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Wednesday's Wildlife: Calgary Tracks

It’s early in the morning, and the snow is untouched—or not quite. Someone or something has already traversed the fresh blanket of white and left little divots behind, making a trail. Who is it? What are they doing?

Bird prints in the snow next to tire tracks
Figure 1: Bird tracks in the snow next to tire tracks.

Calgary is home to many wildlife species that are not only present during winter but also active! Some of these animals seek out the food they stashed in the summer and fall, and some continue to forage and hunt throughout the winter months.

Try the Winter Wildlife Track Challenge and see which tracks you can match to our wildlife. Use these tracks to help decipher the snow prints in your yard, or nearby park, and identify recent wildlife visitors!

Coyote Activity in the Winter:

January through February is mating season for coyotes, and they are very active during this time. Coyotes have one mating season per year and have monogamous or long-term pair bonds with one single mate.   They form these bonds through a period of courtship involving play behaviours and vocalizations such as howling.

Denning season starts around March and is a particularly stressful for coyotes as they locate a den and get ready to birth their pups.  After approximately two months, the female will give birth. Both parents participate in rearing their pups.  Coyotes have complex extended family structures and sometimes other relatives will help in the raising and protection of the pups.  Coyotes develop territories which they monitor for intruders.  Sometimes they will ‘escort’ other animals or people away from their family which can be misinterpreted as stalking.

Coyote pouncing on rodents like voles and mice under the snow.
Figure 3: Coyote pouncing on prey under the snow.

North American Porcupine Activity in the Winter:

Porcupines are generally solitary but will sometimes den together in a crevice (hollow log or rock) during harsh winter conditions. They are generally active at night, emerging from their den to feed.  Unlike its more well-known cousins (the African crested porcupine), North American Porcupines are tree climbers and much of their winter is spent feeding is on tree bark. Marks from their foraging are distinct: they leave behind paired scrapes from their front rodent teeth from eating the outer layer of bark off a tree.  Some of their favourite tree species include spruce, hemlock and birch in the winter. As winter nears an end, porcupines are often depleted of salt after surviving the winter months on a low-sodium diet.  This means they will sometimes seek out glue and paint to fill this craving. 

North American porcupine foraging for food in the winter.
Figure 4: North American porcupine in the winter foraging.

Canada Goose Activity in the Winter:

While the Canada goose generally migrates south during the winter, there is a growing resident population in Calgary.  Some of this population may consist of northern migrants stopping over, (this remains to be distinguished in a study), but many of them simply stay.  The Canada goose is most active during the day and will spend this time foraging for food.  In the winter they eat berries, grains, and roots among other vegetation.  Canadian geese will sometimes forage in fields and pick over a harvest. They generally return to a place with running water to avoid predation, which in Calgary might be areas of the Bow River.

Canada goose standing on a field during a snow storm.
Figure 5: Canada goose in the winter.

What wildlife do you see around your neighbourhood this winter?

If you observe a wild animal in need of help, please call our hotline at:





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