What’s That Scat?

What’s That Scat?

What’s That Scat?

4 minute read.
As we are out enjoying some of the many trails the Yukon has to offer, we often have to watch our step to make sure we’re not putting our boots in something smelly! These unexpected trail obstacles can be great indicators of whose habitat we are walking into, what they are eating, and how they are digesting it. Just like us, many animals have dynamic diets, and will eat what is available. Scat can be interesting but can also spread diseases, even to humans, so it should be looked at and not touched, especially by our furry companions.


Black bears are opportunistic omnivores who will eat whatever food they can find, including fish, fruit, meat, insects, and herbs and grasses. Grizzlies have a similar diet, but tend to favour high-energy meat and insects more than the smaller black bears. Like their diets, bear scat appearance is quite varied, and often contains fragments of their last meal, like seeds, bits of berries, or small animal bones. Wildlife Interpreter Maureen recounts seeing a landscape covered in red wine-coloured piles that were actually scat from grizzlies that had eaten a lot of cranberries!

Light brown bear scat with seeds visible.

Bears are relatives of mammalian carnivores, they have a digestive system similar to carnivores, without a cecum or extended large intestine. This limits how efficiently they can process leafy plant material and they must eat a lot if they are relying on these foods, which is common in the spring. As a result, when a bear eats a lot of plant material their scat often has a green tinge from the undigested grasses or a fibrous appearance. Typically, their scat is brown or black and tapered, though sometimes it can appear as more globular if it is loose. Grizzly scat tends to be a bit wider and larger piles than black bear scat. It can be hard to distinguish between the two, but both should make a hiker cautious of the trail ahead. Remember bear spray and noisemakers and stay bear safe!

Left to right: Older bear scat; bear scat that is darker brown in colour with grasses visible.

If you’re interested in getting involved in bear research, the Operation Ursus Research using Scat (OURS) project is aimed at estimating the Yukon grizzly and black bear populations using DNA available in bear scat. Lucile leads the study and shares the project story Bear Poo and You with YWP.


Foxes, wolves, and coyotes are more exclusively carnivorous than bears, but may occasionally eat berries and seeds. Their digestive system is similar to that of a bear, as is their scat. Wolves’ stomachs are specially adapted to hold a lot of food so that after a hunt they can get their share of the reward. Additionally, their stomach is very acidic to kill off any pathogens in the meat. It is tubular and tapered and may contain bits of bones, fur, or berries. It may be lighter, as it varies from tan to dark brown in colour. It is, however, smaller than bear scat: fox scat is about 1.25 cm in diameter, coyote scat is about 2 cm, and wolf scat is usually at least 2.5 cm in diameter.

Wolf scat with fur visible.

There will likely be much less of it as well. Foxes often defecate in obvious areas to mark their territory. The Wildlife Preserve exists as an ecosystem within a larger ecosystem and foxes are one of the many wild animals that visit. They seem to like to use the boardwalks at the front cabin to do their business!

Foxes often defecate in obvious places to mark their territory.

Left photo credit: L.Caskenette.

Feline – Lynx

Unlike generalist bears and canines, lynxes are specialists. Snowshoe hares are their primary food source, and can make up 75% of their winter diet. Meat is highly digestible, meaning that most of what is consumed can be broken down and absorbed easily. Lynx digestive systems, therefore, have shorter small intestines relative to body size and less developed caecum than canines.

Lynx scat of varying ages among grass.

Their scat is black, tubular and tapered, and does not have so much undigested material as the bears or canines. It is also very smelly. Like a house cat, they will cover their scat with dirt or snow, probably to hide their presence from nearby animals. Also like house cats, they often defecate in the same latrine over and over, which can be seen in our lynx habitat.

Lynx, like house cats, often poop in the same places every time. This is one of the latrines in the lynx habitat at the Preserve.


The Yukon has a great variety of cervids (antler bearing animals) or members of the deer family. Their diets, digestive systems, and scat have many similarities. In general, they produce uniform, dark brown or black oval-shaped pellets, which result from uniform movements of smooth muscles in the large intestine and its sphincters.

