Newfoundland Wildlife - Lives on Land

Arctic Fox (Alopex lagopus)
An Artic Fox watches his back

The Arctic fox is much smaller and less common than its cousin, the red fox. The Arctic fox changes its coat seasonally: in winter it grows a thick pure white coat, contrasting its black nose; in summer its coat appears bluish black with a whitish underbelly.

Arctic foxes seen coming ashore from pack ice in the spring are believed to be a source of rabies in Newfoundland.Arctic foxes are best known along the coast of Labrador and the Northeast coast of Newfoundland, although they are great wanderers.

They prefer coastal areas where they scavenge fish and prey on seabirds, ground-nesting shore birds, and voles. The most reliable place to see them is the Salmonier Nature Park.


Beaver (Castor canadensis)
A beaver nibbles away
Beavers are quite common in Newfoundland and can sometimes be watched from major roads and highways. They can be seen most anywhere on the Island and have even been observed swimming at sea in some sheltered arms of Terra Nova National Park. They are active early in the morning and at dusk. Observers must stay quiet or else the large flat tail will be loudly smacked against the water to inform other beavers about the presence of danger. Following this warning the beavers usually disappear from view. People interested in viewing beavers should look for a well- maintained lodge or dam. Both National Parks, the Salmonier Nature Park, and hundreds of other spots in Newfoundland and Labrador provide great watching opportunities.

Beavers eat a variety of plants. In the summer, pond lily roots are favoured but the leaves and bark of most trees, especially deciduous trees like the aspen, willow, and birch, add to the kit. During the late summer and fall, beavers store branches at the bottom of their ponds in preparation for winter. A beaver colony usually consists of five or six animals made up of the breeding pair, some yearlings, and the young of the year. Beaver kits are usually born in May, and litter size is typically two or three. two year olds leave the lodge when the ice disappears in the spring and seek out places to start their own colonies. During this period they travel widely and may be found long distances from the water.

Beavers can weigh up to 25 kilograms. They have a coarse layer of dark, reddish brown fur over a dense coat o soft, dark brown underfur. They have sharp claws and large scaly, naked hind feed. Their lodges and underwater habits help protect them from lynx and other predators.


Bison (Bison bison L.)
Photograph of two of the buffalo on Brunette Island

In 1964 an experimental attempt to introduce bison to Newfoundland was made, using Brunette Island as a test site. Although this attempt did not prove to be overly successful, a few of the animals still remain on the island. Since this experiment was conducted, wildlife biologists have continued to use Brunette as a site for wildlife observation and breeding ground for bison, arctic hare, caribou, ptarmigan, and moose. Except for the bison all of the animal studies and experiments attempted on Brunette Island have been very successful.

Twenty-four bison (Bison bison L.) were introduced to Brunette Island in June 1964 . The bison gradually decreased in numbers and the last individual was believed to have died in 1994.


Black Bear (Ursus Americanus)
A frequent dump visitor

Newfoundland's big bruins eat more meat, especially moose and caribou, and less plant material than black bears in other parts of North America. Newfoundland lacks many types of nutritious plants found elsewhere, and the bears compensate by eating more meat. In contrast, Labrador holds some of the world's smallest black bears. The animals found north of Nain struggle against a harsh climate with a short summer season, growing more slowly and reproducing less frequently than the world's other black bear populations.Black bears are solitary animals that eat a variety of foods including leaves, berries, grass, fish, insects, and small mammals. They will occasionally take a farmer's livestock.

Black bears mate in the summer. After mating season, a thick layer of fat is built up in preparation for the winter. Sheltered dens such as caves, large hollow logs, and wind-fall trees are chosen for overwintering. In late January or early February one to three (usually two) tiny cubs are born to the dormant female. Black bears are not true hibernators since their body temperature remains high and they can be fairly easily aroused. In late March or April, the cubs, each weighing about 3 kilograms, emerge from the den with their mother. They remain together until early fall when the young are weaned or until the second spring. After this the bears lead a solitary lifestyle with the young reaching adult size at the age of five or six.

Black bears are found throughout the province except for the Avalon Peninsula. If spotted, they should not be approached. Never attempt to feed bears; campers should always store food so bears cannot smell or reach it. Never store cooked food in tents since bears will come to look for it.


Brown Bat (Myotis lucifugus)
Tiny guy, but fiesty

Two types of bats are known from the interior of Newfoundland. The little brown bat is believed to be the most common bat, ranging over all Newfoundland and the southern half of Labrador. little brown bats hibernate over the winter and become active once the temperature exceeds 5 degrees Celsius. During the spring, the bats return to their familiar fields and lake shores. The females father in maternal or nursery colonies during the summer months to give birth and nurse their pups. Each female gives birth to a single pup - typically in late June or early July. As the males provide no paternal assistance, the females work together to raise their young. Each night, one or two remain in the nursery colony with the pups, while the others flu off to hunt moths, mosquitoes, and other insects. Bats can eat over half their body weight in insects a night. by late August the pups are flying, and all the bats are feeding in preparation for the winter. Mating takes place in September or October, when the bats prepare to hibernate.

Little brown bats have been known to live over 20 years. Their only predator in the province is the owl. Bats in general have inspired many superstitions, but the individuals we see around our ponds and river in the evening are completely harmless. The nursing colonies should be avoided for the sake of both the bats and the humans, since large collections of bat dropping can be a serious hazard to human health.

