Beluga whales are small (3 – 5m) toothed whales that inhabit coastal and estuarine areas, often with pack ice, in arctic and subarctic areas of the northern hemisphere. They can be recognized by their white color, prominent rounded melon, stout body shape and lack of dorsal fin.
There are approximately 20, 000 beluga whales inhabiting western Hudson Bay and Churchill River estuary areas. Over 3,000 of these white whales summer in the estuary, moving in and out of Hudson Bay with the tides. Beluga whales are among the most vocal whales in the world.
The beluga is the only whale with a flexible neck. (Their vertebrae remain unfused.) Belugas can swim an average speed of 16 -22 kilometers ( 10 – 13.5 miles) per hour, dive to depths of 600 meters (1,950 feet) and hold their breath for 15-20 minutes. The average life span of a Western Hudson Bay Beluga is 10 years, although some have lived as long as 30! Learn more about the beluga whale here.
The ringed seal is the most abundant, widespread and important seal to the socio-economy of the people in the Northwest Territories. The common name refers to the circular markings on the back of the adult. The scientific name refers to the seal’s bristly coat.
The ringed seal is the smallest pinniped in the Canadian Arctic. Newborn pups average 4.5 kg in weight and 65 cm in length. When one year old, they are about 70 per cent of their mature size. The average adult is 135 cm long and weighs about 70 kg. Females tend to be slightly smaller than males.
Primarily solitary, the ringed seals occasionally travel in loosely organized groups. They tend to form aggregates at haul-out areas, such as ice cracks.
Segregation by age occurs in winter when adults remain in preferred breeding habitat under stable ice in bays and fiords and non-breeders are found at the floe edge and move in response to food availability and population pressures. Ringed seals have a varied diet composed primarily of the larger shrimp-like crustaceans, small fish and planktonic krill. Fasting occurs during the breeding, moulting and basking periods.
As with most seals, physiological adaptations, such as a high red blood cell count, the ability to reduce their heartrate from 80 – 90 beats per minute to 10 – 20, and control over the blood flow to vital organs, have enabled ringed seals to make deep and sustained dives. Feeding dives average 3 minutes with 1-1/2 minutes at the surface. Their maximum diving potential is about 90 m and 45 minutes. Ringed seals dive verti-cally, tail first, rarely exposing their backs.
Breathing holes in ice up to 2-1/2 m thick are maintained by clawing the ice with the foreflippers. Before surfacing, a seal may blow bubbles into the hole to test for predators. The breathing hole is cone-shaped and covered with an ice dome punc-tured by a small vent. If snow drifts over the hole, a lair may be hollowed out of it.
Seal pups are usually born on stable ice in a snow den from mid-March to early April. The female finds a natural snow cave or excavates a birth lair in a snow drift over a breathing hole.
Orca (Killer) whales have a reputation for ferocity unequalled among the cetaceans. They hunt in packs of 3 to 40 animals, and prey on squid, fish, seabirds, seals and other cetaceans. They dislodge basking seals from ice floes by tipping the floes from below, and attacks on beluga and narwhal are well. known. When killer whales are in the vicinity, other marine mammals reportedly take shelter among the ice floes or in deep fiords.
Colouration is shiny black with distinct white areas on belly, chin, flank and behind the eye. A grey saddle patch, whose shape can be used to identify individuals, is found behind the dorsal fin. Adult males average 6 m in length, but may reach 9 m, while females are smaller reaching 4 to 5 m. As befitting their predatory nature, their teeth are large and number 10 to 12 in each half-jaw. The dorsal fin is prominent, and may reach 2 m in height.
In the Canadian Arctic, they are found from Davis Strait to as far north as Lancaster Sound. Although not seen regularily, they can be sometimes be viewed further out from shore from Chesterfield Inlet. They follow migrating herds of seals and other whales to summering areas, but do not usually arrive until after the pack ice has dispersed. They tend to avoid areas of heavy ice due to their large dorsal fin and, therefore, do not penetrate far into the ice-covered Arctic Archipelago. October finds them migrating southward again in advance of the new ice cover.
There is little information available on numbers, populations, population structure, age of sexual maturity or reproductive rate. Mating occurs from May to July. The gestation period is approximately 16 months and a single calf is born in November or December. Life span is probably 40 to 50 years and groups of killer whales are likely cohesive family units.
Killer whales are not hunted in the Canadian Arctic, except when they can be killed with impunity, due to the fear they inspire in northern communities.
