Some animals are famous for their migratory patterns. The dark-eyed junco is so associated with its annual trek from Canada’s North to the American South that most people just call it the ‘snowbird’.
But there are scores of other species who move across the continent into Canada as the weather warms.
Leatherback Sea Turtles
After spending the winter laying their eggs on the beaches of Trinidad and Tobago, scores of leatherback turtles trek northward every spring, following North America’s continental shelf. They end up in the waters off of Cape Breton, where they’ll spend the summer gorging on jellyfish.
While fishermen had reported seeing the turtles for decades, their presence was only confirmed by scientists in the 1990s. The water around Cape Breton is full of jellyfish, which is great for leatherbacks. The turtles only eat jellyfish, and since a jellyfish is 95 percent water, they have to eat a lot of them. A leatherback can weigh up to 400 kilograms and can easily eat their weight in jellies every day.
See the full doc: Trek of the Titans
American White Pelicans
Every April, right after the ice melts, hundreds of American White Pelicans make the journey from the Southern U.S. and Mexico to Saskatchewan’s Last Mountain Lake Bird Sanctuary. Once the birds arrive, they get busy meeting their new mates. They have roughly a week to show off their bright white mating plumage, pair off and breed. Then, they’ll spend another month incubating their eggs, and 80 days taking care of their chicks until they’re big enough to fly.
This sanctuary is located on an island in the middle of Last Mountain Lake, roughly 40 km northwest of Regina. Free of foxes and other predators, it is an ideal, safe place for the birds to hatch their chicks.
See the full doc: The Wild Canadian Year: Spring
The mola mola, or ocean sunfish, is the largest bony fish in the world. These slow moving tanks of the sea can weigh up to 2,000 kgs and are can be as large as a pick-up truck. Every summer, they leave their southerly home and head north with the warm water currents up to the coast of British Columbia. The mola mola are covered in parasites, which provide a feast for gulls, who pluck them off the mola’s skin when it sits just underneath the surface of the water to bask in the sunlight.
See the full doc: The Wild Canadian Year: Summer
The monarch butterfly’s annual trip from Mexico to Canada is nothing short of epic.
It will take anywhere from three to five generations for a butterfly family to make the trip north, depending on the temperature and how long each individual insect lives. That’s because most monarchs only live for two-to-six weeks.
The long migration back to Mexico is only made by a “super generation” of butterflies. They’ll fly nearly 5,000 km and live for eight months. Once they arrive, they’ll hibernate for the winter, and then lay eggs before dying in the early spring, starting the cycle over again.
The typical late summer temperature in Southern Canada and the Northern United States is ideal for butterfly reproduction, and milkweed—the plant they both feed off of and lay their eggs on—is plentiful. Unlike some butterflies, monarchs can’t survive the winter in Northern climates, even in hibernation.
See the full doc: The Great Butterfly Hunt
Every summer, millions of Semipalmated Sandpipers flock from their Arctic breeding grounds to New Brunswick’s Bay of Fundy. This is more than 75% of the world’s Semipalmated Sandpiper population. They arrive to fuel up on tiny mud shrimp before making a 4,800 km non-stop flight to their wintering grounds in South America. The birds’ arrival coincides with the time of year when the shrimp’s young are reaching maturity, and when the shrimp’s favourite food—single-celled plants called diatoms—is most plentiful. All that adds up to an all you-can-eat buffet for sandpipers. Twice a day, during low tide, the birds cram into the strip of newly exposed, muddy shoreline and eat up to 20,000 of the tiny crustaceans in a single feeding session.
But the small birds can be both predator and prey. While sandpipers are getting their fill of shrimp, peregrine falcons sometimes swoop in and snatch a straggler for its own meal.
See the full doc: The Wild Canadian Year: Fall