Vote for your favourite animal this World Wildlife Day

World Wildlife Day (Logo by CITES Secretariat)

World Wildlife Day (Logo by CITES Secretariat)

February 25, 2015 | by Wendy Ho

There's something coming other than bleak winter weather and hordes of snow. On March 3, global citizens are set to celebrate World Wildlife Day. This is an invitation to get involved with the celebration of wildlife, their intrinsic values and contributions of the beautiful and varied wild fauna and flora to the world.

In honour of World Wildlife Day, we want to hear from you about your favourite Canadian species! The rules are simple: we'll post a series of species profiles in the next few days, and you'll submit your vote (informally) for Canada’s favourite wildlife species. The "winning" species will be announced March 3.

Day 1: Birds of Canada

While the average person may think of the tropical south when it comes to bird paradise, little do many of us know that there are at least 425 bird species that spend at least part of their life cycle in Canada.

Did you know:

  • Arctic terns, which breed in northern Canada, hold the world’s record for longest migration of any bird.
  • Between 1–3 billion birds flock to the boreal forest each summer to nest and breed. This number swells to 3–5 billion once the young have hatched.
  • Most Canadian birds migrate south when their food disappears in winter, but about 100 species tough it out with us and are active in the wild and in urban areas all winter.

Contending for favourite bird category are these three feathered friends:

Burrowing owls (Photo by Don Dabbs)

Burrowing owls (Photo by Don Dabbs)

Burrowing owl

The burrowing owl is an opportunistic dweller. True to their name, these small owls nests in a hole underground on open country rather than above ground typical of many owl species. In Canada, well-grazed pastures with abandoned burrows by mammals such as skunks and prairie dogs make a perfect home. While adults sport long legs, short tails, spotted backs and have barred chests, the juveniles have unstreaked, buffy chests and few spots on the back.

These migratory owls arrive in the prairies in April and new owlets emerge from burrows in late June and early July before migrating to wintering grounds in the southern United States and Mexico in September.

With fewer than 1,000 breeding pairs of this prairie species remaining in Canada, the burrowing owl is listed as endangered. The Canadian Wildlife Service predicts that, unless its declining population trends are reversed, the burrowing owl will be extirpated (locally extinct) within a few decades.

Fast fact: The burrowing owl makes a variety of sounds, including a rattling hiss that resembles a rattlesnake’s tail to ward off predators.

Learn more about burrowing owls and the conservation of habitat for this species on Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) properties >

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco (Photo by Bill Hubick)

Dark-eyed junco (Photo by Bill Hubick)

Dark-eyed juncos are one of the most regularly seen backyard bird species across Canada. This medium-sized sparrow is easily recognizable for its crisp markings of grey and white and a short, stout bill in pink. Juncos forage for food at the base of trees and shrubs. They will often venture into lawns to look for fallen seeds, where many bird watchers delight at their presence beneath bird feeders.

During breeding season, juncos' menu can include insects such as beetles, moths, butterflies, ants and caterpillars.

In Canada, dark-eyed juncos are numerous and widespread and a species of least concern according to IUCN. They can be found in a variety of habitats including forests, open woodlands, fields, roadsides parks and gardens.

Fast fact: Dark-eyed juncos form flocks in the winter, with a hierarchy or pecking order where males are dominant over females and adults over juveniles when it comes to access for food.

Get tips on bird watching in Canada >

Piping plover

Piping plover (Photo by Ian Sadler)

Piping plover (Photo by Ian Sadler)

These small shorebirds are adored by many along the Atlantic coasts and inland beaches and wetlands. They have moderately long, orange legs and a black-tipped, orange bill. Their plumage is a pale tan on the back with white underparts and a black or brown collar. This colouration is great for camouflaging into sandy shores and beaches where they forage for insects and aquatic invertebrates.

From late March to May, plovers settle in their Canadian breeding grounds and nests on sandy or gravel-sand beaches. But due to disturbances by humans, predation and habitat destruction in the last few decades, their populations have plummeted. Piping plovers are were designated as an endangered species under Species at Risk Act in 1945.

Fast fact: The piping plover leaves a distinctive footprint on the beach due to its inward-turned turned inward. Conservationists can use this feature to determine if piping plovers are on site!

Vote for your favourite bird:

Learn more about the plight of piping plovers and what NCC is doing to protect habitat for them >

Wendy Ho (Photo by NCC)

About the Author

Wendy Ho is Nature Conservancy of Canada's editorial coordinator.

Read more about Wendy Ho.

More by this author »