From left to right: Caribou, moose, mule deer and elk. Photo Credit: L.Caskenette & J.Paleczny.

Their diets are often high in fibrous, dry tree materials like leaves and twigs, which is why their feces forms pellets. If they are eating more grasses, in the summer, it may appear softer and more clumpy. Cervids are all ruminants which means that their stomachs have four compartments: the rumen, the reticulum, the omasum and the abomasum.  This allows for fermentation by bacteria and other processes that break down vegetation. This is part of the reason that cervid scat does not have as much undigested material as the carnivores’, despite their plant diet having less digestible material. In addition, they will regurgitate their food and chew it again, also called chewing their cud!

Left to Right: Soft caribou scat clumps together versus caribou scat in pellet form.

Deer pellets are small, about 1 cm in diameter, and are left in piles of many pellets. They defecate an average of 13 times per day! Elk scat is similar but 1-1.5 cm in diameter, and moose scat is even larger at 1.5-2 cm in diameter. Deer and elk pellets are rounder than moose pellets.

Softer deer scat often clumps together as seen here.

Moose are more strictly browsers, that eat only tree materials, so mostly their pellets are harder. Caribou scat appears somewhat more rough than deer or moose scat. It is often in harder pellet form in the winter when they eat a lot of lichens and sedges. In the summer, when their diet switches to grasses and vegetation with a high moisture content, their scat often forms larger soft clumps.

Moose scat in pellet form, darker brown because it’s older.


There are also a wide variety of bovids (horn bearing animals) in the Yukon. Our mountain sheep, mountain goats, muskox, and bison are all ruminants, just like the cervids. They are all herbivores who eat a variety of grasses, sedges, seedlings, and leaves.

Left to Right: Muskox, bison, mountain goat, thinhorn sheep. Photo Credit: L. Caskenette

Muskox, mountain goats, and thinhorn mountain sheep also form pellet scat, even when their diets consist largely of grass. That’s because their digestive tracts are highly evolved to reabsorb as much water as possible, likely an adaptation to their arid alpine (goats and sheep) and tundra (muskox) habitats.

Sheep scat forms pellets.

Goats have varied diets that includes browse, shrubs, lichens, grasses, and even trees. Their alpine foraging sites may be sparse, which doesn’t allow them to be picky eaters. Muskoxen eat grasses, forbs (herbaceous flowering plants), and willows, which they often have to dig out from the frozen arctic ground by smashing the permafrost with their heads and pawing the ice pieces out of the way. Mountain sheep eat mostly grasses and some other low growing sedges.

Muskox scat.

Bison scat is distinct from all the other ruminants mentioned above, because it forms an indistinct pile. Their diet is also primarily grasses and other low-lying herbaceous plants, but they may eat some willows and twigs. Grasses would make their scat more loose, but we’re taking suggestions for what makes their scat so different from the other grass-loving bovids!

Bison patty.

Hopefully after hearing all of these scat facts you can see scat as more than just something gross to be avoided on the side of the trail. It can tell you who’s habitat you are in, but also what they have been eating. It is interesting to watch it change throughout the season. Of course biologists may be able to find out way more about an animal through their scat, for instance genetic samples or presence of pathogens. There is so much to learn from the scat around us!
Although all the different scat we explored above is only a small number of animals, all species do it and we encourage you to:

1. Explore other species scat/defecation/poop – whatever you want to call it!

2. Pack out yours and your furry companions (yours domestic canines) poo in the backcountry and wilderness places you visit!

