No other national park in Canada protects so much wildlife within such a small area. In just 505 sq. kilometres (195 sq. miles), Waterton has over 250 species of birds, more than 60 species of mammals, 24 species of fish, ten species of reptiles and amphibians, as well as thousands of species of insects, arthropods and other invertebrates.
This diversity partly results from the overlap of habitats found in the park - the meeting places between the mountains and the prairie. Like plants, animals are affected by environmental influences such as landforms , climate and the availability of food and water.
The Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park is one of the few places in North America where all native carnivores survive. Large predators, like wolves , cougars and wolverines indicate healthy landscapes with abundant prey, intact habitats and tolerant people. Grizzly and black bears forage amid greenery along streams and avalanche slopes, or fatten on wild berries found throughout the park and its surrounding region. The Southwest Alberta Grizzly Strategy is one such innovative initiative.
Many of the ungulates, moose, elk, mule and white-tailed deer, bison, big horn sheep and mountain goats, offer park visitors some of the best opportunity for wildlife viewing throughout the park. The grasslands, particularly on the Blakiston fan , provide important winter range for mule and white-tailed deer, bison and elk.
Small mammals can be found throughout the park, from the many Columbian ground squirrels digging the grasslands to the pika scurrying across talus slopes and the common little brown bats chasing insects in summer's fading evening light.
There are not many species of herptiles (reptiles and amphibians) in the park, but they are no less important than the larger, more visible fauna. They provide interesting stories, none more compelling than the drama of the long-toed salamander that began along a dark road on a warm, wet night.
Birds are everywhere, from low to high elevation, from the fall migrating geese and swans on the Maskinonge to the small rosy finches, singing high on mountain ridges. They are all of interest to birdwatchers who participate in the bird counts held each year.
The park's living waters provide prime habitat for a variety of animals which are found in, beside and flying over the water. This includes tiny invertebrates like water boatmen and water striders; fish like lake trout and pike; wading, swimming and flying birds like spotted sandpipers, great blue herons and ospreys; and larger mammals like muskrats and beavers. The cool streams and rivers also harbour the provincial fish of Alberta - the bull trout.
Waterton is one of the most heavily used and developed national parks in western Canada, but it is just part of a broader landscape within the Crown of the Continent ecosystem . Animals range beyond the park's boundaries, back and forth, into neighbouring private and provincial lands. This presents a challenge for us, as we all strive to live with wildlife.