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Close-up of a large black bird flying over a blue sky, with food in its beak.

The Land

Raven in flight

Fauna

Row of geese resting, floating on a lake. They are almost all in profile and face each other, like a mirror effect.

Canada Goose (Nirliq)
Branta canadensis

Length: 55 - 100 cm
Wingspan: 120 - 185 cm
Weight: 1.6 - 5 kg

The largest goose in the Arctic. The plumage of the Canada goose is identical in both sexes. During the summer moulting period, which last for five to six weeks, the bird is incapable of flying. The goose spends this time near bodies of water that offer easy access to protein-rich resources and provide refuge in case a threat arises.

Nests are usually located near a marsh or on wet tundra, preferably on small hummocks, where the goose can remain dry and keep a lookout for predators. Sometimes a couple choose a small natural depression in the ground as a base for their nest, which is encircled by a ridge of sedge, grass and moss that the female gathers around her as she sits in the middle. She then lines the nest with down. Canada geese generally use the same nesting spot every year. In spring and summer, geese eat the leaves of grasses, as well as flowers, stems, roots, seeds and berries. They reach sexual maturity at the age of two or three and remain faithful to one partner throughout their lives. The female lays 3 to 8 eggs and incubates them for a period of 25 to 28 days.


Close-up of a large black bird flying over a blue sky, with food in its beak.

Common Raven (Tulugaq)
Corvus corax

Length: 55 - 70 cm
Wingspan: 120 - 150 cm
Poids : 1 - 1.4 kg

The largest member of the Corvidae family in North America. The common raven has a strong, slightly curved beak, black plumage with purplish highlights and a long tail that opens in a fan shape when the bird is in full flight. Omnivorous and opportunistic, the raven makes use of every food source available. It eats carrion, hunts for small rodents and steals eggs from other birds’ nests. Berries and fruit round out this diet.

Ravens nest in habitats as varied as treetops, sea cliffs and piles of rocks. Couples are formed at about three years of age and generally remain faithful to each other for life. The nest is built of branches and stems held together with a layer of roots and mud. The inside is lined with a soft insulating material, such as mammal fur. The female lays 3 to 7 eggs and sits on them for 18 to 21 days. The raven’s brain is bigger than that of most other birds. Its intuition, curiosity and problem-solving abilities make it a very intelligent animal that is capable of adapting to the most hostile environments.


Profile of a bird standing on the ground, with thick plumage, white lower body, a brown head and a  white beak.

Rock Ptarmigan (Aqiggiq)
Lagopus mutus

Length: 30 - 35 cm
Wingspan: 50 - 60 cm
Weight: 300 - 600 g

A circumpolar species. One of the peculiar features displayed by the rock ptarmigan is its plumage, which changes from immaculate white in winter to speckled browns and greys in summer, although white traces remain on its abdomen and wings. This adaptive camouflage plays an essential role in protecting the bird from its predators, which include the arctic fox, the wolf and the common raven. Ptarmigans are almost exclusively vegetarians, eating catkins, buds, seeds and twigs. Newly hatched chicks, however, live principally on an insect diet for the first days of their existence.

The nest is built by both the mother and father birds. It consists of a space on the ground that the birds have scratched bare and covered with a thin layer of plant material and feathers from the mother’s breast. A female becomes sexually active at the age of one. She lays 5 to 8 eggs and incubates them for 10 to 15 days. In winter, rock ptarmigans seek shelter under the snow in hollows that they make by diving into snowbanks from the air. This ensures that there are no tracks for a predator to follow on the surface.


Profile of a young caribou, grazing in the summer tundra in the morning.

Caribou (Tuktu)
Rangifer tarandus

Length (head and body): 1.70 - 2.20 m
Length (tail): 10-20 cm
Height (at shoulder): 80 - 120 cm
Weight: 60 - 150 kg

Circumpolar species. Caribou are the most plentiful hoofed mammal (ungulate) in the Arctic. Unlike other members of the deer family, both males and females normally bear antlers.

Every year in Nunavik, nearly a million caribou, divided in two main herds, undertake their migration from the south to the north, where the females bring their young into the world. Becoming sexually active at the age of two, the cows give birth to a calf each summer. The newborn animals are able to walk a few hours after they are born. At the end of the summer, the herds return to the south for the rutting season. During this migration, certain individuals may be separated from the herd, and this means that the species is more widely dispersed across the land.

Caribou are herbivores. In summer, they live on protein-rich tundra vegetation and lichens, such as reindeer lichen. In winter, they are at the mercy of freeze-thaw cycles and must scrape off the ice and snow to reach underlying lichens, which they find through their sense of smell. They supplement this diet by eating the velvet that covered their antlers as they grew. This velvet, which is full of minerals, promotes the development of new antlers. Caribou antlers fall off and are regrown every year.


View of a large animal with thick fur and pointed horns, grazing in a clump of low vegetation.

Musk Ox (Umimmaq)
Ovibos moschatus

Length (head and body: 1.80 - 2.50 m
Length (tail): 10 - 12 cm
Height (at shoulder): 90 - 160 cm
Weight: 220 - 400 kg, up to 600 kg for males

Found throughout the Canadian Arctic tundra. The muskox is protected from cold by its mantle of fur, which consists of a fleecy undercoat covered with long guard hairs that are renewed each year. Both males and females have fearsome horns with which they can gore their predators, the most dangerous of which is the wolf. When threatened, the adults form a circle around their young to confront their attackers.

The muskox’s diet is made up of herbaceous plants and tundra vegetation such as willow. In winter, it eats lichen, twigs and exposed grasses. Like the caribou, muskoxen must deal with freeze-thaw cycles that make it difficult to obtain the resources they need.