3. Sing the Scat Rap Song!  

It starts with an S and it ends with a T
It comes out of you
and it comes out of me
I know what you’re thinking
But don’t call it that
Let’s be scientific, and call it SCAT
It was a piece of scat

You can find it on the ground
It’s usually colored brown
It is shaped in a mound
It is a piece of scat

You can smell it with your nose
It’s gonna decompose
It’s where the fungus grows
It is a piece of scat

Birds flying through the air
Look out! Beware!
It landed in your hair
It was a piece of scat

I was hiking through the fog
When I saw a big log
It came from a dog
It was a piece of scat

I was tired of TV
I was checking out the trees
I could smell it on the breeze
It was a piece of scat

I know it’s kind of gory
But it’s a true story
It marks territory
It is a piece of scat

I picked up a chicken
And something was drippin’
It wasn’t finger-lickin’
It was a piece of scat

A squirrel ate a nut
Digested in its gut
It came out of its butt
It was a piece of scat

If you park your car
By the woods or a field
You might find something on your windshield
Full of berries
Both purple and white
You just got bombed by a bird in flight
It was a piece of scat

Photo Credit: Sophia Slater or as otherwise credited.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Caribou (Rangifer tarandus granti) sign. ADFG. 

Blood, D.A. Mountain sheep. Hinterlands Who’s Who. 

Blood, D.A. (2000). Mountain Goat in British Columbia. British Columbia Ministry of Environment Land and Parks.

Bosch, G., Hagen-Plantinga, E., & Hendriks, W. (2015). Dietary nutrient profiles of wild wolves: Insights for optimal dog nutrition? British Journal of Nutrition, 113(S1), S40-S54. doi:10.1017/S0007114514002311

Keith, L.B. Canada lynx. Hinterland’s Who’s Who. 

Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center (2018, June 25). What scat can tell you about your wildlife neighbors. CSERC

Costello, C.M., Cain, S.L., Pils, S., Frattaroli, L., Haroldson, M.A., & van Manen, F.T. (2016). Diet and macronutrient optimization in wild Ursids: A comparison of grizzly bears with sympatric and allopatric black bears. PLoS ONE, 11(5).

Gray, D.R. Muskox. Hinterland’s Who’s Who. 

Hatch, K., Roeder, B., Buckman, R., Gale, B., Bunnell, S., Eggett, D., Auger, J., Felicetti, L., & Hilderbrand, G. (2011). Isotopic and gross fecal analysis of American black bear scats. Ursus, 22(2), 133–140. 

Howard, W.T., Hutjens, M., Kilmer, L., Linn, A., Otterby, D., & Shaver, R. (2021). The ruminant digestive system. University of Minnesota Extension

Winand, C.J. (2008, September). Deer Pelletology. Buckmasters Magazine

Sophia Slater

Sophia Slater

Wildlife Interpreter & Animal Care Assistant

Sophia is one of the Interpretive Wildlife Guides and animal care assistants at the Preserve. She is new to the Yukon and moved here from Ontario, where she just graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Nipissing University. Hiking mountains is her newfound passion while she’s here, and she’s hoping to summit as many as she can this summer. At the preserve, she loves getting to talk to and learn from guests who come from all over the Yukon and beyond about their experiences with wildlife.

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Why are red foxes so happy among us?

Why are red foxes so happy among us?

Why are red foxes so happy among us?

5.5 minute read. 

Red foxes are as familiar to any Yukoner as seeing their friend or colleague walking down the street. They are a welcome resident of Whitehorse, and most urban environments in Canada. Though many species numbers have declined since Europeans arrived to the shores of what is now North America, the red fox is the exception to the rule. Red fox populations have only increased since human settlements have grown and expanded. In fact, the red fox is one of the most widely distributed territorial mammals in the world.1even in the Arctic

So why are red fox numbers growing alongside human populations? One reason that the arrival of Europeans coincided with a growth in the red fox population in Canada is that Europeans brought foxes with them. There was already a species of native red fox living here at that time, so both native and non-native red foxes live in North America. Native red foxes are what we typically see in the north; they are the Canadian Boreal Forest species that colonised here shortly after the last glacial period, around 11,000 years ago. Non-native red foxes are found further south, where they were released by European settlers in the mid 1700s, for hunting purposes. However, introduced red foxes are not the only reason fox numbers have increased since colonisation. Though it is commonly thought that people are generally bad for wildlife, there are certain species that benefit greatly from people, and red foxes are one of them!