The name of the bearded seal refers to its conspicuous moustache of long, white whiskers. The alternate name of “square-flipper” describes the shape of its front limbs. In lnuktitut, it is called “ugjuk”. Lacking distinctive colouration, the pelt is dark grey on the back and lighter grey on the belly. The sexes are similar in colour. An annual moult occurs between March and August. Annual growth rings in the foreclaws indicate age. The oldest seal that has been found was 31 years old. The bearded seal is one of the largest seals found in the waters of the Northwest Territories. The average weight of adults is 250 kg and the length averages 235 cm. The blubber and hide layers account for 29 to 39 per cent of its weight.
There are about 300,000 bearded seals in Canada. They are permanent residents of the Arctic and are generally found as solitary individuals in areas associated with moving pack ice, such as leads and polynyas. They maintain breathing holes in areas of thin ice by breaking it with their heads.
Their diet consists of bottom dwelling organisms found in the shallower waters of the continental shelf. These include worms, crustaceans, clams, crabs and fish, such as arctic cod, sculpin and flounder. Feeding dives as deep as 220 m have been re-ported.
An undisturbed seal swims with its head and back above the water. When sleeping, it floats vertically. The senses of sight and hearing are good while its ability to smell is fair. They sing long musical underwater songs. Singing activity peaks in April and May. A highly varied vocal repertoire indicates a complex social structure that is not well understood. It may be related to claims of territory and breeding condition. Mating occurs in mid-May with a delayed im-plantation of two months and a gestation period of approximately 11 months.
A single pup is born on the ice at the end of April to early May. Bearded seals are the only north-ern seal with four mammae rather than two. The mother-pup bond is strong during the relatively short 12 to 18 days of the nursing period. The pups are then left on their own. A female may give birth everyone or two years. Sexual maturity is attained at six years of age.
Bearded seals have always been important to the Inuit of the Arc-tic. The tough, flexible hide is valued for utilitarian purposes, such as lines, traces, kayak coverings and kamik (boot) soles.
The harp seal has a large horseshoe shaped black band on its back on a background of steel blue or pale grey. The head is dark brown or black. The horseshoe on the adult female’s pelt may be less distinct and blotched. Pups have white coats of soft, curly, woolly fur for about 1-1/2 weeks, then they moult into a juvenile coat. The average adult is 170 cm in length and weighs 135 kg. Harp seals are very vocal on the breeding and whelping grounds. Their ability to hear underwater is similar to that of humans in air. Large sensitive eyes are well developed for nocturnal vision and bright light, in air or water. Their sense of smell is less acute.
Harp seals are the third most abundant seal in the world. There are three stocks: the northwest Atlantic, the White Sea and Jan Mayen (north of Iceland). The northwest Atlantic population numbers about 1.3 million. These seals whelp in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and offshore Newfoundland. After moulting in April, they migrate northward and spend the summer around Greenland and in the eastern arctic islands of the Northwest Territories. The southward migration begins in September.
The harp seal’s diet is primarily marine fish and crustacean macroplankton. Young seals feed in the surface waters while adult harps dive deeper for cod and herring. One seal consumes about 450 kg of fish annually, arctic cod being their most important food. Intense feeding occurs during summer and winter while less feeding occurs during spring and fall migration, whelping and moulting.
The few predators that take harp seals are polar bears, killer whales, sharks and humans. Other causes of mortality are decreases in food by large scale capelin fisheries, discarded net-ting, and oil pollution.
Harp seals live up to 40 years of age. They are sexually mature at 6 years of age. Courtship displays are elaborate, and fighting with teeth and flippers is common. Mating is promiscuous and occurs in late March about two weeks after the pups are born. The mother’s milk is rich in butterfat enabling the pup to grow rapidly for the first two weeks, after which the pup is abandoned by the mother. Restlessness and hunger lead them into the water where they begin feeding on krill and start moving northward.
Walrus belong to the same order as seals and sea lions. All three are called “pinnipeds,” which refers to their webbed, fin-like feet. But though there are many species of seals and sea lions in the world, there is only one species of walrus. It is composed of two subspecies: the Atlantic walrus and the Pacific walrus. The latter is found off the shores of eastern Russia and Alaska, and tends to be somewhat more robust and have larger tusks than the Atlantic walrus, which occurs in the arctic waters of eastern Canada, Greenland, Norway, and western Russia.
The adult male walrus may attain a length of 3.6 m and a weight of 1400 kg, becoming considerably more massive in the neck and chest area than the female, which grows to 3.0 m and 900 kg. Walrus’ bodies are rather bulky with numerous folds and wrinkles, and a sparse covering of light brown hair, which is moulted every summer and gradually lost in old age. The skin is generally a medium cinnamon to light grey colour with older animals becoming increasingly lighter. The head is comparatively small, with a blunt snout and a set of whiskers, or vibrissae, 10-12 cm long. One of the most distinguishing features of the walrus is the large canine teeth, or tusks, which protrude from the upper jaw. They can reach a length of 60 cm and a basal girth in excess of 26 cm. Both sexes are equipped with tusks, but those of the males tend to be longer and heavier.
