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Science & NatureWhat is That?What Is That … Canadian Beastie?

What Is That … Canadian Beastie?


As we gear up for this year’s cottage season and celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday, we are anticipating the various species of animals, insects, and plants we will see, hear and photograph at the cottage.  This year we are especially looking for those that are thought of  as ‘Canadian’.  Some of this wildlife has a common name that includes Canada or Canadian but there are many more whose scientific species names include ‘canadensis’.  The Latin suffix ‘ensis’ means ‘of a place’.  Adding ‘ensis’ to the word Canada creates ‘canadensis’ … something of Canada.  Therefore in taxonomy, ‘canadensis’ denotes a species indigenous to or strongly associated with Canada.  So, as the nation proudly ponders all the things ‘Canadian’, we thought it would be appropriate to review and highlight some of our ‘Canadian’ beasties.  In this article we identify some of the Canadian mammals and birds we have observed and photographed near the cottage.  In subsequent articles we will touch on plants, insects and other animals.

It seems appropriate to start our review with the Canadian beaver (Castor canadensis).  It is generally known as the main northern fur-bearing mammal that sparked the fur trade and the opening up of what is now Canada by European explorers.  Beaver pelts were in great demand for felted-beaver fur hats in European markets and, to a lesser extent, for warm fur coats and mitts*.  Fortunately, the beaver survived this phase of exploitation and today is common across Canada.  It still graces the face of Canada’s five cent coin.  We tend to take this industrious rodent for granted at the cottage.  We were surprised when recently travelling with a number of Australian tourists on the Rocky Mountaineer by how excited they became when beaver houses and dams were pointed out to them.  For further information on beavers, you can also refer to our January 17, 2016 article in the Millstone News.

The northern or North American river otter (Lontra canadensis) is one of the more energetic examples of the ‘Canadian’ wildlife we are fortunate to observe at the cottage.  For several years we have watched family groupings of this the largest member of the weasel family interacting and feeding in the water and along the shorelines of White lake.  Additional information on river otters was provided in our February 28, 2016 and October 19, 2016 articles in the Millstone News.

Most North Americans are familiar with the Canada goose (Branta canadensis).  They are well known for the large ‘V’ formations of migrating birds that make loud honking sounds announcing their arrival in spring and departure in fall.  They have a black head and neck, with a white cheek patch, grey-brown plumage on their back and light brown breast.  Canada geese construct large reed and grass nests near the water’s edge at White Lake in April.  Adults can grow to weigh as much as 4.9 kilograms and stand as tall as 115 centimetres.   These large waterfowl which mostly feed on land consuming grasses and seeds are so prolific they are the brunt of complaints from many cottagers and golfers for the mess they leave along shorelines and fairways after grazing.  Their fertilizer is not usually appreciated.

The sandhill crane (Grus canadensis) is another large migratory bird.  The adults can grow to weigh 4.8 kilograms and stand 120 centimetres.  They nest and forage in open meadows, farmland and marshes relying on roots, seeds, insects, and amphibians.  As can be seen in the following photograph, their plumage is grey with rust-coloured markings on the wings and adults have a white face and red crown on their forehead.  How Canadian is that!  (Admittedly, this picture was taken in an old farm field just a few short kilometres from the cottage.)  

The last animal in this article also sports patriotic red and white plumage although the red is more a rust to pale orange colour.  The red-breasted nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) is a year-round resident at the cottage.  They feed on seeds and insects hiding in the crevasses of tree trunks and supplement their diets with flying insects during the warmer months.  Additional information was provided in our July 23, 2016 article in the Millstone News.

Further information on these mammals and birds can be found in: Mammals of Ontario by Tamara Eder; Ontario’s Wildlife by Dave Taylor; Waterfowl of Eastern North America by Chris G. Earley; The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America by David Allen Sibley; and, Lorimer Field Guide to 225 Ontario Birds by Jeffrey C. Domm.  *For more on the use of beaver pelts in fashion go to




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