Despite red foxes having plenty of wildland in which to settle and bear their young, they’ve often chosen human settlements to set up shop. Red foxes are part of the group called ‘synanthropic species.’ These species live near humans and directly benefit from human-altered landscapes. Animals such as mice, rats, pigeons, racoons, skunks, and coyotes are synanthropic species. Red foxes, like these other animals, benefits from our landscape alterations, including gardens, bird feeders, garbage dumps, sheds, porches, and barns, all of which provide either suitable food or shelter, and often both. These species have learned how to exploit human settlements to their advantage, and they thrive in suburbs and cities that are in or near forests or fields. An ‘edge species’ lives at the border of two different habitat types, or ecotones, such as where forest meets grassland. A city like Whitehorse could be an ecotone in and of itself, since its boundaries are rich forest area. But in other cities such as large metropolises, humans have created habitats that very closely mimic an edge species’ natural environment. Gardens and yards that back onto bushy or forested area are perfect for red foxes and other edge species. Because rats, mice, and voles enjoy human suburban environments, red foxes have an abundant food source when living near people, not to mention the garbage that people inevitably leave lying around or in unsecured garbage cans.
Moreover, red foxes require shelter for denning, and the underside of sheds and decks, or your rotting wood pile all offer what a fox needs to rear its young. And because human settlements are typically near a water source, foxes will have access to that as well. Many gardeners also choose to provide bird baths or other water sources on their property, and this makes great habitat for all edge species, including foxes. A bushy yard near a field or forest is a great environment for a red fox, since they benefit from both the human environment and the natural landscape. And suburban environments offer fields where they can hunt, ditches with food and water, and woody parks which offer cover, safety, food, and denning opportunities. A great environment means large litter sizes, and high survival rates among young. The Wilderness City is the perfect environment for a red fox, and the perfect place for fox populations to thrive.

So human environments are great for red foxes, but how are red foxes great for people? As we’ve seen, our environments attract a variety of animals that people find a nuisance. Mice, rats, voles, and pigeons are all things that people don’t enjoy having in or around their house. Fallen fruit such as crab apples and berries attract mice into our yards, and without foxes, these animals can cause problems for people. Luckily, these animals are all great food sources for foxes. And people generally find foxes cute and enjoyable to observe. They aren’t threatening, even to children, and they generally won’t go after a full grown healthy cat. Foxes generally don’t cause problems for people who don’t have chickens or rabbits that they keep outside, and even then, modern fencing is good enough to often keep these animals safe. Foxes can carry rabies, which can cause problems for people, but in the Yukon, rabies is thankfully not a common disease. People have traditionally enjoyed keeping cats to help curb the rodent population, but cats also kill songbirds, and are one of the leading causes of songbird decline in North America. Foxes generally don’t kill songbirds, and subsist mostly on rodents and whatever they can scavenge. In other words, they eat what we don’t like.

Red foxes are the perfect species for urban populations, and because of this mutually beneficial relationship, fox populations will continue to grow and thrive alongside people. Come see our two resident red foxes next time you’re at the Wildlife Preserve!
This interpretetive panel is placed next to our fully fundraised Red Fox exhibit. It shares the story of red fox success across the Northern Hemisphere, from the Arctic to urban enviroments.

Photo credit: Danette Moule

Danette Moulé

Danette Moulé

Wildlife Interpreter

Danette is new to working at the Wildlife Preserve, but not new to appreciating it! Danette currently lives between the Yukon in summers, and BC / Alberta in the winters. She holds a Master's of Natural Resource Management, and has always been a big appreciator of wildlife and our natural world. Danette was raised in the mountains of western Canada, and is enjoying getting to know the north.

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A Helping Hoof

A Helping Hoof

A Helping Hoof

5 min read / photo essay –

We do our best to provide large, safe habitats for all the Preserve’s residents. But accidents still happen. One of the most common reasons you’ll see an animal limping is due to sprains from Arctic Ground Squirrel holes. But, typically they’re back to normal in a few weeks.

