Cape Breton Highlands National Park of Canada

Mammals: Our Closest Cousins

A red squirrel nibbles on seeds on the forest floor.
Red squirrels are found in northern Cape Breton but their grey cousins are not. They eat seeds from pinecones but also are quick to take advantage of the local residents' birdfeeders.
© Cape Breton Highlands National Park / D. Algar

Mammals can be found in all three forest regions within Cape Breton Highlands National Park as well as along the coast and in the saltwater next to the park. Most mammals are quite furtive but you're sure to see a red squirrel, snowshoe hare or moose when you visit the park. If you're really lucky you might get to hear the coyotes howling in the night, or see some seals playing in the water off one of the beaches.

Land Mammals: Hiding in the Woods

The mixture of Acadian, Boreal and Taiga land regions in northern Cape Breton offers a wide variety of habitats to both temperate (preferring warmer conditions) and boreal (preferring colder conditions) land mammals. However, natural barriers such as the Canso Strait and the highlands make it difficult for some land animals to move into Cape Breton. This is why there are only about 40 land mammal species on Cape Breton Island, three quarters of the number found on mainland Nova Scotia.

A red fox crouches, sphinx-like, on the gravel shoulder of a road.
Red foxes are common in the park. Visitors sometimes feed them but this is very bad for the foxes! Foxes that are fed lose their natural fear of humans. They may bite. If this happens, the fox inevitably ends up having to be destroyed.
© Cape Breton Highlands National Park / J. Spears

Red fox, black bear, bobcat, white-tailed deer, woodland jumping mouse, meadow jumping mouse and masked shrew are all typical Acadian forest species found in northern Cape Breton. Snowshoe hare, red squirrel, red-backed vole, Canada lynx, American marten and moose are typical boreal species found here. Although moose are listed as a boreal species, they are numerous within Cape Breton Highlands National Park and make use of all three land regions.

Introduced mammals in Cape Breton include the raccoon, coyote and bobcat, which have all moved into Cape Breton on their own since the Canso Causeway was built in 1956. White-tailed deer were introduced to the island by humans in the early 1900s. Disjunct mammals in Cape Breton include the rock vole and Gaspé shrew.

Check out the Checklist of Land Mammals!

Marine Mammals: Playing in the Sea
A small family group of pilot whales swims off the western shore of Cape Breton.
Pods of pilot whales are very commonly seen from the coast during the summer. These small black whales occasionally beach themselves. The reason behind these strandings is still mostly unknown.
© Cape Breton Highlands National Park / A. Corneillier

The most commonly seen marine mammals are the pilot whale, minke whale, white sided dolphin and harbour seal. Pilot whales are especially common along the shore in summer, following schools of squid and mackeral which they eat. White sided dolphins are common off shore in the summer. Humpback whales may occasionally be seen farther off shore in the summer. The threatened harbour porpoise and the fin whale, a species of special concern in Canada, may also sometimes be seen in the waters surrounding the park; the fin whale is usually following schools of herring.

Harbour seals and grey seals can be seen in summer along the east coast; harbour seals come on to the shore often in winter. Harp seals may occasionally be seen in the summer.

Check out the Checklist of Marine Mammals!

A young harp seal has come up on to land in the winter.
Harp seals like this one sometimes come up on shore at the park in the winter, but more commonly the seal you might encounter on land is a harbour seal.
© Cape Breton Highlands National Park / Parks Canada
A male white-tailed deer picks its way through the snow.
White-tailed deer are not as common in northern Cape Breton as they have been in the past.
© Cape Breton Highlands National Park / S. Homer
 
Checklist of Land Mammals in Cape Breton Highlands National Park

ORDER

Family - (Common Name)

Species

Scientific Name

Status in Park

INSECTIVORA

Soricidae - (Shrews)

Masked shrew

Sorex cinereus

Abundant

American water shrew

Sorex palustris

Rare

Gaspé shrew

Sorex gaspensis

Rare

Pygmy shrew

Microsorex thompsoni

Rare

Short-tailed shrew

Blarina brevicauda

Rare

Talpidae - (Moles)

Star-nosed mole

Condylura cristata

Rare

CHIROPTERA

Vespertilionidae - (Bats)

Little brown bat

Myotis lucifugus

Uncommon

Eastern long-eared bat

Myotis keenii

Rare

LAGOMORPHA

Leporidae - (Hares)

Snowshoe hare

Lepus americana

Uncommon to abundant

ARTIODACTYLA

Cervidae - (Deer)

Caribou

Rangifer tarandus

Extirpated

White-tailed deer

Odocoileus virginianus

Uncommon

Moose

Alces alces

Abundant

RODENTIA

Castoridae - (Beaver)

American beaver

Castor canadensis

Rare

Sciuridae - (Squirrels)

Eastern chipmunk

Tamias striatus

Uncommon

Red squirrel

Tamiasciurus hudsonicus

Common

Northern flying squirrel

Glaucomys sabrinus

Uncommon

Muridae - (Rats, Mice and Voles)

Deer mouse

Peromyscus maniculatus

Abundant

Red-backed vole

Clethrionomys gapperi

Abundant

Southern bog lemming

Synaptomys cooperi

Rare

Muskrat

Ondatra zibethicus

Rare

Meadow vole

Microtus pennsylvanicus

Uncommon

Rock vole

Microtus chrotorrhinus

Rare

Norway rat

Rattus norvegicus

Rare - introduced

House mouse

Mus musculus

Rare - introduced

Dipodidae - (Jumping Mice)

Meadow jumping mouse

Zapus hudsonicus

Rare

Woodland jumping mouse

Napaeozapus insignis

Uncommon

CARNIVORA

Canidae - (Dogs)

Coyote

Canis latrans

Common

Timber wolf

Canis lupus

Extirpated

Red fox

Vulpes vulpes

Common

Ursidae - (Bears)

Black bear

Ursus americanus

Common

Procyonidae - (Raccoons and Pandas)

Raccoon

Procyon lotor

Uncommon

Mustelidae - (Weasels)

American marten

Martes americana

Rare

Ermine

Mustela erminea

Uncommon

American mink

Mustela vison

Uncommon

River otter

Lutra canadensis

Rare

Felidae - (Cats)

Canada lynx

Lynx lynx

Uncommon

Bobcat

Lynx rufus

Common

Checklist of Marine Mammals near Cape Breton Highlands National Park

ORDER

Family - (Common Name)

Species

Scientific Name

Status in Park

CETACEA

Monodontidae - (White Whales)

Beluga whale

Delphinapterus leucas

Rare

Delphinidae - (Dolphins and Porpoises)

Atlantic white-sided dolphin

Lagenorhyncus acutus

Common - summer

Pilot whale

Globicephala melaena

Common - summer and fall

Harbour porpoise

Phocoena phocoena

Common - spring to fall

Balaenopteridae - (Rorquals)

Fin whale

Balaenoptera physalus

Common - March and October

Sei whale

Balaenoptera borealis

Occasional visitor

Minke whale

Balaenoptera acutorostrata

Occasional visitor

Humpback whale

Megaptera novaeangliae

Occasional visitor

PINNIPEDIA

Phocidae - (Seals)

Grey seal

Halichoerus grypus

Uncommon - late January to February

Harbour seal

Phoca vitulina

Common

Harp seal

Phoca groenlandica

Rare - January to April