Wonderful Winter Wildlife

Winter, a time of frozen lakes, sparkling snowfall, frigid temperatures, and… abundant wildlife? If you’re in Voyageurs National Park, then yes! Though temperatures remain below freezing in the park for nearly a third of the year(!), that does not stop some intrepid animals from making an appearance.

Credit: NPS/Grunwald

Winter is actually the ideal time of year to visit Voyageurs if you are hoping to see gray wolves in the wild. As the dominant predator in the park, they have an active and healthy population throughout the year, but during winter they can be more easily seen as they move along the lake shores hunting for food.

Credit: NPS/Nathan Hanks

The largest mammal in Voyageurs National Park is the magnificent and formidable moose. During the winter, moose have less access to high-quality foods, instead feeding on large quantities of willow, birch, and aspen. The scarcity of food resources forces the animals to conserve their energy, which includes staying away from deep snow and using packed trails or cleared roads. This increases the likelihood that  wildlife enthusiasts might see them, though you will want to be especially alert when driving in moose territory! Even if you do not see wild moose, you may be lucky enough to spot their antlers lying in the snow, as adult bull moose shed their antlers during the winter.

An animal that may be more challenging to spot in winter is the snowshoe hare. These small mammals are slightly larger than a cottontail rabbit and live primarily in coniferous forests such as those found in Voyageurs. Snowshoe hares are unique because their fur actually changes color depending on the season! In summer, they are dark brown to blend in with the shadows of their forest habitat. In winter, their fur turns a brilliant white which helps them to perfectly blend in with the snow.

Credit: NPS/Gordy Lindgren

No matter the season, Voyageurs is a perfect place for birdwatching. Many species of birds remain in the park throughout the winter, including loons, grey owls, great horned owls, cardinals, and warblers. One majestic bird actually migrates TO Minnesota in winter! Canadian winters actually drive snowy owls south to the more “moderate” climate of Voyageurs National Park, though they return north during the warmer summer months. These beautiful birds have perfect camouflage for the snowy months and the eerie ability to fly in complete silence, presenting a challenge for birdwatchers.  But if you are incredibly lucky, you may be able to spot one!

Animals Have Mothers Too!

As we approach Mother’s Day, it’s important to honor those who raised us.  But it’s also a fun time to celebrate amazing animal moms.  Look no farther than Voyageurs National Park for some great examples.

Credit: NPS

Gray wolf moms have litters of four to six pups, who remain with her in the den for six to eight weeks. Only the alpha female in a pack of gray wolves will become a mother, but all adult pack members contribute to supporting her and her pups. Young wolves will stay with their parents for two or more years before leaving to start their own territory, or they may stay with the pack and eventually replace their mother or father as alpha.

Credit: NPS

Voyageurs is a paradise for waterfowl, including the beautiful and haunting common loon.  Mother loons typically have one or two chicks per year. It is very difficult for the birds to walk on their awkward legs, so the moms do not travel far from the water’s edge during nesting; and they spend much of their time in the water once their chicks hatch. Loon moms (and dads!) are very devoted parents and occasionally even carry their chicks on their back!

Credit: NPS

Black bears typically have two cubs every other year. A mother bear gives birth while she is in her den for the winter, then spends the time until spring dozing on and off while her cubs nurse. (That is a lot more sleep than human moms get in the early days!) The cubs will stay with their mother throughout spring, summer, and fall and will hibernate with her the following winter. They finally strike out on their own the following spring, when they are about 1 ½ years old.

Credit: David Hypes, NPS

Bald eagle moms are very fortunate, as parenting duties are split evenly between moms and dads. Eagles lay one to three eggs per year, which hatch after about 35 days. The nestlings will remain in the next for 10-14 weeks, during which time both mom and dad will care for them.

Credit: Veronika Ronkos

Female moose are beginning to give birth this time of year. Typically, a mother has one or two calves, which grow extremely quickly and can outrun a human by five days old! (Can you imagine having to chase your baby five days after giving birth?) Moose calves stay with their mother for about a year.

If you are looking for an animal-inspired gift for your mom this year, check out these beautiful wolf earrings or this stunning photo book all about the amazing loon.