However, for Jesse the moose, it hasn’t been so simple. Jesse injured her hoof late in 2020. The culprit? An errant nail that punctured her foot just above the hoof.

The Preserve’s Animal Care team responded immediately. First they removed the nail and gave her some antibiotics. Next, they followed that up with cleaning and bandaging.  After 6 weeks the bandages were off and Jesse appeared to be back to normal.

Another month passed and the Animal Care team noticed she wasn’t putting weight on that hoof again. They repeated the procedure, cleaning and bandaging again. By April the bandages were off again. Everything looked good.

But with the heat of summer, the moose have been spending more time in the wetland. All that time in the water softens their hooves, making it easier to re-injure. In July 2021, the team noticed she was favouring her foot again.

The first challenge was to move her out of the wet summer habitat to a drier location. With that solved, they were able to do another round of treatment on Jesse’s hoof.

• • •

Photo of moose in water.

Minimizing Stress

Dr. Maria Hallock used a jab stick (a long pole designed to inject medicine) to deliver sedatives to Jesse. Those drugs only took a few minutes to take effect.

The Animal Care Team moved in. Animal Care Assistant Bree immediately covered Jesse’s eyes. The towel helps reduce stress. Although she can’t move, Jesse was still aware of her surroundings.

Next, Bree, pulled out Jesse’s tongue and inserted an oxygen tube into Jesse’s nostril.

The team watched for changes in colour to her tongue. Light pink means her blood oxygen levels are good.

• • •

Photo of staff giving moose oxygen.

Getting the hoof ready

Dr. Maria Hallock then prepped an antiseptic hoof bath to soak and clean Jesse’s hoof.

• • •

Photo of staff caring for moose hoof injury.

The team in action

It takes a large team to care for a moose out in the field like this.

Even something simple like repositioning Jesse’s leg requires everybody.

• • •

Photo of team providing care for moose in the field.

Tracking Vitals

Throughout the entire procedure, Bree kept track of Jesse’s vital signs. This included heart rate, breathing rate, temperature and blood oxygen.

Tracking these vital signs help anticipate potential problems before they become serious.

• • •

Photo of staff using stethoscope to listen to moose heart rate.


While Jesse’s hoof soaks, Outdoor Operations Staff Jared and Andrea lent a hand. They were administering a pain medication. It was applied to the skin along her spine. As the medication absorbed through it provided some relief from the pain.

• • •

Photo of staff using stethoscope to listen to moose heart rate.


Meanwhile, Dr. Hallock gave Jesse antibiotics. These will help prevent infection while the wound heals.

• • •

Photo of staff injecting antibiotics to moose.

Exam and cleaning

Now that the hoof was a lot cleaner, Dr. Hallock could examine the injury.

She flushed out the wound and prepared it for bandaging.

For an animal this size, it looks like a tiny injury. But it’s in a sensative spot. As a result, this injury was enough to prevent Jesse from using this leg.

• • •

Photo of staff using stethoscope to listen to moose heart rate.

Bandage Artist

Dr. Hallock prepped the bandages. Her goal was to do everything she can for this injury while Jesse is sedated. This bandage sandwhich included a charcoal/silver dressing, a manuka honey dressing, aloe vera, and more antibiotics.

Sedating an animal is stressful. Doing as much as possible means they can wait longer before needing to sedate Jesse again.

Hopefully it will be another week or two before a bandage change is needed.

• • •

Photo of staff preparing bandages to apply to moose hoof.

Inquisitive Moose

By this time, the rest of the moose had noticed something was going on.

They all trooped over to peer through the fence!

• • •

Photo of moose looking towards camera.

No Moose Flies on Jesse

Well actually, there were quite a few at first.

“Moose flies” are a normal, but annoying part of a moose’s summer.

The flies bite the backs of the moose’s legs where the fur and skin is thinner. As a result, you’ll probably notice sores on the backs of our moose’s legs.

The water in the wetland provides some respite from these flies.

