The other day, I saw two foxes lounging in my backyard in suburban Chicago. The diversity of wildlife in our urban and suburban worlds is truly amazing. As I gazed at the foxes, my thoughts turned to the Boundary Waters, and the abundant wildlife that I have seen over the years there.
The forests of the Boundary Waters and Quetico have been nicknamed the Spruce-Moose forest. It is a seam between the northern tundra and the deciduous forests of the south. It is a land of spruce, birch, and fir trees. It is also the home of abundant wildlife. Some of my favorite species that I have seen over the years are these.
The moose is the largest mammal in Canoe Country. They can weigh up to 1,200 pounds and stand almost 7 feet tall. If you are lucky, you can see a moose grazing in the shallows. But be careful not to get too close! Moose can move at up to 35 miles per hour and are known to be temperamental. A moose’s rack can be 7 feet in width and up to 35 pounds in weight. You don’t want to be on the wrong end of a moose rack.
It is very unlikely that you will encounter a timber wolf in the Boundary Waters because they are wary and avoid human encounters. However, they are definitely there. They tend to travel in packs of 7 or 8 members and defend a territory of 50 to 120 square miles. Timber wolves can weigh as much as 100 pounds and stand close to 40 inches in height. Don’t confuse timber wolves with coyotes. Coyotes are smaller than wolves with shorter legs, longer ears and a pointier nose. Coyotes tend to yip and yowl compared to the distinctive long, drawn-out single tone howl of a wolf.
Unlike a wolf, it is really likely that you will see bald eagles in the Boundary Waters. They are abundant in the summer months. One of my all-time favorite stories is the time a bald eagle swooped down and took off with my freshly caught fish that I had laid on a rock as I went to get my filet knife. Bald eagles are one of America’s largest birds of prey with a wing span of 8 feet. These magnificent birds have incredible eye sight. They can soar at an altitude of 500 feet, spot a fish a mile away and swoop down at up to 100 miles per hour to grab the fish with their 2-inch talons.
You can’t talk about Boundary Waters wildlife without mentioning the loon. Loons are very prominent in Canoe Country. These large, beautiful birds with their piercing red eyes and stark black and white plumage are large with a 5 foot wingspan and are 2 feet in length. Loons are made for diving, not flying, because they are fish eaters. Of course, the most distinctive thing about a loon is its call. In fact, a loon has four distinctive calls:
- Yodel – for mate attraction
- Wail – for inter-loon communication
- Tremelo – a distress call
- Hoot – another loon-to-loon communication
Turning my attention back to the foxes, I am reminded that no matter where we live, we do live in the Garden of Eden. Wildlife is not just in remote wilderness like the Boundary Waters. It is everywhere. Take time to admire and enjoy it no matter where you are.
Paddle On. Be Free.
P.S. – Check out the book titled Canoe Country Wildlife by Mark Stensaas for more information.