Much less is known about the northern long-eared bat in Newfoundland, but they are common on Newfoundland's west coast and perhaps elsewhere in the province. Dead bats can be distinguished from one another by the length of the ears - long-eared bats have ears that extend beyond the tip of the nose, while little brown bats have much shorter ears. Otherwise, both have a similar appearance - dark brown in colour, with a short wingspan of approximately 22 cm.


Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou)
M/V Caribou

The caribou lives for 10 – 15 years in the wild and bulls average 400 pounds. They stand about four feet high. Lichens are the mainstay of the caribou's winter diet, though a variety of other green plants are available during the summer months. A caribou eats about five kilograms of lichens each day, favouring the grey varieties, known commonly as caribou moss. Adult females can weigh up to 135 kilograms, while males can reach 270 kilograms. 

The herd spends winters throughout the central portion of the Reserve seeking shelter in the forests to the north during especially severe winters. As calving season approaches in late May, the herd divides with the females move to the calving grounds in the northwest and southeast of the Reserve. The adult males and other non-breeding caribou disperse throughout the range.

The majority of the herd migrate southward for the summer, seeking the cool breezes of the coast. Females and their new calves follow the route taken by the rest of the herd, arriving at the summer feeding areas during July and August. During late August to early September, the herd begins its travel back to the wintering grounds, where during October and November courtship and mating takes place.

Today caribou are found everywhere along the north side of Fortune Bay, and the herd is estimated at 20,000 animals.

Historically the main predator of Newfoundland caribou was the Newfoundland Wolf (Canis lupus beothucus) but it has been extinct since the 1930s. The principal predators are hunters, bears, and lynx. It is unknown what effect coyotes will have on caribou herds. Coyotes crossed the Cabot Strait from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland on the spring pack ice in the mid 1980's. 


Coyote (Canis latrans)
The Coyote Trot

The coyote is new to the province (1980s). It travelled over land and frozen sea ice from more westerly parts of Canada. There have been some changes to the coyote as it moved east - individuals in the province and eastern Canada appear to have included dogs and wolves in their family trees. Coyotes have been spotted all over the Island, from St. John's to the Northern Peninsula, and in 1995 the first coyote was found in Labrador.

The diet of the coyote is varied, being both a scavenger and predator. Birds, rodents, berries, farm animals, and pets may all be eaten. Eastern coyotes are generally larger than the western coyotes. They take large amounts of deer in eastern Canada and probably take small moose and caribou in the province. The coyote is quite wily and has been known to take livestock and pet animals that have been tied on to their owners' homes.


Deer Mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus)
House Guest

This introduced rodent is believed to have found its way to Newfoundland by travelling inside imported bales of hay. Great numbers have been reported in some farming areas and elsewhere throughout the western portion of Newfoundland, but there has been little study of their distribution on the Island. They are native to Labrador. Deer mice eat a variety of seeds, grasses, and insects. They build nests in tree cavities, bird nests, and under piles of logs where they have litters of two to eight young. The belly and feet are white, the head and back are brown, and the ears are naked. They are eaten by most larger predators including foxes, lynx, weasels, and birds of prey.

In other parts of North America, deer mice carry the dangerous Hanta virus. Although no cases have been reported from the province, trapping or handling of live deer mice should be discouraged.


Ermine(Short-Tailed Weasel) (Mustela erminea)
Don't make him mad

This fierce little hunter is found throughout Newfoundland and Labrador. Its long slender body and small size allow it to enter the burrows of rats and mice. Although a large rat may weigh more than five times as much as a weasel, the weasel will eat the rat and use its fur for den covering. Voles, squirrels, frogs, and insects are other important food items. Weasels are strong climbers and will chase squirrels through the trees. They are also good swimmers and will take an occasional fish.

In summer the weasel's fur is brown with white or yellowish underparts. In the fall the fur turns pure white except for the tip of the tail, which remains black year-round.

Weasels are frequently found near areas where humans live since they prey on rats and mice. Weasels also enter chicken coops killing far more birds than they can eat. Both weasels and mink will go into a "killing frenzy" where every chicken in the hen house or every tern chick on a coastal island will be killed and left to rot. Although weasels can appear quite curious and pretty, it is wise for people and their pets to avoid them. Pound for pound, weasels and their family members are often considered to be the most ferocious animals in the world.


Lynx (elinae (Lynx) Canadensis subsolanus)
Don't make HIM mad

The province's only wild cat is found throughout the Island of Newfoundland and south of Nain, Labrador. The lynx is a shy, wary creature that is found wherever its favourite prey, the snowshoe hare, is found. Numbers of lynx go up and down with hare populations, but they are seldom considered to be common

The lynx is recognisable by its feline face, tawny fur, long legs, short black-tipped tail, long black ear tufts, and the wide furry feet it uses as showshoes in winter. Lynx can weigh up to 18 kilograms. Lynx mate in February or March with one to four kittens being born in April or May.

After two months the young leave the den, and by early fall they are on their own. They are ready to mate during the next breeding season.

Lynx don most of their travel and hunting at night, but they can occasionally be seen during the day. While hare is their favourite food, lynx also eat birds, voles, and other rodents. They will scavenge fish and any other meat they can find. Lynx attacks on caribou and moose calves often cause fatal infections if the youngster isn't immediately killed. Many farmers have lost sheep and chickens to lynx. Lynx have been known to attack people travelling through the woods with freshly taken trout or rabbits, and have been reported to occasionally stalk young children.

Lynx are creatures of habit, therefore if one is spotted in a certain area, it is likely to return. Lynx can be viewed at the Salmonier Nature Park.


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