A large caribou herd walking along a snow-covered ridge in a forest., Susan C. Morse
A large caribou herd walking along a snow-covered ridge in a forest. © Susan C. Morse

Wildlife migration connects our world


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Daniel Kraus
Director of National Conservation

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Bats Biodiversity Boreal birds Caribou Freshwater fish Whales and seals

Published

2024-06-03

On a planet that is rapidly losing nature, Canada is one of a dwindling number of countries where you can still witness wildlife spectacles.

  • Over 500 species migrate to Canada during their lifetime.
  • Nearly one quarter of migratory animals in Canada are at some level of risk, according to a new WCS Canada report

The long days of a Canadian summer bring a few fleeting months where we have up to double the amount of daylight compared to southern tropical forests. This abundance of sunlight pushes photosynthesis into overdrive, creating a biological bounty that beckons billions of birds, butterflies, fishes, and other wildlife to the northern hemisphere.

Over 500 species migrate to Canada during their lifetime. While some such as swallows and salmon are well known, the migration of bats and insects are still shrouded in mystery that scientists are trying to understand. But the great spectacle of wildlife migration is at risk, and in many places disappearing before our eyes.

Moving across a planet that is increasingly dominated by people makes migration a risky strategy. Places that have been used to breed, rest, and stay for the winter for thousands of years are disappearing, and we’ve created a gauntlet of new threats that migrating wildlife needs to navigate. The inaugural State of the World’s Migratory Species report released in 2024 identified that 20% of the planet’s migratory animals face extinction threats.

Nearly 25% of Canada's migratory species are at risk

Perhaps surprisingly, the picture of Canada’s migratory species may be even worse. A recent evaluation by the Wildlife Conservation Society Canada based on data from Canada’s General Status Report and NatureServe Canada highlighted that nearly one quarter of the 577 migratory animals found in Canada are at some level of risk.Most of Canada’s migratory species are birds because, well, they can fly. It’s been estimated that each spring up to 3 billion birds arrive from the United States, Mexico, South and Central America, and beyond to raise the next generation in Canada. Some of these winter with Canadian snowbirds in places like Florida and North Carolina, and it’s a short trip. Other like the Bobolink and Arctic Tern, migrate thousands of kilometers each year.

Migration routes of Canadian species around the world, WCS Canada
Migration routes of Canadian species around the world © WCS Canada

International migrations aren’t just for the birds

While you might be familiar with the migration of the Monarch butterfly to Mexico, other insects such as Red Admiral (a butterfly) and Black Saddlebags (a dragonfly) also leave Canada for the winter. Other migrants on the wing include bats, such as Hoary Bat, Silver-haired Bat and Eastern Red Bat. Just like birds, bats are facing an increasing barrage of threats including habitat loss, and all of Canadas migratory bats are now at some level of risk.

Migrations also happens through waters and lands. Two dozen species of whales and seals include Canada on their annual itinerary. Many fishes including the American Eel live in oceans and freshwater.

Canada also has some last great migrations of land animals left on Earth, including the Porcupine Caribou herd with an annual roundtrip migration of over 4000 km between Yukon and Alaska.

Canada has more work to do for migratory species

Canada has a long history of working with other countries protect migratory species, dating back to the North Pacific Fur Seal Convention (1911) and Migratory Bird Treaty (1916), but our evaluation highlights there’s more we need to do. Identifying Key Biodiversity Areas across the country for migratory ‘hotspots’ of wildlife will help to pinpoint where conservation actions are needed in Canada’s upcoming 2030 Nature Strategy. The recent announcement by the federal government to support migratory bird conservation in the Caribbean and Latin America will help to protect our wildlife spectacles. From better siting of wind turbines to avoid key migratory areas to creating bird-friendly cities and homes, the actions needed to protect migratory wildlife and known and waiting for us to act.

Canada is part of the some of the largest and longest animal migrations left on our planet. Many of these species are critical cultural keystone species for Indigenous People and are important for local tourism. There are still places where you can witness the spectacle of tens of thousands of caribou, shorebirds, or salmon. Annual spectacles of wildlife connect us all to the diversity and wonder of life on Earth. The decisions we make on the fate of migratory animals in Canada matters to Canadians and to the world.

Birds, birds, and more birds: A migration moment like no other

Birds, birds, and more birds: A migration moment like no other

It’s our fourth week monitoring spring migration in Yukon’s Tintina Trench.
Hilary Cooke

At-risk bats in race against speedway for existence

At-risk bats in race against speedway for existence

The Rosebud River valley is a sensitive riparian habitat for bats that will be affected by a proposed motorsport track.
Susan Holroyd, Cory Olson

Comments on potential SARA listing of three migratory bats

Comments on potential SARA listing of three migratory bats

WCS Canada comments on the addition of three migratory bats -- Eastern Red Bat, Hoary Bat, and Silver-haired Bat -- to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk (Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act), as Endangered.