Despite the harsh conditions in winter the fauna of the boreal forest is quite diverse, in both size and composition. These are just a few of the animals that are common in the boreal or taiga forest:
Mice are common, as are voles. Red, Gray and Black squirrels are also found in abundance. Less common is the “flying squirrel,” a nocturnal feeder with large flaps of skin between its front and hind legs that allow it to glide vast distances between trees. Cottontail rabbits are also present, as are hares. The Snowshoe Rabbit, or Varying Hare, has a coat that changes from brown in the summer to white in the winter, to help protect it from predators. Skunks, raccoons, porcupines, mink, weasels and martens are also common.
Migratory waterfowl spend their summers in the vast array of lakes that dominate the boreal forest. Ducks are common, usually “diving ducks” like Buffleheads and Mergansers that require larger bodies of water to take-off, land and forage. However, “puddle ducks” like Mallards may also be found, including the rare Black duck in some places. Geese also nest on the lakes, as do Loons, the birds with the distinctive call has become the sound synonymous with the Boreal Forest, at least in Canada.
Many other birds spend their entire lives in the boreal, from tiny Chickadees and Nuthatches to Owls, Hawks and Ravens. Upland game birds like Ptarmigan (also referred to as Grouse) are also common, even though some of these species are widely hunted.
Muskrats live in the boreal forests, but their activities are overshadowed by those of their large cousin, the Beaver. Much sought after for their pelts Beavers were trapped to the brink of extinction in some parts of the Boreal forest, but now they are making an impressive comeback in many areas. No other creature besides Man has such a profound effect on the forest landscape as the Beaver: their ponds are a source of deep water for fish, amphibians and other wildlife, while the areas they clear open up new patches of forest floor for new growth to spring up.
Ungulates (Cloven-hoofed animals)
Deer are common in the boreal forest, especially whitetails. They live alongside Moose, which are much larger than deer and much more sought after for their meat. At higher latitudes, deer and moose give way to Caribou (and in Europe, reindeer). Also found in the northern reaches of some parts of the Boreal are wood buffalo.
In addition to owls and hawks many large predators call the Boreal forest home. Red Fox and Bobcat prey on small animals. The larger cousin of the Bobcat is the Lynx, an animal whose numbers vary directly in relation to that of its chief prey, the Snowshoe Rabbit. Coyotes are found as well, but the most well-known of the Boreal hunters is the Timber Wolf, who hunts both alone and in packs, and whose distinctive howling at the moon is enough to draw tourists to special “wolf howling” listening nights every summer in Northern Ontario. Black bears are also found in abundance, and the threatened Grizzly bears in much smaller numbers. At northern latitudes are Wolverines, mid-sized carrion-feeding animals known for their unfriendly disposition.