Depending on the availability of resources and the presence of predators, herds can vary in size. Although they sometimes reach a maximum of 50 animals, the group more generally numbers 5 to 12. Small herds consist of a dominant male with a harem of females and their young. The female becomes sexually active at the age of three and normally gives birth to a single calf every two years. The baby muskox is very precocious and drinks milk from its mother within minutes of being born. The females suckle their young for a period of 15 to 18 months, for the availability of its mother’s milk is crucial to a juvenile surviving its first winter.


View of a white bear, walking on snow and lit by a setting sun.

Polar Bear (Nanuq)
Ursus maritimus

Length (head and body: 1.90 - 2.40 m (male) 1.70 - 2.00 m (female)
Length (tail): 8 - 10 cm
Height (at shoulder): 120 - 150 cm
Weight: 350 - 650 kg (male, can reach 800 kg), 150 - 300 kg (female)

The largest land mammal. The polar bear is protected from the harshest cold by its fur, along with its reserves of fat and its black skin, which absorbs the sun’s rays. To avoid becoming too warm, the bear usually adopts an ambling gait, although nothing prevents it from running for over two kilometres if need be. It is an excellent swimmer. In water, the bear’s huge paws, which act like snowshoes on snow, are used like palms, and it can remain submerged for more than a minute.

The polar bear’s diet consists mainly of seals, with the occasional walrus or beluga. It can catch the scent of a seal’s breathing hole at a distance of one kilometre and spends most of the winter on pack ice, which is the seal’s habitat. The bear is not an exclusive carnivore, since it dives to feed on kelp. In summer, it is obliged to live on dry land, where it eats berries, grasses and sedges, as well as small mammals like lemmings.

Males and females reach sexual maturity at the age of four or five. Mating takes place in April or May, but the fertilized egg is not implanted in the female’s uterus until September or October. The female digs a birth den in a snowbank and spends the winter there in a state of dormancy. After an actual gestation period of 60 days, as many as three cubs are born. The cubs, weighing only 600 g at birth, open their eyes at 25 days. They are nourished by the mother bear’s milk, which has a very high fat content. The female loses up to 50% of her weight as she suckles her cubs over the winter. The mother and cubs emerge from the den between mid-February and mid-April. The young ones stay with their mother for 30 months, which means that females do not reproduce for another two or three years.


Beluga surfacing in the water. The animal is completely white, and it looks at the camera.

Beluga (Qilalugaq)
Delphinapterus leucas

Length: 3 - 5 m
Weight: 500 - 1 500 kg

One of three whales living year-round in the Arctic. The beluga is born with a grey or brown coat that becomes white when the animal is about six years old. Instead of the dorsal fin that other whales have, the beluga has a dorsal ridge. The absence of a fin may be an adaptation to the environment, since it allows the animal to feed in water directly under pack ice or sharp rocky ledges. In contrast to most other members of the Cetacean family, the beluga’s neck vertebrae are not fused, enabling it to turn its head in any direction. Each jaw has 16 to 22 teeth. The beluga swims at speeds ranging from 5 to 15 km/h and takes an average of 2 or 3 breaths a minute.

Belugas are very social animals and live in pods of 5 to 20 individuals. When resources are plentiful or during migrations, these pods sometimes meet up to form huge communities numbering as many as 10 000 belugas. They communicate with a series of whistles, squeals and trilling sounds, as well as using high-pitched clicks for echolocation.

In winter, belugas stay in polynyas (ice-free patches of sea) or at the edge of pack ice. In summer, they migrate to coastal waters, the open sea and the mouths of rivers, where the warmth, lower salinity and rough surface of the riverbed facilitate the beluga’s annual moult.

The beluga’s diet consists of fish (including cod, salmon and arctic char), cephalopods, crustaceans and marine worms. It seeks this food by diving to depths of up to 800 m.

Belugas are polygamous and mate in April and May. Females are sexually mature between the ages of four and seven, while males reach sexual maturity between eight and nine. A single calf is born following a gestation period of 14 months. Weighing 35 to 85 kg and measuring 1.5 m at birth, the young beluga is nursed by its mother for 18 months. Females give birth every three years between June and August.


Seal swimming in profile on the surface of the water. It is dark in color and its fins can be seen beneath the surface.

Ringed Seal (Natsiq)
Pusa hispida

Length: 1.3 - 1.7 m
Weight: 45 - 110 kg

Circumpolar species. The ringed seal represents the largest mammal population in the Arctic. It gets its name from the pale grey ring-like patterns on its dark grey or brown dorsal pelage. The seal’s flippers, which help it change direction in the water, are equipped with long claws. Seals use these claws, as well as their teeth, to make breathing holes in the ice. The young are called white coats because of their colour at birth. When they are eight weeks old, they moult and their backs become silver-grey. Adult fur colour comes at the age of one.

The ringed seal’s diet consists mainly of fish and crustaceans. The animals generally maintain several breathing holes to reduce the risk of lacking air or being caught by a predator. A seal can remain under water for up to 20 minutes, although normal dive times are 4 to 8 minutes long. It is able to descend to a depth of 40 m and has been known to go down as far as 90 m.

The ringed seal reaches sexual maturity at seven years. After mating, the male has nothing to do with raising its offspring. The female digs a den in the surface of the pack ice and stays there to give birth. A white coat weighs 4.5 kg and measures 65 cm when it is born. It is suckled for 5 to 7 weeks, by which time it weighs 10 to 12 kg. During this period, the female digs out additional tunnels to avoid predation by polar bears, which can smell an animal under the snow and then try to catch its prey by crushing the den roof with its weight.

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