10 Animals That Live In Coniferous Forests

By Krista Conrad on June 10 2020 in Environment

Two elk calves emerge from the forest and drink from a forest lake in Banff National Park, Alberta. Image credit: Chase Dekker/Shutterstock.com
Two elk calves emerge from the forest and drink from a forest lake in Banff National Park, Alberta. Image credit: Chase Dekker/Shutterstock.com
  • The boreal forest represents 29% of the world's forest.
  • The largest area of wetlands in any ecosystem of the world is found in the Canadian boreal region with more lakes and rivers than anywhere else.
  • Boreal forests are home to 85 species of mammals, 130 species of fish, 32,000 species of insects, and 300 species of birds.

Coniferous forest ecosystems are the largest terrestrial biomes on earth and home to a wide variety of animals and plants. The forest includes a collection of evergreen and cone-bearing trees with temperate climate including plenty of precipitation, whether in the form of rain or snow. Trees found in the coniferous biome include hemlocks, pines, cedars, redwoods, fir, spruce, and cypress, and they tend to have long lifespans, some for thousands of years.

Many animals make their home in coniferous forests, some of which have thick fur to insulate them againsts frigid winters, while others hibernate to endure the cold and some migrate to warmer temperatures. A variety of mammals and invertebrates, from wolves and bears to large cats, moose, elk, porcupines, deer, squirrels, birds, insects, and snakes are all known to reside in coniferous forest zones.

These are a few of the most prominent animals found in coniferous forests around the world.

10. Owls

A great gray owl. Image credit: Holger Kirk/Shutterstock.com
A great gray owl. Image credit: Holger Kirk/Shutterstock.com

A variety of owl species nest in coniferous forests. The great grey owl is one of the largest species in the world and is found in the Northern Hemisphere. With its large round heard, grey face and feathers, and yellow eyes framed by dark circles, the great grey owl is distinct among its aviary counterparts.

Though it is only half as heavy as a snowy owl, the great grey owl gets its reputation for a large stature from its 60-inch wingspan, it's long tail, and large facial disc. They have a fierce appetite for rodents and will hunt for and eat up to one-third of its body weight each day.

The great grey owl is largely nocturnal, but may be seen at dusk and dawn, and will be found hunting during daylight hours in breeding season.

Coniferous forests are also inhabited by the long-eared owl, also a common species in teh Northern Hemisphere. Long-eared owls are found through Europe and North America, and some migrate to Asia to escape harsh winters. It's trademark "ears" are actually tufts of feathers located above its head, giving the owl its unique look and helping the medium-sized bird to appear larger than it is.

The northern spotted owl can also be found in coniferous forest regions of western North America. These birds require a large amount of land for hunting and nesting.

After years of being disturbed by logging the population of the spotted owl dwindled and it was designated as an endangered species. They are now an indicator species, meaning their presence in a forest is a sign of a healthy ecosystem.

9. Grizzly Bear

Grizzly bear growling on snowy cliff. Image credit: Scott E Read/Shutterstock.com
Grizzly bear growling on snowy cliff. Image credit: Scott E Read/Shutterstock.com

Like the spotted owl, grizzly bears - one of the fiercest animals in North America - have been declared a threatened species in the lower 48 states in America and endangered in Canada.

Grizzly bears boast broad heads, extended jaws, large paws and powerful claws, making the bear capable of carrying large animals like full-grown cattle. They eat insects like ants or bees, seeds, roots, nuts, berries, and salmon - in fact, the grizzly is famous for its fishing capabilities.

Prior to western immigration and settlement, it was estimated about 100,000 grizzly bears lived in North America, but by the 1990s that number had been reduced to fewer than 1,000, and most of those were living in preserves such as Yellowstone National Park. They are also found in Canada, in British Columbia, Alberta, the Yukon, and the Northwest Territories.

The main threat to the grizzly bear's status is destruction of its habitat. The animals, which can grow to between 500 to 1,000 pounds, require large spaces to roam and huge amounts of food.

