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Elk Island National Park of Canada

Get to Know our Animals and Have a Safe Visit!

Bison

Bison are the largest native terrestrial mammals in North America. In Elk Island the wood bison and plains bison live in separate fenced areas of the park to ensure they don’t interbreed.
Bison are a herding species and are free-roaming throughout the park. The wood bison are located on the south side of Highway 16 and are often seen along the fence line from your vehicle. Walk the Wood Bison Trail located in this area to get a closer look at these mammals in their natural habitat.

Plains bison are located on the north side of Highway 16 and are often seen in the Bison Loop Road area during the spring, summer and fall months. After heavy snowfall the Bison Loop Road becomes closed for the winter and re-opens in spring. Plains bison are also seen throughout many areas of the park; on trails or grazing in the grass off the Elk Island Parkway

CAUTION! YOU ARE IN BISON COUNTRY

Bison are wild animals. Although they may appear docile they are dangerous and unpredictable and may charge without warning. Harassing is unlawful and puts yourself and other visitors in danger of these animals.

Helpful safety tips:

  • Give bison the right of way and stay at least three bus lengths away (100 meters).
  • Stay in your vehicle, drive slowly and do not approach bison on foot along the roadside.
  • During the mating season known as the rut (mid-July to mid-August), bulls are aggressive and may pose extra danger.  
  • If you encounter bison while hiking, don’t try to scare them away and don’t approach them. Make them aware of your presence, and if they don’t move walk slowly around them at a safe distance, always keeping an eye on them. If necessary, return to the trailhead.
  • Always leave bison with room to get away from you. If cornered against a fence or large body of water bison may charge.  
  • Never enter a heard of bison on foot or come between two animals, especially a cow and her calf.
  • Dogs must be kept on a leash at all times while in the park, as they may provoke a bison attack.

Wood Bison (south of Highway 16)
Size: average length 3.9 metres
Average Weight: bull 840kg
Pelage: winter coat is dark brown; little or no chap hair on forelegs. Cape does not form a distinct boundary from the rest of the body.
Head: massive heavy head and longer neck; straight long hair on head, sloping down on forehead, horns extending over hair, small pointed beard
Hump: square shoulder hump; highest point well forward of shoulder
Tail: longer with long hairs
Diet: grasses and sedges


Plains Bison (north of Highway 16)
Size: average length 3.4 metres
Average Weight: bull 730kg
Pelage: winter coat is medium brown; chaps of long hair on forelegs – usually lighter in colour. In summer, cape forms a distinct boundary from the rest of the body.
Head: massive heavy head and short neck; frizzy hair on head
Hump: round shoulder hump; highest point over front legs
Tail: short
Diet: grasses and sedges

For more information on Bison management click here

Elk

Size: second largest member of the deer family at 4 to 5 feet tall
Average Weight: bulls up to 450kg
Pelage: mainly medium brown with cream coloured rump
Head: dark brown throat mane, only males have antlers
Diet: grazer-eats grasses and sedges in the spring and summer; browses on twigs in the winter

There are more than 600 elk in Elk Island National Park. Watch for elk while walking a trail, driving the Parkway, or follow the boundary roads along the fence line of the Park. Elk are much easier to see in the fall and winter months because there is less foliage on the trees camouflaging them and they spend more daylight hours foraging for food. Elk often are in areas with lots of sedges and grasses. In the spring (mid-May to end of June), cow elk can be especially dangerous during calving season. Bull elk are most dangerous during mating season (mid-September to the end of October).

For information on Elk management and transplant history click here

Moose

Size: largest member of deer family at 6 to 7 feet tall
Average Weight: bull 450kg
Pelage: dark brown upperparts fade to grey on legs
Head: long with a humped nose and a belling hanging from the throat. Males have shovel like antlers
Diet: browser – eats twigs in winter and leaves in summer; aquatic plants for salt

Moose are solitary browsers and are often found feeding on leaves and twigs, or aquatic plants for salt. Moose mate during the fall months (late-September to end of October) where bulls call to their mates making a heavy grunting sound and cows call back producing a wail like sound. Look for moose on walking trails or drive the Elk Island Parkway. Like elk, moose are easier seen during fall and winter months due to less foliage on trees. Moose like to hang out in boggy areas and areas with low bushes. In the spring cow moose can be dangerous during calving season. Bull moose are most dangerous during mating season.

Deer

Deer are common in Elk Island National Park. Both the white tailed deer and mule deer are found in the Park and can often be seen grazing in the summer or browsing in the winter near walking trails, the west side of Administration road about .5km in and driving the boundary roads near the fence lines of the Park. Deer are anxious animals and can be wary of humans. Sit down on one of the park benches while on a trail or stop and turn off your vehicle on a roadside pull off, be patient and wait for the deer to come to you. Deer avoid noisy areas and will take refuge in bushes and trees. In the spring, Does (female deer) are protective of their fawn (offspring) and in the fall bucks, (male deer) are often seen chasing does in spirit of the mating season. Learn the differences of the white-tailed deer and mule deer below.


White-tailed Deer
Size: smaller and more solitary than mule deer
Average Weight: buck 90 kg
Pelage: brownish-grey to brownish-red
Head: face has white throat and eye rings. Only males have antlers.
Diet: grazer in the summer; browser in fall and winter (buds and twigs of shrubs and saplings and needles of evergreens)
Mule Deer
Size: larger and stockier than white-tailed deer
Average weight: buck 100 kg
Pelage: brownish-grey during the summer; grey during the winter
Head: dark forehead, tan face, black muzzle, and large prominent ears with black border. Only males have antlers.
Diet: grazer in the spring and summer; browser in the fall and winter (twigs, saplings and shrubs)