Due to its isolation from the North American mainland, the island of Newfoundland is home to only fourteen native mammals, no native amphibians or reptiles and many rare plants. Newfoundland populations of many of these represent endemic Newfoundland subspecies, which have diverged from their mainland cousins over thousands of years. However many non-native species have also been introduced to Newfoundland and may be affecting the island’s native species. The National Park provided a protected places for these species, and is one of the best places in Canada to see species such as caribou and ptarmigan. Some of our iconic species include:

A moose

Moose – Moose were introduced to Newfoundland over a century ago, and with no predators their numbers grew rapidly in the park to a peak of 7800 in 1995.  Excessive moose munching was keeping forests from re-growing, as a moose can eat 18 kg of trees and shrubs per day!  Today the park manages moose at a sustainable level and forests are starting to recover, with benefits to many other species.  Visit a ‘moose exclosure’ on the Bakers Brook Trail, a fenced area that shows the impacts of moose on forests by preventing them from eating the vegetation inside. 

A young caribou

Woodland Caribou – Uniquely, both male and female caribou grow antlers. Caribou range across lowland bogs and forests to highland barrens seeking food, mates, and a safe place to give birth.  In winter, they paw through half a metre of snow to reach lichens that they can smell underneath!  Gros Morne Mountain is closed from May to the last Friday in June to protect newborn caribou and ptarmigan.  Where to see: Caribou are often seen on large coastal bogs North of Rocky Harbour.

 

A black bear

Black Bear – Found throughout the park but rarely seen, bears are wary of people but are attracted by food. In preparation for winter, Gros Morne’s bears climb mountain ash to feed on berries, leaving telltale scratches in the bark of older trees. What to do if you see one:  If you encounter a black bear, stay calm and do not run or play dead.  Stop, back away slowly while facing the bear and speaking a soft voice, and take an alternate route.  Keep your campsite clean and store food in your vehicle when not eating to keep our bears and yourself safe.  To learn more, visit:  www.pc.gc.ca/en/docs/v-g/oursnoir-blackbear


 

Marine Mammals –With 170 km of coastline, Gros Morne is a good place to see minke whales and harbour seals.  Humpback whales, harbour porpoises, and white-sided dolphins are also occasionally spotted.  Drop into the Bonne Bay Marine Station to discover what the ocean holds below!  Where to see: Keep an eye out for whale spouts, fins, or a dark shape in the water at St. Paul’s Inlet (seals), Western Brook Beach (seals), or Bonne Bay (whales & seals).

Artic Hare

Arctic Hare – Newfoundland is home to the most southerly population of this tundra species, which is Canada’s largest hare weighing 3.5 to 5 kg, twice the weight of a snowshoe hare.  They gain extra nutrients from their woody food by eating it twice – their morning meal is their scat from the night before! Where to see: Along theGros Morne Mountain Trail

 

 

Boreal Chickadee – This boreal forest specialist has a brown cap, cinnamon sides and a nasal call that sounds like a black-capped chickadee with a cold.  To survive winter they hide food in trees to eat when times get tough. Where to see: Woodland trails such as the Coastal Trail or Berry Head Pond Trail

Rock Ptarmigan

Rock & Willow Ptarmigan – Ptarmigan are well adapted to life in the mountains with insulated feathered feet serving as snowshoes and a white winter coat for camouflage.  As a measure of the health of the park’s barren ecosystems, rock ptarmigan are counted each spring on Gros Morne Mountain.  Where to see: Rock ptarmigan prefer the open barrens on top of Gros Morne Mountain, while willow ptarmigan are more commonly seen in shrubby and treed habitat on the mountainside.

 

Canada Jay

Canada Jay – This boreal forest songbird nests in April and May while snow is still falling.  They use the forest as a freezer, hiding thousands of food caches in fall and retrieving it once their chicks have hatched in early spring and food is still scare.  Climate change may threaten this species if warm spells during winter spoil food the jays stored to feed their chicks.  Where to see: Jays frequent all campsites and forest trails in the park. Please do not feed these scavengers.

 

 

Bunchberry – Known as crackerberry by locals, bunchberry commonly carpets the boreal forest floor.  It is well adapted to life in the shade; what looks like a patch of plants is actually a single plant linked by underground stems (rhizomes).  As sunbeams pass through the forest canopy, shifting throughout the day, leaves that receive light use the rhizomes to share sugars they produce with the rest of the plant.  Stems with six leaves will produce a flower, while those with four are merely sun seekers.  Did you know:  Gros Morne is home to two species: the more common bunchberry with green-centred flowers and a whorl of leaves, and the smaller Swedish bunchberry with dark-centred flowers and paired leaves, which grows along the coast and in the Alpine zone.

Gros Morne forest in the fall.

Balsam Fir – Balsam fir is the dominant tree in Gros Morne’s wet boreal forests.  While its susceptibility to fire limits its success in other regions, fire is rare here due to the wet maritime climate.  This allows balsam fir to thrive based on its extreme tolerance of shade.  Seedlings can persist for decades in the shaded understory waiting for a canopy tree to die, providing them the light they need to grow and take its place.  Through overbrowsing, non-native moose halted this process of regrowth in the past, but with reduced moose populations this natural cycle is beginning to recover.  Field ID tip:  “You can shake hands with a fir, but you can’t shake hands with a spruce.” The pointed needles of spruce will poke your hand if you try to grasp a branch, while round-tipped fir needles will not.

 

 

Some native species that call the park home are facing challenges, not just with in the park but also across the country, and even the continent.  To learn how our Parks Canada staff are working to help mountain fern, marten, and bats, visit our Species at Risk page.