Since sea water conducts heat about twenty times faster than air, marine mammals must be well insulated to prevent critical heat loss. A thick tough hide and a thick layer of blubber protect walrus from the cold arctic seas. Walrus also have a special thermo-regulation system. When an animal is warm, its blood is shunted to the outer skin and blubber, allowing it to cool off. When immersed in water, the blood is kept from the skin and blubber, thereby conserving vital body heat.
The vibrissae, or whiskers, of the walrus are used to sense food organisms on the sea bottom. Through oral suction they remove the siphons and feet of clams and mussels, and extract the soft bodies of snails from their shells. Their principal prey is bivalve molluscs, but walrus also take various sea worms, crabs, snails, squid, fish and other benthic organisms in lesser quantities if their preferred food is sparse. On occasion walrus have also been known to feed on seals, which they have either killed or found dead. However, this behaviour, according to Inuit, is more characteristic of older, rogue males.
Despite popular belief, walrus do not use their tusks to dig up clams. Their primary role appears to be social, much like antlers on caribou, a signal of social rank. The larger the tusks and body, the higher the animal usually is in the hierarchy. Tusks are used by both males and females in aggressive displays and to defend themselves and their calves. In addition, they are used to create breathing holes in the ice, and to assist in hauling themselves onto the ice. Their sight is poorly developed and, therefore, they must depend mainly on smell and hearing to detect danger.
Locomotion on land and ice is very ungainly, consisting of a shuffling, humping motion. As a result walrus are seldom found far from the water. There they are very agile for their size, attaining speeds of up to 10 km/hr. They may travel considerable distances from land or ice and on occasion have even been found asleep in the water. Gregarious when hauled out, their land uglit can exceed several hundred animals. On ice pans groups tend to be smaller, although many groups may be present in the same area.
Sexual maturity first occurs at 4 years of age in females and 6 in males. The males are polygamous and may form loose harems during the breeding season of April and May. The average length of gestation is 376 days, with calving occurring sometime between April and early May. A single calf is born on the ice and accompanies the female for up to 3 years. Young walrus are completely dependent on milk throughout the first year and are not weaned until the latter part of the second year. Females will breed every other year once mature; however, they tend to become less fertile in their later years.
The world polar bear population is estimated to be between 21,000 and 28,000 individuals. Due to governmental regulations on hunting, the population has increased from an estimated 10,000 polar bears in 1968. The ratio of males to females is approximately one to one. A polar bear’s stomach can hold an estimated 15 to 20 percent of its body weight and needs an average of 4.4 lbs. of fat per day to survive. Polar bears swallow most food in large chunks rather than chewing. They feed mainly on ringed seals and bearded seals. Depending upon their location, they also eat harp and hooded seals and scavenge on carcasses of beluga whales, walruses, narwhals and bowhead whales. When other food is unavailable, they’ll eat reindeer, small rodents, seabirds, ducks, fish, eggs, vegetation (including kelp), berries and human garbage. Polar bears can live 20 to 30 years, but only a small proportion of polar bears live past 15 to 18 years.
Body temperature, which is normally 98.6 F, is maintained through a thick layer of fur, a tough hide, and an insulating layer of blubber. Polar bears are completely furred except for the nose and footpads, which are black. A polar bear’s skin is black. Its coat is about 1.2 inches thick. A dense, woolly, insulating layer of underhair is covered by a relatively thin layer of stiff, shiny, clear guard hairs. The fur is oily and water repellent and can be white, creamy yellow or brown.
Polar bears’ paws are huge compared to body size, reaching 12 inches in diameter. We’re talking built-in snowshoes here. Each toe has a thick, curved, nonretractable claw that can be used for grasping prey and for traction when running or climbing on ice.
Polar bears are capable of traveling 19 miles or more per day for several days. The average walking speed is 3.4 mph, but when being chased or charging prey, their maximum speed is 25 mph for short distances. They are also strong swimmers, and can swim for several hours at a time over long distances; some have been tracked swimming continuously for 62 miles. Swimming speed can reach 6.2 miles per hour. Polar bears usually swim under water at depths of only about 10 to 15 feet. They can remain submerged for as long as two minutes.
On warm days polar bears sprawl out on the ground or ice, sometimes on their backs with their feet in the air. They may also make temporary snow or earthen pits to lie in. On cold days they curl up and often cover their muzzle area. During the winter, some polar bears excavate temporary dens or find natural shelters to stay warm. They may use these shelters for several months at a time. Polar bears are basically solitary. Usually, only two social units exist: adult females with cubs and breeding pairs, and the breeding pairs only remain together for about a week, mating several times.
