By Julia Pepler
We are back for another installment of our Backyard Species blog series! This week we are going to dive into the fascinating urban terrestrial mammals you may see around your neighbourhood.
There is no question that before Vancouver was developed and urbanized, it was a temperate rainforest oasis with streams full of salmon, bears roaming the forests, and whales off the shore. An interesting outcome of the current COVID-19 outbreak is how some wildlife is returning to areas that would normally have high traffic, like the orca spotting in Indian Arm and eagles soaring over East Van.
Depending on where you live in Metro Vancouver, it is probably unlikely that you will see some larger mammals like bears, wolves, or deer (though our founder Lauren did have a bear stroll past her home a couple of weeks ago) but here are some mammals that you are more likely to see on quiet days in parks or neighbourhoods.
A bear at Lauren Hornor's house caught on camera!
Douglas Squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglasii)
The Douglas Squirrel energetically jumps around trees through less urban parks and coniferous rainforests. It prefers staying close to the ground, and doesn’t venture out during “nasty” weather. The Douglas Squirrel uses both summer and winter nests made from moss, twigs and bark. Their bodies are brownish/red, turning more grey in the winter months, and revealing a black stripe on their sides in the summer months.
- The Douglas Squirrel is the noisiest squirrel, with a huge range of calls that warn other animals of nearby predators or threats.
- While the Douglas Squirrel usually feeds on pine seeds, their diet changes throughout the year to include nuts, acorns, fruits, berries and sometimes even nestlings such as bird eggs.
Eastern Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)
A more common sight in Vancouver, Eastern Grey Squirrels are almost double the size of the Douglas Squirrel, with light grey bellies and grey/brown backs and tails. Despite the name, Grey Squirrels can also be black in colour! Commonly found in Eastern Canada, these squirrels also have thriving populations in Vancouver, Victoria and Calgary. They aren’t picky eaters, and will snack on elm and maple seeds, nuts, acorns, and seed from bird feeders! These adorable rodents are listed as one of the 100 top invasive species in the world, competing for resources with local squirrels, mice, and voles.
- All of the Grey Squirrels in Vancouver can be traced back to 8 original squirrels that were set loose in Stanley Park in 1909.
- A grey squirrel can reach speeds up to 25 km/h, which is incredibly fast for an animal of its size!
- Tree squirrels including the Eastern Grey Squirrel plant thousands of trees per year by forgetting where they hid their nuts.
Image: C Watts/Flickr
Opossum (Didelphis virginiana)
Not native to Vancouver, Opossums migrated from easterly parts of North America such as Virginia. They are furry with naked tails, often found in rural areas, farmlands or less urban areas. They are expert climbers and build nests by carrying leaves in their tails. Opossums are grey in colour, often with white heads and dark black features on the ears or feet. They are omnivores, eating almost anything (snails, fruit, mice, eggs, frogs, etc.). They are the only marsupial species in Canada. Unlike monotreme (egg-laying) or placental mammals, marsupials carry their young in pouches on their stomachs for 2-3 months.
- Opossums are some of the longest living mammals, thought to have existed for roughly 65 million years
- They are non-aggressive, docile, and incredibly clean, constantly grooming themselves earning the nickname of “Nature's Little Sanitation Engineers"
Image: Cody Pope/Wikipedia
Raccoon (Procyon Lotor)
The size of small dogs, Raccoons are furry mammals with bushy tails, grey colouring and a dark stripe over their eyes. They can weigh anywhere from 4-23 pounds and are native to North America. They typically make their dens in trees or caves, but in urban environments can be found in roofs, barns, or beneath decks. They are nocturnal, which means they sleep during the day. These species are anti-social, sometimes becoming aggressive when provoked by humans. They are omnivores, eating a wide range of foods, but are known to get into garbage or compost bins in urban environments.
- Raccoons are the primary carrier of rabies in North America, however, there is only one reported raccoon-to-human death from rabies
- These furry mammals are the face of the “bandit” for their unique colouring, however, the dark stripe on their eyes helps reduce glare for their night vision
- Raccoons have hand-like dexterous front paws with strong sensors that become even more powerful when wet, therefore they often douse their food in water to detect more specific information about what they are about to eat. The sensitivity of their paws is extremely useful when they are feeding in the darkness of night
Image: Roman Fuchs/Wikipedia
Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis)
Striped Skunks have a distinct shiny fur with a white stripe down their backs and tails. They are native to North America and can be found in most of southern Canada year-round. They are known for their powerful odor which they spray when threatened. They have small heads, webbed feet, and short legs which prevent them from running from predators. They live in wooded areas but are known to adapt well to urban areas. Striped Skunks make dens from leaves and branches, but only venture a maximum of 800m from their homes. They store up fat in the summer months and often sleep through the winter, having babies in the spring months.
- The English word “skunk” originates from Algonquian and Iroquoian origin, specifically “seganku” in Abenaki and “scangaresse” in Huron.
- Their oily spray can reach up to 6 metres, and seems to also repulse skunks themselves! We know this because they will not spray in confined spaces or within their dens.
Image: K. Theule/ USFWS/Flickr
Coyotes (Canis latrans)
Coyotes are canine species native to North America. They are smaller than their Grey Wolf relatives, weighing 20-50 pounds. They have narrow, lean bodies with yellow eyes and grey or brown fur and bushy tails. They live in a range of climates all over North America and have adapted to live in more urban environments. They are solitary creatures, marking territory with their urine, and they live nocturnally, hunting during the night. They are not picky eaters and are technically omnivores, however, they generally survive on meat-based diets of rodents, fish, frogs, deer, snakes, fruits, and grass.
- Coyotes can mate with dogs, their offspring are classified as “coydogs”
- They can run 56-69 km/hr when in pursuit of prey
Image: Jitze Couperus/Flickr
Deer mouse (Peromyscus)
These rodents are native to North America and have a total of 53 species. They have bulging black eyes, large ears, and can range from light brown to grey and reddish-brown. They are nocturnal creatures, usually active in the early evening. They live in boreal forests, grasslands, and scrub formations, but have also adapted to urban environments. They are highly social and breed quickly, often producing four litters each year, with roughly 4-6 newborns per litter. Deer mice are omnivores eating almost anything they can find.
- A study in BC of over 200 mice found that 30% were infected with Lyme disease.
- They are accomplished swimmers and climbers, often foraging in shallow waters.
Image: Seney Natural History Association/Wikipedia
If you’re liking these backyard species, be sure to check out our other articles in the backyard series including birds, trees, and pollinators! Explore your local neighbourhood and fill out our Backyard Bingo sheet when you discover nature in your backyard. Download our bingo card and share your results on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter (tag @fraserrivkeeper).
Backyard Species Series
Part 1: Birds Part 2: Trees Part 3: Insect Pollinators Part 4: Wildflowers