection process will not need to be as competitive.
Females give birth to 1–3 white-spotted young, known as fawns, in mid to late spring, generally in May or June weighing about eight pounds each. Fawns lose their spots during the first summer and will weigh from 44 to 77 pounds by the first winter. Fawns will remain with their mother and nurse for several months. Male fawns tend to be slightly larger and heavier than females. For the first four weeks, fawns mostly lie still and hide in vegetation while their mothers forage. They are then able to follow their mothers on foraging trips.
White tail deer make a variety of sounds including snorts, grunts, and bleats. They also use scent, body language, and marking. All white-tailed deer are capable of producing audible noises, unique to each animal. Fawns release a high-pitched squeal, known as a bleat, to call out to their mothers. Does make a maternal grunt when searching for their bedded fawn. Grunting produces a low, guttural sound that will attract the attention of any other deer in the area. Both does and bucks snort, a sound that often signals danger. As well as snorting, bucks also grunt at a pitch that gets lower with maturity.
On your Boundary Waters trip, you may also see a variety of other animals including red fox, muskrat, beaver, mink, rabbits, and more. You may also refer to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for more information on the following animal indigenous to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area wilderness:
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