Female polar bears reach sexual maturity at about four years; males at about six years. Most male polar bears don’t successfully mate until eight to 10 years and older. There are about three adult males to every breeding female. Before mating, a female polar bear may be accompanied by several males. The males fight fiercely among themselves until the strongest or largest male succeeds in chasing the others away. Fights are rarely fatal, but do result in broken canines and scars on the head, neck, and shoulders.
Grizzly bears, also known as the Arctic Grizzlies or barren-ground grizzlies, found throughout tree less land forms of Nunavut, both above the tree-line in the mountain ranges and on the tundra. They have a long snout, a prominent hump of muscle on their shoulders, and long shaggy coats. Their colour varies from light gold to nearly black. Pale bears are most common on the tundra and they are generally smaller than those elsewhere.
Grizzly bears are omnivorous. In spring they graze first on roots and then switch to new grasses and sedges as they emerge. Bears in mountainous areas move up and down slopes in response to available vegetation. On the barrens they move to areas of early snow melt in the spring to feed on new growth. During late summer and fall they feed primarily on berries. They also eat a great many lemmings and ground squirrels, which they excavate from burrows. With respect to large animals, bears are opportunistic predators and will kill caribou, moose, muskoxen and sheep if the occasion arises.
The muskox, or its ancestor, is believed to have migrated to North America between 200,000 and 90,000 years ago when it was a contemporary of the woolly mammoth. It is thought that the muskox was able to survive the last ice age and gradually moved across North America.
Muskoxen are more closely related to sheep and goats than to oxen. Muskoxen stand 4 to 5 ft high at the shoulder, with females measuring 4.4 to 6.6 ft in length. The small tail, often concealed under a layer of fur, measures only 3.9 inches long. Adults, on average, weigh 600 lb and range from 400 to 900 lb. Their life expectancy is 12–20 years. The thick coat and large head often suggests a larger animal than the muskox truly is and, the bison, to which the muskox is regularly compared, can weigh up to twice as much. Their coat, a mix of black, gray, and brown, includes long guard hairs that almost reach the ground. Muskoxen are occasionally domesticated for wool, meat and milk. The wool, qiviut, is highly prized for its softness, length, and insulation value.
Muskoxen are native to the Arctic areas of Canada, Greenland, and the United States. The world population is estimated at between 80,000 and 125,000, with an estimated 68,788 living on Banks Island.
Muskoxen will eat grasses, arctic willows, woody plants, lichens and mosses. When food is abundant, they prefer succulent and nutritious grasses in an area. Willows are the most commonly eaten plants in the winter. Muskoxen have a high threshold of fat reserves before conceiving which reflects their conservative breeding strategies. Winter ranges typically have shallow snow to reduce the energetic costs of digging through snow to reach forage. The primarily predators of muskoxen are Arctic wolves, which may account for up to half of all mortality for the species. Other predators, likely primarily of calves or infirm adults, can include grizzly bears and polar bears. Credit for this text and more information can be found on Wikipedia.
Wolves are a member of the Canidae (dog) family and look like a large husky dog. Adult males average about 35- 40 kg, while females are smaller at about 30 -35 kg. Length of males from nose to the tip of the tail ranges from l.5 to 2.0 m, with females from 1.4 to 1.8m. The tail is nearly one quarter of the total length. Wolf colour varies from pure white to black, with accompanying shades of cream and brown. The most common colour is grey. Grey and other darker shades predominate on the mainland. The wolf’s coat is thick composed of long coarse guard hairs and short soft underfur. Wolves that travel above and below the treeline depend largely on barren ground Caribou for food.
Tundra wolves are associated with migratory caribou and have a less developed territory than wolves that depend on non-migratory prey. This is because caribou migrate over long distances and there would be no advantage to protecting an area that may not have any caribou during part of the year. In central Nunavut, the wolf winter range may be defined by the distribution of caribou. In early spring, when caribou group together to begin their northward migration, the wolf density in those areas’ may be as high as one wolf per 10 km squared.
The arctic fox is a member of the canid family which includes wolves, dogs and other foxes. Its scientific name translates as “hare-footed fox”, referring to the dense fur on its feet which is similar to the fur on the foot of a hare. This extra fur provides increased insulation against the cold. Other adaptations to its arctic environment are short legs, ears and nose, and a thick, winter coat. The arctic fox is a small animal, normally weighing between 2.5 and 5.0 kg. Its average body length is 65 to 85 cm. The female, or vixen, is slightly smaller than the male fox. There are two winter colour phases of the arctic fox: white and blue. The blue coat varies from grey to dark blue-black. The different colour phases may occur within the same litter and the proportion of each colour phase varies geographically. Nunavut, the white phase is much more prevalent. The dense underfur and long guard hairs provide ample protection against the most bitter winter weather. Arctic foxes are very mobile and can travel great distances over land or sea ice. Movement by individuals of over 2,000 km has been recorded.
