Most people visiting Banff National Park and Jasper National Park want to see wildlife. Our national parks offer such an incredible diversity of wildlife that it is likely that you will see some animals and birds. There are over 53 species of mammals and over 260 species of birds.
Please treat the landscape and its wildlife with respect; stay on established trails to avoid trampling vegetation and always give wildlife plenty of space. Wildlife behaviour is unpredictable, especially when females are with young and males are defending territory during the mating season. If you cause an animal to move - you are too close.
The list below represents the animals that people ask the most about. For more information about other animals and birds visit Parks Canada website.
The grizzly bear is unmistakable because of the large muscular hump on its shoulders. The grizzly's face is dish-shaped, its ears are rounded, its fur is long and thick and it can weigh up to 320 kg. The grizzly's colour varies but is usually light brown with some blond or white hairs. Grizzlies largely eat plants and berries and are most likely to be seen in the spring and early summer when they frequent the valley floor.
Black Bears are not necessarily black, they can be brown, cinnamon, even blond. They have a straight head with longer snout and are typically smaller in stature than a grizzly bear. Black bears diet consists 85% of plants and berries. Like the grizzly they are omnivorous are often seen in spring and early summer in open areas of the montane valley floor.
Woodland Caribou are a species at risk in Jasper National Park. There are no Woodland Caribou in Banff National Park. They are a medium sized member of the deer family, rich brown in colour with white necks. Unlike the great herds of barren-ground caribou to the north, Woodland caribou are usually found in groups of only up to ten to twenty-five animals. Parks Canada is currently determining recovery and translocation strategies to increase populations. Please obey speed limits in key areas of Jasper National Park.
Bighorn sheep are fairly common in both Banff and Jasper National Parks. Bighorns have a sandy coloured coat and a white rump. Rams have massive curved horns while the ewe's horns are short and spiky. Bighorns do not drop their horns annually, they continue to grow and each “ring” marks their age. A ram is defined as "full-curl" when at least one horn has grown through 360 degrees of a circle described by the outer surface of the horn, as viewed from the side. In the fall months, mating competition involves two rams running toward one another, at speeds around 40 mph, and clashing their curled horns, which produces a sound that can be heard a mile away - this season has also been dubbed "headbanger season". They are frequently seen along the Icefields Parkway in various locations and near Tangle Falls.
Mountain goats can be distinguished from bighorn sheep by their white coats, beards, and short black dagger-like horns that are carried by both sexes. Mountain goats are actually not goats, but belong to a family of mountain antelopes. Mountain goats live high on mountain cliffs but they frequent the Kerkeslin Goat Lick which is a rich silt deposit 38 kilometres south of Jasper, Alberta.
Elk (also known as Wapiti) are the most commonly seen ungulate. They are tan-coloured animals with white rump patches and they can seen throughout both Banff and Jasper National Parks, mostly in the townsites. Males, called bulls (or stags), display large antler sets while females, called cows (or hinds) do not have antlers at all. A bull elk at his prime is awesome to see. His wide branching antlers may grow to 1.2m (4') in width and length, and weigh up to 22 kg (48 lb.) He himself may weigh up to 180 - 450 kg (400 - 1000 lb.) Females weigh one third less than bulls and lack antlers. Bulls grow a new set of antlers each spring and then cast them the following winter. Elk need their space and can be very dangerous. The fall rut (mating season) is a time where you need to keep a safe distance of 30 meters or more.
Lynx have a short tail and characteristic tufts of black hair on the tips of their ears; large, padded paws for walking on snow; and long whiskers on the face. Under their neck, they have a ruff which has black bars, is not very visible, and resembles a bow tie. Bobcats are generally smaller than Lynx and have black streaks on the body and dark bars on the forelegs and tail.
The Hoary Marmot is the largest of ground squirrels and lives near the tree line on slopes with grasses and forbs to eat and rocky areas for cover. It is often nicknamed "the whistler" for its high-pitched warning issued to alert other members of the colony to possible danger. The animals are sometimes called "whistle pigs".
You are likely to hear a pika before you see it. These small mammals have short limbs, no tail and large rounded ears. They are native to cold climates and live on rocky mountain sides, where there are numerous crevices in which to shelter. Their high pitched “peep” can be heard when hiking above the treeline.
The white-tailed Ptarmigan, also known as the Snow Quail, is the smallest bird in the grouse family. It is a permanent resident of high altitudes on or above the tree line. During the summer, the ptarmigan is a speckled grayish brown with white underparts, tail and wings. In the fall, the plumage has turned a much more reddish-brown color. By winter all the summer brown feathers are lost and the bird is completely white.