Dr. Hallock took the opportunity to give Jesse some extra relief. She sprayed an antiseptic spray on the backs of Jesse’s legs. Next she use a long acting spray on bug dope made for horses. The effect was instantaneous!

• • •

Photo of moose flies on back leg of moose.

Finishing Up

It was around this time that Dr. Hallock was finishing up the bandaging.

Keeping a bandage on an unenthusiastic moose’s foot requires solid bandaging technique – and duck tape!

With the procedure complete, they administered drugs to reverse the effects of the sedatives. The team quickly withdrew. Within minutes Jesse was regaining control of her body and looking around.

Dr. Hallock will keep Jesse out of the wetland for the remainder of the summer. Staying out of the water will help keep the wound drier and cleaner, giving it time to heal.

If you’re visiting the Preserve this summer and see a female moose sharing the male mule deer habitat – that’s Jesse!

• • •

Photos by Jake Paleczny and Lindsay Caskenette.

Photo of staff using duck tape to hold the bandage in place.
Jake Paleczny

Jake Paleczny

Executive Director

Jake Paleczny is passionate about interpretation and education. He gained his interpretative expertise from a decade of work in Ontario’s provincial parks in addition to a Masters in Museum Studies from the University of Toronto. His interests also extend into the artistic realm, with a Bachelor of Music from the University of Western Ontario and extensive experience in galleries and museums.


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Yukon Wildlife Preserve
Box 20191
Whitehorse, Yukon
Y1A 7A2

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Vernal Species Migration

Vernal Species Migration

Vernal Species Migration

11 min read –

Part of Nature’s plan involves animals moving to new locations for two primary reasons:.  One is seasonal migration when animals move to a summer location principally to give birth and raise offspring, and the other is permanent migration or colonized range expansion when animals or plants colonize a new range where the critical resources for their continued survival exist in sufficient quantity. Here they will call home and make themselves a part of the local flora and fauna populations.

Migration is a tool used by Nature and benefits many species of animals and the areas where they live. From Monarch Butterflies to Blue Whales, animals migrate back and forth between two primary ranges that support the animal at important stages of every given year. Species temporary absence also provides the area where they live with a break from grazing or predation on a single source of food.  Also, physical disturbances and predation is reduced so that grasses and other vegetation can grow back and prey species can rebuild their populations while the predatory species are away on their seasonal migration. Think of it as shift work, there is a split between where creatures work for almost half the year and where they make their home for the other half.

Let’s begin with spring seasonal migration, more properly called the Vernal (Latin for spring) migration when animals move to alternate locations typically in the north with the changing of the seasons only to return later in the year to the area or range they occupied before they migrated. These are often called winter and summer ranges and in many cases involve moving to a place to birth and raise offspring and when these offspring have adequately grown and become a bit more self-sufficient, they return to the other range with mom and dad to spend the rest of their year.

Click here to watch the seasonal movement of birds in North America.
Source Credit: All About Birds

The selection of the spring or winter ranges goes back many hundreds or thousands of generations by species. Some seasonal ranges evolved over time as animals sought out locations that provided the essential basics for them to thrive. Some species migrations have evolved over a tremendous period of time as far back as the Ice Ages, as migration routes are a complex undertaking involving weather conditions and distance to travel while ensuring there is adequate food resources with the right temperatures, humidity and water supply for those species to live comfortably and have the required foods to sustain them on their migration journey. Time is also a very important factor of migration as many other requirements must occur at critical times to ensure the continued health of the animals through all stages of their migrations.

For example, ice in the north must be sufficiently melted to permit arriving waterfowl to eat and remain secure from some predators, similarly, the plants and other vegetation migratory animals depend on should either be grown or growing well enough to sustain the creatures that depend on it when they arrive. These requirements are not just at the destination ranges, but also along the route the animals travel as some migrations may take weeks to complete.

Some species must also learn to endure through varied and sometimes lethal obstacles either created by natural events like landslides, earthquakes and floods, but also by human-made challenges like dams, habitat reduction and new developments and their supportive infrastructure where vital resources needed by the migratory animals have been removed or altered in some way. Ducks and geese must seek out new safe places to stop and reenergize when wetlands they have depended on in previous migrations have been turned into shopping malls and parking lots.

