Land Mammals

Beaver -- Often considered symbolic of Canada, beavers almost became extinct in the early 1900s due to a brisk world trade in beaver pelts and the rapid development of wetlands. But today the beaver's lodge-building, stick-chewing, and hibernating habits are well known once again; you'll find them in streams, lakes, and ponds.

Black Bear -- Black bears still occur in eastern Canada, though in small numbers (still, you may want to keep a cover on that campfire food). The bears are mostly -- emphasis on mostly -- plant eaters and docile; they're the smallest of the North American bears and don't want trouble. Though they'll eat just about anything, these bears prefer easily reached foods on the woodland floor such as berries, mushrooms, nuts . . . and campers' leftovers. (Suspend leftovers in a "bear bag" away from your tent if you're camping in bear territory.) Black bears fatten up in fall for a long winter hibernation that averages 6 months.

Moose -- Nothing says Canada like a moose, and the huge, skinny-legged, vegetarian moose is occasionally seen in the deep woods of eastern Canada; in Nova Scotia, they're listed as a provincially endangered species, but New Brunswick holds an annual lottery dispensing hunting permits resulting in about 2,000 moose kills a year. They're commonly seen by the road in Newfoundland. (But there are no moose -- or even deer -- on PEI.) The animal prefers deep woods, lakes, ponds, and uninhabited areas, and you can't miss it: The rack of antlers on the male, broad linemanlike shoulders, spindly but quick legs, and sheer bulk (it's as big as a truck) ensure you won't mistake it for anything else. Be careful driving on highways through remote wooded areas late at night: A collision with a moose is often fatal for the driver.

Whales, Dolphins, Porpoises & Seals

Dolphin -- Two very similar-looking species of dolphin -- the Atlantic white-sided dolphin and the white-beaked dolphin -- come to the Atlantic coast of the eastern provinces. Cute and athletic, these dolphins also occasionally turn up on beaches, for the same reason as pilot whales: Large groups are occasionally stranded by the tides, then perish when they cannot get back to sea in time.

Finback Whale -- A seasonal visitor to eastern Canada's waters twice a year when migrating between polar and equatorial waters, the finback is one of the biggest whales, and also one of the most collegial. It often travels in pairs or groups of a half-dozen or more (most whales are relatively solitary), though it does not travel close to shore or in shallow waters; you'll need a whale-watch boat to spot it. Find it by its rather triangular head and a fin that sweeps backward (like a dolphin's) rather than straight up like many other whales'. There are only 100 to 1,000 finbacks left in the waters off eastern Canada, according to the latest estimates.

Harbor Porpoise -- Quiet in behavior and habit, the porpoise is not the same thing as the dolphin; in fact, it's darker, much less athletic, and with a blunter, triangular fin. (The dolphin jumps out of the water and has a sharper fin that sweeps backward.)

Harbor Seal -- Related to sea lions, the whiskered harbor seal is common in all seasons in the Atlantic provinces. It's best seen by using a charter-boat service, as you'll often find it basking in the sun on rocks offshore. You'll easily recognize it: The seal's flippers have five claws, almost like a human hand; its neck is stocky and strong (as are its teeth); and then there is its fur, and those whiskers.

Humpback Whale -- Though this whale's Latin name roughly translates to "large-winged New England resident," the gentle, gigantic humpback isn't often seen from shore in eastern Canada, except in the Digby, Nova Scotia, area. (That's mostly because they were easy targets in the heyday of whaling.) Whale-watch tours often pass humpbacks, and if you see them, you'll never forget the sight: They are huge, jet-black, blow tremendous amounts of water when surfacing, and perform amazingly playful acrobatics above water. The males also sing haunting songs, sometimes for as long as 2 days at a time. The world population has shrunk to perhaps 20,000 whales.

Minke Whale -- The smallest (and most human-friendly) of the whales, the minke swims off the coast of Canada, usually moving in groups of two or three whales -- but much larger groups collect in feeding areas and during certain seasons. It has a unique habit of approaching and congregating around boats and ships, making this a whale you're quite likely to see while on a whale-watch tour. The minke is dark gray on top, the throat has grooves, and each black flipper fin is marked with a conspicuous white band.

Pilot Whale -- A smallish whale, the pilot is often seen in Atlantic Canadian waters by whale-watching boats, but it's still poorly understood: Its habits, true population, and diet are mostly unknown. It is known to congregate in large groups, sometimes numbering up to several hundred, and even to swim with other species of whale at sea. But pilot whales sometimes become stranded by changing tides. Nearly unique among whales in this part of the world, the pilot has teeth; the roundish fin is swept back like a dolphin's.


