Wildlife enthusiasts know that Manitoba is one of the most magical places in the world to visit in the autumn months. And it’s not for the wicked fall foliage. The small town of Churchill is famous by its annual congregation of polar bears.
Churchill, Canada, is known as the polar bear capital of the world and for good reason. Canada has 60% of the world’s polar bears (there are between 25,000-30,000 in the world) and Churchill is the southernmost place to see them and the most accessible. It is one of the few human settlements where polar bears can be observed in the wild. Churchill is a remote town of fewer than 1,000 people and sits on the edge of the Hudson Bay in Canada. There are no roads to Churchill so travelers can only get there via train, plane or boat. What makes Churchill world-famous, of course, is that it lies on the migration path of the polar bears.
These polar bears spend their winters feasting on seals—their favorite food—on the sea ice of the Hudson Bay. When the ice melts, they return to land. In the summer months, visitors come to Churchill to see the beluga whales (as many as 3,000 of them) and can often spot polar bears along the shore. As the temperature drops and the season turns to autumn the bears start to assemble on the shores eager to enter their winter-feeding grounds. October and November are the best time to see the polar bears in Churchill because the first winter ice begins to appear at that time (known as the autumn season).
What makes Churchill so unique is that it’s the intersection of three different eco-zones: arctic marine, subarctic tundra, and boreal forest.
Your best bet in terms of having both a safe and memorable experience in Churchill is to book a polar bear tour with one of the companies in town that takes guest out to bear-watch in the Churchill Wildlife Management Area (CWMA).
Red foxes are one of Canada’s most widespread species. They can be found across the country, except the high Arctic and islands off BC’s coast. Their wide distribution can be attributed to their adaptability to a diverse range of habitat types, including both natural and human environments.
Red foxes are not always red. Other common red fox colors include brown, black and silver. Even foxes that come from the same litter can be different colors. Red foxes mainly dine on small mammals, including voles, mice, lemmings, squirrels, hares and rabbits, but they also eat plants and bird eggs.
As one of the smallest mammals to stay above ground during the chilly winter months, the arctic fox is a resilient, adaptable creature that also happens to be fairly adorable and photogenic. Growing to the rough size of a house cat, the arctic fox spends its time hunting lemmings, living a communal, nomadic life.
The Arctic fox is both a hunter and a scavenger. To find prey during the winter, it uses its strong senses of hearing and smell to detect small animals that are active underneath the snow. Its prey consists of rodents, birds and fish – it will even eat vegetables if they are available.
The silver fox is a melanistic form of the red fox. Silver foxes display a great deal of pelt variation. Some are completely glossy black except for a white coloration on the tip of the tail, giving them a somewhat silvery appearance.
With regal white feathers and gorgeous yellow eyes, the snowy owl is a popular photography subject, especially by birders who flock north to see this large owl. Numbers tend to vary widely each year, but owls tend to hang around during prime polar bear season (October and November).
The willow ptarmigan – aka the snow chicken – is often noticed and adored for one of its cuter features, furry feet that insulate for warmth. Although it is the largest of its genus, make no mistake, the willow ptarmigan is still prey and must adapt accordingly. The bird’s feathers change color depending on the season, camouflaging expertly into snow banks in the winter months and bush/rock in the summer months.