The arctic fox is the only canid which changes the colour of its coat in the summer. The back, tail, legs and head are brown, and the sides and belly are blond. This two-tone brown pelage lasts only for July and August and enables the fox to blend into the summer tundra. This coat is much shorter than the winter coat.
Arctic foxes live primarily on lemmings and voles. In winter, the lemmings must first be located in their tunnels under the snow. Most hunting is done in darkness, so the fox relies heavily on its acute sense of smell and hearing to detect its prey. Winter in the Far North is harsh and limited food resources can have a profound effect on arctic fox numbers. Brown and collared lemmings undergo population peaks every three to five years followed by crashes caused by overcrowding and other factors, such as insufficient snow insulation in winter. In addition to lemmings, the winter food of arctic foxes consists of arctic hares, ptannigan and carrion. They will trail wolves to obtain scraps from abandoned carcasses, and follow polar bears across frozen seas to scavenge from leftover seals. They may also kill ringed seal pups in their birth dens. In areas of human development, arctic foxes may scrounge food handouts or garbage.
In late winter, arctic foxes seek dens in which to raise their young. The dens are usually dug in gently sloping, sandy soil near rivers or lakes or on elevated areas free of permafrost. They have complex underground tunnels with numerous entrances and several metres of interconnecting tunnels. Good den sites are not common so they are occupied in successive years, becoming more complex with use. Wolves may move into old fox dens to raise their own young, and grizzly bears can cause extensive damage by digging in search of arctic ground squirrels.
Arctic foxes are sexually mature by 10 months of age. They breed in March or April. If the preceding winter was severe and the foxes are malnourished, they may breed later than usual or not at all. One litter is produced each season after a gestation period of about 51 days. On average, six pups are born between mid-May and mid-June. Litter sizes vary widely, but are generally between 3 and 9 pups, fluctuating with food availability and geographic location. Foxes inhabiting coastal areas have smaller litters than foxes which occupy inland tundra.
Adult male tundra caribou are about 110 cm high at the shoulder. They weigh about 140 kg in the fall when they are in their prime, but only about 100 kg in November after a month of mating activity. Caribou have long legs ending in large, broad, sharp-edged hooves which give good support and traction when travelling over snow, ice or muskeg. In winter, the pads between the hooves shrink, and the hair between the toes forms tufts that cover the pads, so the animal walks on the horny rims of its hooves and the hair protects the fleshy pads from contact with the frozen ground.
The colour of a caribou’s coat varies seasonally. The adult males are the first to begin moulting in late June. Cows that are nursing have the greatest nutritional needs and complete their moult last. The old fur that has faded to very light beige over the long winter falls out in large patches revealing a new chocolate brown coat. When the moult is complete, caribou are uniformly dark brown with a white belly and white mane. Adult males also sport a white flank stripe and white socks above their hooves. In the fall, as white-tipped guard hairs grow out through the summer hair for extra winter insulation, caribou become a more uniform light brown. The exceptional warmth of the winter coat is the result of individual hairs which are hollow. The air cells in the hair act as an insulating layer to con-serve body heat.
Tundra caribou have the largest antlers in relation to their body size of any deer species and are the only species in which females grow antlers. Antlers are shed and regrown each year.
Caribou have several gaits. When migrating, they walk at about 7 km/hr, covering between 20 and 65 km a day. When startled, a caribou runs in a loose, even trot. The head is held high with the nose up and the tail erect. When galloping at top speed most caribou can outrun wolves, their major predator, but wolves close in quickly on any animal that stumbles or takes a wrong turn. Caribou are excellent swimmers. Their hollow hairs enable them to float high in the water and their broad hooves propel them along at speeds of about 3 km/hr.
The Arctic ground squirrel is the largest of all of the American ground squirrels. Its range covers most of the Northwest Territories; it is well adapted for life in extreme conditions, and that has allowed it to survive so far north. Unlike its close relatives, the Arctic ground squirrel will not defend a territory, but rather it will live in a number of different burrows in its life time. The Arctic ground squirrel will also live in large colonies. These colonies will construct a large system of burrows which can reach a length of twenty metres with approximately fifty to sixty separate entrances. Arctic ground squirrels eat a wide variety of native tundra vegetation such as leaves, roots and stems of grasses and sedges. They will also eat meat, as one squirrel was seen to carry a kilogram of caribou flesh to its den.