8. Wolverine

Wolverine running in a forest landscape. Image credit: Erik Mandre/Shutterstock.com
Wolverine running in a forest landscape. Image credit: Erik Mandre/Shutterstock.com

Wolverines are reminiscent of a blend of a dog, skunk, and bear, with short legs, long hair, and an elongated snout. They wear a distinctive mask of dark fur around the eyes and forehead, with a stripe of blond or ivory fur down its back from shoulder to tail. As the largest member of the weasel family, wolverines grow to about four feet long and weigh up to 40 pounds and are capable of killing and eating an entire deer.

These weasels are omnivores and tend to hunt caribou, moose, deer, and mountain goats, as well as smaller animals like squirrels and rodents, birds eggs, and berries. Their preference is for meat, and wolverines will travel up to 15 miles in a 24-hour period to find prey, or to feast on the remnants of a dead animal.

Their keen sense of smell allows the solitary animals to hunt in all times of year, and wolverines can smell prey up to 20 feet under snow cover. They will dig unto burrows and kill hibernating animals during winter months.

7. Wolves

A wolf in a coniferous forest. Image credit: Ortlemma/Shutterstock.com
A wolf in a coniferous forest. Image credit: Ortlemma/Shutterstock.com

Several species of wolf live in coniferous forests. The Eurasian wolf is a carnivorous subspecies found across Europe and Asia. While its population has diminished at different points in history, conservation efforts in its home countries have ensured the animals can thrive and its numbers are believed to be stable. Eurasian wolves form large packs but are often solo hunters.

Tundra wolves are one of  the largest subspecies, found in Eurasia from Finland to Kamchatka Peninsula. The tundra wolf, which lives in packs of up to 20 animals, possesses a territory more than 1,000 square miles because its prey is scarce. The wolf is under threat and hunted for its fur.

The gray wolf, or timber wolf, lives in many different environments but is often found in coniferous forest regions. They are three feet tall and can grow to between three and five feet in length. Its long hair helps repel moisture from the air, keeping the wolf warm and insulated during cooler months.

At the top of the food chain, the timber wolf has no natural enemies and enjoys a stable population in Canada and Alaska, though they are considered an endangered species in most of North America.

6. Red Fox

A red fox in a forest. Image credit: Ondrej Prosicky/Shutterstock.com
A red fox in a forest. Image credit: Ondrej Prosicky/Shutterstock.com

The red fox is nocturnal, hunting at night for rodents, rabbits, birds, and other samll game. The fox is not picky and will adjust its diet to accommodate its habitat, also eating fruit, vegetables, fish, frogs, worms and - when living among humans - even garbage and pet food. This adaptability and resourcefulness has earned the red fox a reputation as a cunning and intelligent animal.

Red foxes are considered nuisances and are often shot because they kill farm animals or carry rabies, and they are sometimes hunted for sport, but their population remains stable.

5. Squirrels

A grey squirrel sits on a spruce branch in a coniferous forest in winter. Image credit: Golubka57/Shutterstock.com
A grey squirrel sits on a spruce branch in a coniferous forest in winter. Image credit: Golubka57/Shutterstock.com

Many types of squirrel are found in the trees of a coniferous forest, including Abert's squirrels, which typically live in the Rocky Mountains from Arizona to Mexico. They are a dirunal animals, active before sunrise and returning to the nest at sunset, with jaunts out of the nest to forage through the day. They prefer ponderosa pine trees for nesting and while they are not territorial, the animals remain solitary through the summer months.

The Douglas squirrel is also a solitary animal found in coniferous forests, which prefers to take up abandoned nests left behind by woodpeckers or other birds. Like the Abert's squirrel they are diurnal; however, Douglas squirrels are territorial and will sound a loud, alarming call to ward off other animals.