American Lobster -- Everyone knows the lobster by sight and taste; what few know is that it was once considered ugly, tasteless, and unfit to eat. There was a time not long ago when prisoners were served lobster and lobster stew three times a day. Today, the situation is quite different: This is one of eastern Canada's major exports. Lobsters are related to crabs, shrimp, and even spiders and insects (sorry to spoil your appetite); they feed by slowly scouring the ocean bottom in shallow, dark waters, locating food by smell (they see very poorly). The hard shell, which is periodically shed in order to grow larger, is the lobster's skeleton: A greenish-black or rarely blue color when alive, it turns bright red only after the lobster is cooked.


Bald Eagle -- Yes, they're here in Atlantic Canada -- year-round -- and even breed here, though they're difficult to find and hardly conspicuous, except on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. (Their endangered status means you shouldn't really seek them out anyway.) The bald eagle's black body, white head, and yellow bill make it almost impossible to confuse with any other bird. It was nearly wiped out in the 1970s, mainly due to environmental poisons such as DDT-based pesticides, which caused female eagles to lay eggs that were too weak to sustain growing baby chicks. However, the bird is beginning to make a comeback.

Duck -- Between one and two dozen species of ducks and ducklike geese, brant, and teal seasonally visit the lakes, ponds, and tidal coves of eastern Canada every year, including -- though hardly limited to -- the red-breasted merganser and the common eider. Mergansers, characterized by very white sides and very red bills (in males) or reddish crests (in females), occur year-round but are more common in winter months. So is the eider, which inhabits offshore islands and coastal waters rather than provincial freshwater lakes; in winter, these islands form huge rafts of birds. Males are marked with a sharp black-and-white pattern.

Great Blue Heron -- Everyone knows a great blue at once, by its prehistoric flapping wings, comb of feathers, and spindly legs. These magnificent hunters wade through tidal rivers, fishing with lightning strikes beneath the surface, from May through around October. The smaller, stealthier green heron and yellow-crowned night heron are rarely seen.

Loon -- Two species of loon visit the region's lakes and tidal inlets, fishing for dinner. The red-throated loon, grayish with a red neck, is a spring passer-through and very rare in summer or winter. The common loon is, indeed, much more common -- it can be distinguished by a black band around the neck, as well as black-and-white stripes and dots -- and can be found in Canada year-round, though it's most easily spotted in late spring and late fall. It summers on lakes and winters on open patches of ocean inlets, giving a distinctively mournful, almost laughing call. Both loons have been decimated by environmental changes such as oil spills, acid rain, and airborne mercury.

Plover -- Plovers inhabit and breed in certain muddy tidal flats, and their habitat is precarious; a single human step can crush an entire generation of eggs. Four species of plover visit eastern Canada in a few spots, and they're here only for a relatively short time. The lesser golden-plover flocks in considerable numbers in September while passing through, and the greater golden-plover occasionally lands in Newfoundland during migration. The semipalmated plover, with its quite different brownish body and white breast, has a similar life cycle and is also usually only seen in spring, passing through.

Seagull -- No bird is as closely associated with the sea as the seagull. But there's more than one kind of gull in eastern Canada. A number of gulls are found here year-round, a few species visit seasonally, and a few more pop up only occasionally. Most common is the grayish herring gull, which is also the gull least afraid of humans. It's found in prevalence every month of the year. The great black-backed gull is similarly common, and is nearly all white (except for that black back and wings). This aggressive bird will even eat the eggs of another gull but in general avoids humans. There's a huge colony on Lake George outside Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. You might also see glaucous, ring-billed, and even laughing and Bonaparte's gulls (rarely, and usually only in summer), not to mention the related black-legged kittiwake.

Songbird -- There are literally dozens of species of songbirds that roost in Acadia's open fields, forests, and dead snags -- even in the rafters and bird boxes of houses. They are not so common in remote rocky places like Newfoundland as in suburbia (greater Halifax, for instance) or in the farmlands of the provinces. One thing is for certain: Songbirds love human company, so look for them near the settled areas. The region hosts a dozen or so distinct types of chirpy little warblers, each with unique and often liquid songs; a half-dozen thrushes occurring in significant numbers; winter wrens, swallows, sparrows, vireos, finches, creepers, and thrashers; the whimsical black-capped chickadee; and occasionally lovely bluebirds, cardinals, and tanagers, among many other species.

Storm Petrel -- The tiny storm petrel is a fascinating creature. These plucky little birds fly astonishing distances in winter, eating insects on the wing, only to return to the coast each spring like clockwork, usually in May. They spend an amazing 4 months incubating, hatching, and tending to their single, white eggs in nests eked out of rocks. Wilson's storm petrels sometimes follow behind offshore boats; the much less common Leach's storm petrel restricts its visits and nests solely to far-offshore rocks and islands and is also mostly nocturnal, which reduces the chances of seeing it further. Both breed in summer, then head south for winter.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.