The arctic hare (Lepus arcticus), or polar rabbit is a hare which is adapted largely to polar and mountainous habitats. The arctic hare survives with a thick coat of fur and usually digs holes under the ground or snow to keep warm and sleep. Arctic hares eat mainly woody plants but also dine on buds, berries, leaves and grasses. In the early summer they eat purple saxifrage. It has a keen sense of smell and may dig for willow twigs under the snow. When eating plants, arctic hares like standing where there is less snow to easily locate twigs or plants that fall off or lie on the ground for them to chew on/feed on. Although hares are known for eating plants, they can eat meat.
Arctic hares look like rabbits but have longer ears and can stand up taller, they can live/maintain themselves in cold places unlike rabbits. They can travel together with many other hares, sometimes huddling with dozens or more, but are usually found alone, taking in some cases more than one partner. The arctic hare can run up to 40 miles per hour. Its top predator is the arctic wolf.
The annual migration of the Arctic Tern is probably the longest and most remarkable of any bird. In the autumn, the terns of eastern Canada head off across the vast Atlantic Ocean, then travel southward along the west coasts of Europe and Africa to winter offshore from South Africa to the Antarctic Circle. Terns in western Canada follow another circuitous route across the Pacific Ocean. Flying in large flocks, these birds travel more than 32,000 km each year.
The arctic tern has long, pointed wings and a long, deeply forked tail. The red bill is thin, rather long and pointed. The body is generally flashing white, with a black cap, red bill and legs, and pale grey mantle. It lives primarily on or near water, except during nesting season, when it frequents a variety of aquatic habitats (coastal or inland).
It nests in colonies, usually dense, sometimes with other species (often with Sabine’s Gulls in Nunavut). The adults are very aggressive in defense of their nests, and will dive-bomb intruders. Nest is near water in a shallow depression in sand, gravel or moss. It may be lined with nearby plant materials. They usually lay 2 eggs, buff or olive coloured, marked with dark brown, which hatch in the middle or end of July.
Arctic tern eat small fish, aquatic invertebrates (including crustaceans), and insects. Terns dive into the water in search of food.
The red-throated loon is the smallest, slightest of the divers. It stands at 53-69 cm., and its wingspan ranges from 106-116 cm. During the breeding season, the upper body is a solid dark brown. The head and upper neck is grayish, with a large, glossy colored patch on the foreneck. It is white underneath and the tail is dark. In the winter, the face and foreneck are pure white, and the upper part is dark brownish and finely spotted with white. Males average slightly larger than females, and have a heavier head and bill.
The body is designed for swimming, with short, strong legs set far back on the body. The legs are perfect for moving through water, although this design makes walking on land difficult. The three front toes are webbed, and these loons have short, well-defined tails. The body feathers are molted only in early spring and early autumn.
The red-throated loon obtains most of its food underwater, in dives that have been recorded at 2-9 meters, and average 1 minute. Prey is located visually, so these loons favor clear waters for foraging, and they do not fish at night. The prey consists of small or medium sized fish, including cod, herring, sprat, sculpins, and occasionally crustaceans, mollusks, frogs, fish spawn and insects. Food is usually swallowed before the loon surfaces. More information can be found here.(del Hoyo, Elliot, and Sargatal, 1992)
Canada geese (Branta canadensis) are the most familiar geese in Nunavut and across North America. They are classified into over 15 subspecies varying in size and shading. All have a distinctive black head and neck with a white cheek patch; most have a full or partial white ring at the base of the neck, brownish wings, back and sides, white to grayish-brown breast and belly, white rump patch, and black legs and feet. Common characteristics of all geese include similar coloration of males and females, life-long pair bonds with mates (although those that lose mates will re-pair), first breeding at 2-3 years of age, well-adapted for walking on land, feed primarily by grazing on vegetation, and they are very social except during nesting.
Pairs generally establish a nesting territory, produce four to five eggs per nest, and raise their young as a family unit. Later, families often combine to form “creches” guarded by several parents. As with most other waterfowl, geese are flightless for about a month in mid-summer, while new wing feathers are grown. Predators of Canada geese and their eggs vary widely among areas and include foxes, coyotes, wolves, bears, wolverines, gulls, eagles, and ravens. Canada geese are popular and accessible to many wildlife watchers, even in urban areas. They are prized by hunters across the continent.
White-fronted Goose: A greyish brown goose with black barring or spotting on the breast. The white band around the base of the bill gives this goose its official The bill is usually pink. Snow Goose: There are two colour phases of the Snow Goose, and two sizes. Both phases have pink feet and a blackish “grinning patch” on the side of the bill. White Phase: the adult is mainly white with black wing tips. Blue Phase (“Blue Goose”): dark greyish brown with a white head and neck. The Greater Snow Goose is a larger race in which the blue phase is rare; the Lesser Snow Goose is smaller in size and has both colour phases.
