THE WILD CANADIAN YEAR’s fourth episode — Winter — reveals stories from the harshest time of year, as Canada’s landscapes are transformed by the cruel and dramatic beauty of snow and ice. For all wild animals, it’s a challenge to adapt to winter’s harsh conditions.
Winter weather creates severe conditions across the country, including one of Canada’s most remote and far-flung islands — a crescent-shaped sliver of land 300 kilometres off the coast of Nova Scotia: Sable Island. Here 400,000 grey seals have come ashore to give birth and mate. The tiny seal pups are born into a world of howling, gale-force winds, blowing sand, and blizzards. Living alongside them are the remarkable wild horses of Sable Island.
Although harsh, winter is also a beautiful season. In the Arctic, the sun sets and will not rise again for months, and the spectacular purple and green dance of the aurora borealis fills the night skies.
Finding food is a challenge at this time of year. In central Saskatchewan, sleek river otters punch through the ice to go hunting in the icy depths; in northern Quebec, barren ground caribou dig through a metres-thick blanket of snow to uncover tiny bits of a dry lichen, and on Prince Edward Island, a red fox relies on her keen sense of hearing to pinpoint the exact location of mice and voles moving beneath the snow and then dive after them nose-first.
While snow does make life harder for some it provides surprising protection for others. Meadow voles live in tunnels they burrow under the snow to escape the cold, and the attention of aerial hunters like grey owls. But there are slender hunters like the short-tailed weasel that can still hunt them through the tunnels of this subnivean world.
One of the more extreme strategies that animals have evolved to deal with severe conditions of winter is hibernation. In the boreal forests of Quebec, a mother black bear slumbers in a large underground chamber buried in many metres of snow. She has given birth to two tiny cubs. Bear mothers give birth to some of the smallest young in relation to their body size of any mammal, and the adorable cubs are barely larger than a squirrel.
Winter is the longest season in Canada. In the north, it lasts for half the year or more. And a few lucky species are supremely adapted to it. In the shadows of the Yukon forest, the elusive Canadian lynx use their huge snowshoe-shaped paws to glide silently across the snow, stealthily manoeuvring through the woods to hunt snowshoe hares — an event never before filmed in the wild. Wolves too thrive in winter. In northern Quebec packs of wolves hunt the barren ground caribou as they struggle to find food in the deep snow of the northern boreal forest.
WATCH 360 VIDEO: 400,000 Grey Seals Crowd Onto Sable Island Beaches Every Winter
Winter introduces an amazing array of animal characters and opens a window onto the most intimate and dramatic moments of their lives. It is the make or break season for most animals — filled with drama, excitement, hardship and wonder. Winter offers a spectacular journey through the season that will take you on a wildlife adventure unlike any other.