4. Bobcat

A Young Bobcat in Montana. Image credit: Dee Carpenter Originals/Shutterstock.com
A Young Bobcat in Montana. Image credit: Dee Carpenter Originals/Shutterstock.com

As North America's most common wildcat, the bobcat is aptly named for its short, bobbed tail. The medium-sized cat is similar to, but smaller than, a lynx and sports a coat that ranges in shades of brown or beige, with spots or lines in black or dark brown. Bobcats live in the forest regions from British Columbia eastward to Nova Scotia in southern Canada, and southwards through most of the United States to central Mexico. They have been reported in every US state except Delaware.

A nocturnal animal, the bobcat is a nocturnal hunter, finding most of its prey during dawn and dusk. The cats mainly eat snowshoe hares in the north and cottontail rabbits in the south, as well as rodents, birds, and bats. Males are also known to hunt deer and other larger animals when smaller prey is scarce.

3. Bald Eagle

Majestic bald eagle sitting on a pine tree on a sunny autumn day. Image credit: Flystock/Shutterstock.com
Majestic bald eagle sitting on a pine tree on a sunny autumn day. Image credit: Flystock/Shutterstock.com

Known as the symbol of America, the blad eagle is one of the few omnivorous birds in the coniferous forest, living off of berries, buts, worms, and small rodents or fish. They typically nest in forested areas found next to large bodies of water and stay away from heavily-developed regions.

The bald eagle is tolerant of human activity and has adapted to take advantage of some development, congregating near fish-processing plants, dumps, and below dams where fish are found in high populations.

Their preferred perch is in tall, mature trees offering a wide view and easy flight access. The bald eagle is a powerful flier, capable of soaring over long distances.

Numbers of the bald eagle are considered a success of conservation efforts, increasing from 1966 to 2015. The bird was listed for protection as an endangered species in 1978 and since 1980, human behavior - including the banning of its highest pesticide threat, DDT - has allowed the bird's population to grow. By 2007, the recovery prompted the eagle's removal from the endangered species list.

2. Moose

Woodland caribou walking near lake water. Image credit: Studio Light and Shade/Shutterstock.com
Woodland caribou walking near lake water. Image credit: Studio Light and Shade/Shutterstock.com

An iconic animal of northwestern regions of North America, the moose is commonly found in confierous forest areas. Moose are the largest members of the deer family and one of the largest land mammals on the continent, standing as tall as 7.5 feet with an average weight of nearly 1,000 pounds.

The antlers of the male Alaskan moose are the largest of any animal in the deer family with a span of up to 6.5 feet from tip to tip. The antlers are shed in the fall and early winter, at the end of breeding, and in the spring male moose will grow a new set of antlers, typically bigger than the previous year. A moose's antlers are used for protection and fighting either in defence or during the rut, when bulls will fight over mating rights. Sometimes the antlers of two males may become locked and the pair will starve to death, as they are unable to forage or drink water.

Most moose are herbivores, favoring twigs, bark, roots, and the shoots of woody plants, and they tend to prefer willows and aspens. During summer, moose will feed on aquatic plants like water lilies, pondweed, horsetails, and bladdworts.

1. Black Bear

Huge black bear stands on the lake near the Bighorn Highway in the Canadian Rockies. Image credit: Kavram/Shutterstock.com
Huge black bear stands on the lake near the Bighorn Highway in the Canadian Rockies. Image credit: Kavram/Shutterstock.com

The black bear, an omnivore, lives in the coniferous forest and is known as the smallest and most widely-distributed bear species in North America. Like the grizzly, the black bear feasts mainly on berries and salmon through the summer in order to sustain its hibernation, and though it lives in a forested area the bear will sometimes leave its habitat in search of food. Interactions with humans are common as the black bear will be attracted to immediate sources of food found in garbage cans or camping areas.

Black bears are considered a least-concern species due to their large, widespread population, which is estimated to be twice that of all other bear species combined. It is one of two species not considered threatened with extinction or endangered, along with the brown bear.

Depending on winter conditions, black bears generally hibernate for three to eight months. Sometimes the bears will hibernate for weeks at a time, waking to forage and then settling back into their dens, especially where winter is mild.

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