Habitat: White-fronted Goose: Breeds on arctic tundra, marshes, lakes and ponds. Snow Goose: on coastal tundra with ponds, shallow lakes and streams, and river deltas; may be found on higher drier terrain as well. Nesting: Breed in colonies or single pairs, on the ground. Nests vary from a mere scrape to a mass of mud and mosses or other tundra vegetation, lined with down. White-fronted Geese usually lay 4-6 eggs and snow geese, 3-4 eggs.
Food: Shoots and roots of sedges, grass, bulbs, and aquatic vegetation; even insects and aquatic invertebrates.
The adult male northern pintail duck has a head and neck of dark brown, with a white line from neck to ear. The body is black, white and grey, appearing overall grey on top, white below. Two long, black central tail feathers add to the slim look of this bird. The adult female is greyish brown with a pointed, somewhat elongated tail. The speculum is metallic brown with a white rear border. Habitat: Shallow bodies of freshwater and marshes during the breeding season, salt and brackish waters of the coast at other times. Nesting: Nest on the ground, usually near water. The nest, a hollow lined with plant material and down, is sometimes well hidden in vegetation. Eggs: usually 7-9, creamy yellow to olive-buff.
Food: Mostly vegetation (seeds, aquatic vegetation, sedge, grain), but also minnows, aquatic invertebrates, insects and tadpoles.
Range: Breeds in Eurasia and North America, including Alaska, most of Canada, and the western U.S.A. In Nunavut, breeds mainly in the western mid-Arctic and low Arctic, on southern Victoria Island, and on Southampton.
Eiders are large diving ducks. Adult males of both species are mostly black and white, but they have different bills. The rather flat bill of the Common Eider extends back towards the eye. It varies from yellow to green, depending on the season. A “shield ” of yellowish-orange outlined in black projects above the King Eider’s bill. Females of both species are brown and may be difficult to tell apart, unless they are with their mates.
Habitat: In the breeding season, the Common Eider is the more marine of the two species, and prefers rocky coastal areas. The King Eider is more common around tundra freshwater ponds, lakes and streams, usually near the coast. Nesting: Common Eiders are colonial and nest near salt water, usually on small offshore marine islands. King Eiders are not colonial and usually nest near freshwater Arctic ponds and pools, or sometimes inland on low tundra. Eider nests are scrapes in the ground lined with fine plant material and down, usually sheltered by rock or vegetation.
Eggs: usually 4 to 6, olive in colour. Food: Eiders feed in flocks, diving as deep as to take mostly and crustaceans. Range: Holarctic. Both are common in Nunavut, especially along the coastal shores and islands. Nunavut Common Eiders winter from southern Baffin Island and Hudson Bay southward along the Atlantic Coast to the northern U.S.A. King Eiders winter in the seas as far north as open water permits-in the Bering Sea and along the distribution of King Eider Pacific coast of Canada to the west, and off southern Greenland, Labrador and the Atlantic provinces to the east.
The oldsquaw are talkative short and stocky ducks that moult their plumage four times a year. The adult male has two distinctive long, pointed central black tail feathers, much longer than those of the adult male pintail. In summer, the male is all dark, except for pale grey face patches and a white lower belly. At other times, the male’s head and neck are white-except for large brown patches between the eyes and the upper neck-and the back has bands of white on each side. The adult female has mostly brown upperparts, with white on the head and neck (more white in the winter), and white underparts. They fly low over the water in twisting and turning flocks. Habitat: These sea ducks spend most of their time in ocean bays, although many nest beside fresh water tundra lakes and ponds.
Nesting: Tidy nests in hollows lined with nearby plant material, down and feathers are usually concealed in low vegetation or among rocks, near water. Eggs: usually 5-9, olive to yellowish buff. Oldsquaws are often found nesting near Arctic Tern colonies, and benefit from the terns’ vigorous defense against predators.
Food: Dives deeper than any other Nunavut duck, to obtain aquatic invertebrates (especially crustaceans, mollusks, and insects), fish, and occasionally aquatic vegetation. Range: Circumpolar Arctic, including throughout Nunavut. North American birds winter along the west coast from Alaska to northern U.S.A., from Greenland to southeastern U.S.A., and on the Great Lakes.
The Dunlin Sandpiper is a medium-sized bird with a blackish, rather long and slightly down curved bill, and greenish black legs. Breeding adults have a large black patch on the belly, reddish-brown back, grey wings, and pale grey throat and head, crowned with reddish-brown. In autumn and winter, the Dunlin is light grey overall, with darker grey wings and a white belly. Habitat: In the breeding season, wet coastal tundra, sometimes dry beach ridges. In migration, tidal mud flats and the muddy or sandy margins of fresh water.