Migratory birds like swans and geese are probably the most visible migratory species as they fly overhead in great flocks honking as they go. Beneath the water’s surface, fish of all kinds like salmon migrate back to their natal streams to lay and fertilize the eggs that will produce their next generation- often within a couple meters of where they were born. Yukon’s rivers connect lakes where our common species of pike, grayling, whitefish and lake trout choose to spend their summers and winters, which may be greatly influenced by the insect hatches and changing water depths resulting from spring melt and freshet flooding. These short seasonal relocations are also considered to be migrations, but are not of the same scope other species like salmon or geese perform.

Photo credit: From Left, Lindsay Caskenette &  Jake Paleczny

Barren ground caribou like the Porcupine herd travel vast distances each year enroute to their calving grounds near the north coast. Their migration helps to distribute the impacts of their grazing so that they do not over-consume the vegetation causing harm to the landscape in any given location. Many thousands of caribou can eat a lot and their migration not only ensures more widespread grazing, but also their waste products (poop) are deposited over a greater area, thereby helping to fertilize more of the tundra they depend on each year.

Woodland Caribou at the Preserve.
While all caribou herd migrate the Barren Ground is know for more expansive journeys, particularly the Porcupine Barren Ground Caribou herd.  
Photo credit: Jake Paleczny

Insects also migrate usually in search of warmer temperatures and liquid water to lay their eggs and ensure there is an adequate food supply for the young to eat and grow healthy on. A queen honey bee will trigger a brief hive migration when she leaves the hive in search of a new location with better food resources nearby.

Migration is closely tied to a number of annual behavior traits as well. Some bird species may molt (shed their feathers) soon after arriving at their spring destination. Energetically expensive as migration itself molting and replacing feathers after a long journey north is important for the return trip. Also, the cast-off feathers can be used to line their nests against the cool winds of the tundra. However, while molting their ability to fly may be diminished which will put them at greater risk from predators. Just like migration and breeding, molting is ones of the vital parts of a bird’s life. 

Video explores molt in the migratory species, the Rusty Blackbird in Southern Yukon.
Source Credit: International Rusty Blackbird Working Group.

Predator birds, raptors like falcons, owls, eagles and various hawks also migrate to these ranges to raise their families and they depend on the ducks, hares, lemmings and other ground-nesting birds as a resource for them and their offspring until it’s time to migrate south again.

Climate change is modifying many of the important conditions some species require to live in a region, the timing of the spring melt is one of the major ones. As warmer spring conditions arrive earlier in the year, some species may need to begin their migration northward sooner to ensure they arrive in time to get a good nesting location, or time their arrival to an important food resource like a caddisfly hatch where millions of little flying insects hatch from a river over a few hours. Both fish and birds gather for these short-lived but important high-protein energy feasts.

Visit Audonbon.org to learn more about shifting and actaully expanding range for the Barn Swallow in climate change warming scnarios.  Source credit: Audubon

Again time is a critical element that can determine success or failure especially when other elements are out of sync. Like a delayed arrival of the warmer spring weather will slow the growth of some vegetation or delay thawing of the ice from waterways which can also create problems if the spring melt happens too early or too dramatically where it may cause rapid snow melt and flood rivers and creeks along migratory routes and nesting locations that create new hazards for the animals. A long lasting winter will also influence how arriving animals settle into their summer homes and make their arrangements for the warmer days to come. Nesting locations and preferred hunting and fishing and grazing spots may be at a premium and first come-first gets is the rule if they are willing to defend their locations.

Migration can be a life or death test for some animals depending on the conditions of the travel route and their intended destinations. Some destinations may be unusable due to new predators making a home there, physical damages caused by floods, fires and the landslides which may cause the animals to seek a new location that meets their needs. They may have to fight to keep their new location as other groups or another species may compete for the same resources they need to survive.

