Across the continent, creatures big and small journey long distances to feed and breed as seasons change. Many fly, others walk, and some travel through rivers and oceans—sometimes thousands of kilometres—to reach their preferred climates. And, if you’re lucky, you might just see some along the way.
Canada Geese live across the country, from coast to coast and into the far north. While they live in the United States year-round, geese migrate out of Canada before winter’s harshest months. Geese start to fly south in their traditional v-shaped flocks when the ground begins to freeze in the fall and can cover up to 1,000 kilometres in a single day. These highly-adaptable birds often live in cities and can be considered urban pests. Geese populations have been increasing for several decades and it’s estimated there are more than 5 million in North America.
The multigenerational migration of the Monarch butterfly can be as long as 4,000 kilometres between Southern Canada and Central Mexico. It can take up to four generations to complete the trip. Monarchs migrate south in the fall and north in the spring, stopping in places such as Point Pelee National Park on Lake Erie. In the mid-90s, there were an estimated 1 billion monarchs in North America but the population has dropped to about 35 million due to a variety of factors including genetically modified crops and deforestation, which destroy habitat, as well as severe weather. Their natural habitat in Canada includes Southern Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes, but the orange and black butterfly has also been seen as far north as James Bay.
Mallard ducks spend the spring and summer months breeding in the north, then fly south in the fall to feed during the colder months of the year. For breeding, the ducks prefer the wetlands of Southern Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, but they can also settle in the Northern United States and along the Alaskan coast. These ducks can fly at nearly 90 kilometres per hour. Mallard ducks winter throughout the United States, but can settle as far north as southern British Columbia and Alberta, and as far south as northern Mexico. They usually migrate north to breed in February and March. There are about 11 million mallard ducks in North America, according to 2014 U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service estimates.
As winter approaches, female caribou leave several weeks before the males to head south — a journey that can be up to nearly 1,000 kilometres. The males follow with the new generation of young caribou. These herbivores are recognizable by their antlers, which are characteristic of both females and males. Populations of woodland caribou are in decline and are listed under Canada’s Species at Risk Act. Woodland caribou can be found across Canada except in Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Nunavut, according to Parks Canada. The Southern Mountain populations live in Jasper, Banff, Mount Revelstoke, and Glacier National Parks, with heard sizes ranging from five to nearly 100.
The Whale Route begins at the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park and stretches along a 900-kilometre path on the north shore. There are 13 species in the St. Lawrence River, including humpbacks, belugas, and blue whales. Seasonal movements are based on temperature: whales prefer colder water for feeding and warmer water for birthing. The best place to see orcas is in British Columbia on the West Coast. A pod of 90 orcas can be seen near Victoria between April and October. During the Pacific Rim Whale Festival, in March and April, approximately 20,000 Pacific grey whales pass on their long journey from the Baja Peninsula to Alaska.
Salmon are born in fresh water but swim out to sea to live their adult years. When they are ready to spawn, they swim up river to return to their original birthplace. Female salmon make nests in gravel and the eggs hatch in the winter and the life cycle begins again. And they’re champion swimmers, often travelling more than 4,000 kilometres north to ocean feeding grounds and then back to the rivers to reproduce.