Mammals - A Close-Up
 Birds - A Close-Up


A Close-Up of Some Common Mammals

Black Bear

Vary in color from almost white to black. Adult males average 155cm in length, 110 cm height at shoulder, and weigh 125 kg. Black bears can be distinguished from their cousins, the grizzly, by their tapered muzzles and narrower faces, their lack of a larger hump on shoulders, and their lack of ruff of long hair around their heads and neck. They can run up 55 km/hour over short distances.



Mistakenly called elk (a European moose), but in fact a wapiti, the Shawnee Indian word meaning “white deer” or “light colored.” Male antler racks can measure up to 1.5 m in length, spread well over the back, span 1.2 m, and weigh up to 22 kg. Antlers are used to battle for access to a female during rut, along with loud bugling. Wapiti are sociable, seldom alone, and very adaptable to many environments.


White-Tailed Deer

Mature bucks are on average 100 cm high at shoulder and weigh 135 kg. The tail is brown on top, but when startled or alert, tail goes up to show white underside. Can cover up to 8 m in a running broad jump, and easily leap over a 2 m fence. Very adaptable and feed on over 1000 different plants.


Cougar/Mountain Lion

Males can be up to 275 cm in length, with up to 90 cm long tails, and weigh 80 kg. Cat of many names; also called: “mountain lion”, “puma”, “panther”, & “indian devil.” Extremely efficient killing machine that can kill prey four times its own size by stalking and pouncing with 5 cm long canines and razor-sharp claws. Secretive and solitary to the extreme, known as the “ghosts of the wilderness.”


Snowshoe Hare

Females, larger than males, weigh about 1.5 kg and are around 46 cm in length. Coats change color with the season: brown in spring to white in winter. Large hind feet, 10-15 cm long, help achieve speeds of 40 km/hr, 2 m leaps, and act like snowshoes in winter so they don’t sink in the snow. Courtship begins with mating chases that can continue through the night. Within hours of giving birth, a female may mate again.



Largest member of the deer family; up to 1.9 m high at shoulder and weigh 475 kg. Named from the Algonquin Indian word, mongswa, meaning “eater of twigs.” Antler racks of bone are shed annually and can extend to 196 cm between widest tips. Although clumsy looking, within a week of birth young can swim and outrun a person.


Bighorn Sheep

Adult rams can stand 1 m tall at shoulder and weigh up to 150 kg (much less after rut). Bighorns have amazing eyesight equal to that of human eyes with powerful binoculars. They are faster than goats and bound like deer. Horn on horn dominance clashes between males can be heard up to 1 km away. Ewes are driven by rams on to shear cliffs for mating. Loss of habitat is the greatest threat to the livelihood of bighorns.

                                     Photography Credits: Vance Hanna and Tom Ulrich

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A Close-Up of Some Common Birds

Bald Eagle

2 m wingspan, one of the largest birds in the world. As a mating display, pairs lock feet and fall earthward in flight for several turns. Parents mate for life and return to same nest year after year. Preferred habitat is high in trees near water, especially large lakes or rivers. Young eagles do not acquire characteristic white head until about 3 years of age.


Rufous Hummingbird

Males zealously defend feeding and nesting territories, almost humorously to humans. Spectacular male courtship displays involve series of dives and rising loops in an oval pattern, with swoops just inches away from females to display their throat colors. Hover & fly in all directions at incredible speed producing humming sound with wings.


Red-Tailed Hawk

Large, thick-bodied predators with broad wings and razor-sharp talons. Distinguished best from Swainson’s Hawk by light flight feathers in all plumages. Mostly have a reddish upper tail that is spread wide in flight. Are adept at soaring and often circle for hours. Opportunistic feeders, but are inveterate mouse-eaters. Have characteristic and powerful call like a shrill and rasping “tsee-eeee-arrr” scream.


Townsend's Solitaire

Nests on ground, but usually spotted on very top of a conifer tree, in open subalpine forest. Thrush family; acts like a flycatcher, leaping off its tree-top perch to grab insects out of air. Also eats bugs, fruits, berries, and worms. Drab-grey colouring, but one of the most beautiful and distinctive songs of the area similar to a robin’s, but much longer and with a wider pitch scale.


Ruffed Grouse

Only grouse in Rockies with crest on head, and black-banded tail feathers. Feeds off insects and a large variety of plants, seeds, twig-ends, and buds. Don’t migrate, nest in scrape on ground, and produce large families of 9-12 that together skittishly startle unsuspecting hikers as they fly up under your feet off the trail. Males put on impressive mating show—stand on old log, ruff up neck, fan out tail, and beat wings quickly through air producing loud, low-pitched, drumming sound.


Pileated Woodpecker

Largest woodpecker in Canadian Rockies (length 38 cm), and only one in area with crest on head. Nonmigratory; voice like a flicker (“wick, wick, wick”); and drums loudly. Eats large carpenter ants in dead or dying trees or stumps, producing large noticeable cavities and woodchips. Listens for insects inside the tree, with remarkable ear-beak coordination.

                                     Photography Credits: Vance Hanna and Tom Ulrich

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