Bird migration and cities

There are many ways human activity interferes with animal migrations in the Detours and Distractions: How Humans Impact Migration Patterns. Explore the educational PDF by National Geographic.

Some predators take advantage of the migratory creatures when they arrive in great numbers. Bears demonstrate this very well as they gather on the streams and rivers to capture migrating salmon returning to spawn.  Bears also follow the caribou herds in pursuit of newly born calves trying to keep up with the rest of the herd. Fledgling birds are common prey for Sharp-Shinned Hawks, Shrikes and other small raptors that also may have hungry hatchlings in their nests.  Foxes and weasels also prey heavily on eggs and young hatchlings of geese, ducks and other ground-nesting birds.

This photo slide from Yukon photographer, Peter Mather at Ni’iinlii Njik (Fishing Branch) Territorial Park shows the close relationship of predator and prey. Bears will remain active in this region as winter approaches to benefit from the abundance of food in the form of migrating salmon. 
Source Credit: Peter Mather Photography

It works the opposite way as well as migratory animals depend on other species to sustain them and in some cases, their choice of destination may depend on resident species and the birthing of their offspring. An example can be found with Peregrine Falcons and other raptors who hunt the lemmings, hares and other rodents born in large numbers on the tundra each spring. Lemmings mature at 5 – 6 weeks of age. They are prolific breeders and may produce 8 litters of up to 6 young each throughout the summer. The gestation period of the female Lemming is 20 days making them one of the primary food resources for carnivorous species, like the Arctic Fox, spending their summer on the tundra.

Arctic Fox at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve.
Photo Credit: J.Paleczny.

Some species like Canada Geese and Tundra Swans mate for life so when they arrive at their springtime destination they can get right to work raising a family, However other species and those just reaching reproductive maturity will need to find a mate, build a nest, breed and raise their new offspring. All of this takes time and each animal is racing the clock and calendar to complete these basic requirements before they have babies which will demand a larger portion of their available time keeping them fed and protected as they grow to adolescence to commence preparations for the migratory trip back to their winter ranges before the winter season arrives, and some years it can come early or later as the present weather trends indicate.

Swan parents and their offspring at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve. In Spring, 2015 a pair built a nest in the moose habitat and had 5 cygnets.
Photo Credit: L.Caskenette

Waterfowl and other creatures that depend on water for their nutrition and safety pay close attention to falling temperatures and the return of ice on the surfaces of ponds and lakes. Other indicators warn of the returning winter conditions, insect populations fall dramatically; leaves change colour and other vegetation stops growing and goes to seed signalling it is time to move south once again.

Some years snow may fall early and in sufficient quantities to make searching for food a greater challenge. Often robins will be seen digging in the snow for insects and berries as they gather together in preparation for their journey south.

Left Photo: American dippers are a delightful winter sight, swimming and singing from icy or rocky perches in fast-flowing waters, such as the Yukon River below the Whitehorse dam.

Right Photo: Winter wannabes like this American robin find small bugs and animals to eat along the muddy shoreline of the Yukon River below the Rotary Centennial Bridge.

Photo Credit and Caption: Jenny Trapnell
Read more from Jenny – A Chance on Winter in What’s Up Yukon.


Migration is an effective tool to ensure the seasonal health of many animal species, but also migration provides habitats some time to regrow while the species are away in their other ranges. Nature’s clock is the movement of the planets and the tilting of the Earth which determine the seasons as winter gives way to spring and new generations are being born. Climate change is also influencing animal species that are well-tuned into these seasonal changes which can be very subtle but are important signs for creatures that need to pay attention to subtle weather changes and the potential impacts on their migration requirements.

Doug Caldwell

Doug Caldwell

Wildlife Interpreter

Doug is one of the Interpretive Wildlife Guides here at the Preserve. An avid angler and hunter he has a broad knowledge of Yukon’s wilderness and the creatures that live here. With a focus on the young visitors to the Preserve, Doug takes the extra time to help our guests to better appreciate the many wonders of the animal kingdom here in the Yukon.

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