Nesting: Nest is usually a grass-lined depression on a hummock, often hidden in vegetation. Eggs: usually 4, pale olive or buff, marked with browns. Food: Mostly insects, also spiders, worms, mollusks and seeds. Range: Holarctic. In Canada, breeds mainly along the northwestern mainland, in the central mid- and low Arctic, and on Southampton and Coats Islands. North American Dunlins winter from southern Alaska along the Pacific Coast to the southern U.S.A., and from the northern U.S.A. along the Atlantic Coast to the Gulf of Mexico.
Lesser Goldern Plover:These smallish birds are common on the shores of both fresh and salt water, and on the tundra in the summer. Plovers and turnstones are plump-bodied, with large heads, short necks, rather large eyes, short thickish bills, and medium length legs. They tend to be runners rather than waders, and find their food by sight rather than by probing in the ground. The other shorebirds have a longer and more slender bill and appear more small-headed, but vary more in size (from the tiny Least Sandpiper to the larger Purple Sandpiper); in the length and shape of the bill (moderate to long; straight, curved down, or curved up); in the length of the slender legs (short to long); and in details of the feet. They also vary in behaviour, preferring different habitats, feeding times, and mating systems. Shorebirds are most noticeable in the autumn, when they gather together in large flocks in preparation for the long journey south.
Most of Canada’s 40 species of shorebirds breed almost exclusively in or near the Arctic. They play a central role in tundra food chains: they are predators of small invertebrates, and prey of mammals and birds including hawks, owls, foxes and weasels. Even more shorebird eggs and young are eaten in years when other prey such as lemmings are low in number-about every three years.
Dwarf Fireweed: This is a perennial herb growing in clumps of leaves variable in size, shape, and texture. The leaves are 1 to 10 centimeters long, lance-shaped to oval, pointed or rounded at the tips, and hairy to hairless and waxy. The flowers are bright to deep pink, and occasionally white, petals up to 3 centimeters long. Behind the opened petals are pointed sepals. The fruit is an elongated capsule which may exceed 10 centimeters in length. Every part of this plant is edible, tasting much like spinach, and is also known in the Canadian tundra as River Beauty. It is the national flower of Greenland.
Cloudberry: Also known as: bake-apple, salmanberry. Their bloom time is from June to July 4. Cloudberry stalks vary in height from 5-25 cm; and the erect, simple stems are hairless and do not branch. The broad, somewhat leathery leaves are long-stalked, round to kidney-shaped and indented (forming three-to-five shallow lobes). They have solitary flowers (1-3 cm across) with five white petals at the tip of the stem.
Cloudberry plants are male or female, but only the female plant bears fruit -hard red berries that turn yellowish or amber-coloured when ripe in late July. This plant prefers moist tundra, bog habitats and heaths. Usually found with sphagnum mosses or lichens. It is widespread across the low arctic and boreal forest regions.
Dandelion: Bloom time April-June. Common plant, 5-40 cm tall, introduced to Canada from Europe. They have deeply toothed leaves grow from the base of the plant, appearing before the flowers. Flower heads are yellow and the flower stem is hollow and leafless. After full bloom. white, fluffy, round balls of seeds appear. The parachuted seeds are blown away by the wind. Main flowering is in spring, but scattered blooms continue all summer. Dandelions grow almost anywhere, but are common in cultivated areas and wastelands.
Mountain Avens: Also known as arctic and alpine dryad. Bloom time June to July. These plants are ground-hugging, sun-loving, semi-shrubs. Arctic mountain avens leaves are 1-2 cm long, narrow with smooth edges and a somewhat shiny upper surface. Alpine mountain avens leaves are longer (up to 35 cm) and wider, with scalloped or wavy edges. The small. leathery. evergreen leaves are wrinkled on the upper surface and hairy underneath. Their white, saucer-shaped flowers are 2-3 cm wide. growing on stalks 2-15 cm tall. Seed plumes are twisted in tight red/gold bundles that open into fluffy round seed heads as they mature. These species prefer rocky barren areas, alpine meadows and ridges. Arctic mountain avens can also tolerate moist conditions, where it takes on a creeping form.
Wild Strawberry: Bloom time April to May. A Small plant that grows in woods or fields, often forming little colonies. Leaves grow from the stem base and are divided into three, deep-toothed leaflets, that appear before the flowers. Each plant has three-to-five white flowers. Flowers are 7-10 mm long and each has five petals. Fruits look like miniatures of store bought strawberries. They are found in abandoned fields, along roads and in open woodlands.
Sources: NWT Wildlife Sketches, Northwest Resources Wildlife and Economic Development, Canadian Biodeversity Website, Wikapedia
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