Fauna of the Boreal Forest
Boreal forests are found in northern climates around the globe from Canada and Alaska to Scandinavia and Russia. So well suited for northern climates is the fauna found in boreal forests that some types of boreal fauna are found nowhere else in the world. Fauna that inhabit boreal forests have to be able to adapt to extreme climate conditions. Boreal forests are not only the world’s largest biome but the world’s coldest as well. Most boreal forests can experience snow up to eight months per year. Most animals living in boreal forests throughout the world have thick, waterproof coats to insulate them during severe weather. The different types of species that call the boreal forest home are quite diverse but each plays its part in sustaining a healthy ecosystem.
The largest species of fauna to call the boreal forest home are members of the deer family such as moose, elk, caribou, and mule deer. Moose, elk and mule deer can be found in southern North American boreal forests whereas caribou can be found in northern and southern boreal forests throughout the world. Deer species are meadow grazers, although moose will often inhabit bogs in warmer months eating algae and moss. In colder months deer will often eat lichen found on trees and growing on the forest floor.
Muskoxen, big horn sheep and bison are also big grazers that inhabit the boreal forest. Muskoxen have extremely thick coats to protect them from the harshest cold weather. Muskoxen live in northern boreal forests near the Arctic Circle. In winter they migrate to higher mountains to escape heavy snow. In summer they graze much like bison. Muskoxen can be found in Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Scandinavia and Russia. The American Bison found in North America and the European Bison found in Europe and Russia, inhabit southern areas of the boreal forest.
Bighorn sheep are found in North American boreal forests and typically graze in meadows although they can also be found high in the mountains where avalanches have cleared snow from mountain paths. Mountain goats can be found living in mountainous areas of the boreal forests. These animals have thick coats to protect them against the harsh mountain elements; some goats spend their entire lives in the mountains. They are excellent climbers and are very sure footed allowing them to navigate the icy mountain paths in order to escape predators.
The most notorious carnivorous predators of the boreal forest include grizzly bears, wolves and wolverines. Grizzly bears eat fish and smaller mammals but packs of gray wolves hunt together to bring down bigger prey such as elk and bison. Tundra wolves can be found in northern boreal forests. Arctic foxes and fishers are also ferocious hunters found in boreal forests, however; the most ferocious hunter of the boreal forest however is the wolverine. A lone wolverine can bring down a moose or a caribou on its own. Wolverines frequent bogs in the summer and are typically more active in the winter.
Smaller mammals can be found in great numbers living in the boreal forests from the tops of the highest trees to the deepest underground burrows. River otters and beavers inhabit boreal forests of North America, while weasels are commonly found in boreal forests all over the world along the banks of lakes and streams. Lemmings, badgers and voles burrow in the ground or make nests on the forest floor. Bats take flight at twilight and flying squirrels fly from tree to tree in treetop canopies all night long. Rabbits also call the boreal forest home. Brown hares inhabit southern boreal forests while Arctic hares inhabit northern boreal forests near the Arctic Circle. Picas inhabit mountain crevices.
Birds inhabit the boreal forest in great numbers. Common songbirds found in most backyards will inhabit the boreal forest in large numbers in the summer but will choose to migrate south in the fall. Some birds like cedar waxwings and chickadees choose to stay in the forest as year round residents feeding on leftover berries and seeds. Boreal owls are a common nighttime predator of northern boreal forests. Ptarmigans, along with arctic hares and foxes, use camouflage in the winter, changing from their summer brown to winter white when the air turns colder.
Thousands of years ago before the Bering Land Bridge disconnected Eurasia from North America many different species of fauna were allowed to migrate throughout the boreal forests around the world. While there are a few species of fauna that are unique to each different type of forest, most fauna species of boreal forests remains the same throughout the world. These animals thrive in a harsh winter climate that no other animals would dare take on.