Wildlife of Whistler | 11 Animals to Look Out For
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There are hundreds of reasons to visit Whistler in the summer. The adrenaline pumping activities, the beautiful mountain views, and the long lazy lake days are just a few. But one of the best reasons to stop by is to get to know some of our local wildlife. Being located on the edge of so much pristine mountain wilderness, Whistler is blessed with tons of iconic native wildlife.
From black bears to horned toads, cougars to hoary marmots, there are endless cute (and not so cute) creatures to spy around Whistler. Here’s a few of our favourites to key an eye out for while you’re visiting – and a few tips on living in harmony with our furry (and feathery) friends.
What Animals Live in Whistler?
There are many, many native species in Whistler that are fascinating in their own right. But let’s face it, it’s the cute fluffy ones that get the most attention. Here’s a few of the most sought-after, and fascinating animals you might spot in Whistler.
- Hoary Marmots
These little cuties are very special in Whistler – so special we named the whole town after them. Hoary marmots live in the high alpine and above the treeline in Whistler. You’ll often hear them before you see them. In fact it’s their distinct whistling sound that gave Whistler mountain (and later the town) it’s name.
You’re most likely to spot a marmot on the summer hiking trails on Whistler and Blackcomb, in boulder fields or alpine meadows. They’re fast though, and run to burrows when they’re scared, so keep your distance.
Another adorable resident of Whistler, pikas are tiny relatives of rabbits, but even cuter. They’re pretty elusive, but you might be lucky enough to spot one in the high alpine. And the further you are from other people, the more chance you have of encountering the cute little face and enormous ears of a pika.
Even if you don’t encounter a Pika in the flesh, you’ll likely ski down Pika’s traverse in winter – or hike up it through the incredible snow walls in summer.
One of the most shy four-legged residents of Whistler is the bobcat. 2-3 times larger than a domestic cat, they have distinctive tufts on their ears and a short (or bobbed) tail. While they look cute, it’s best to keep your distance as they aren’t comfortable around humans.
While bobcats very rarely attack humans, they can be come into conflict with pets. So if you see one, keep your dogs on a leash, and back away slowly and never approach closer to take a photograph or a closer look.
Of course, Canada’s most iconic critter can be found in Whistler too. Beavers are universally loved over here – and no surprise, because they’re amazing animals. Their dams can completely change rivers and lakes, and they’re known as a “keystone species” because they are so important for the survival of other wildlife.
If you want to spot a beaver in Whistler, spend some time by one of Whistler’s lakes – Alpha Lake and Nita Lake both have resident beaver population. Or take a float down the River of Golden Dreams. Even if you don’t spy a beaver, you’ll be sure to see the effects of their ingenious construction efforts.
Cougars are maybe the one animal you don’t want to spot in Whistler. Also known as mountain lions, these solitary predators are one of the biggest cats in the world. Luckily for us, they mainly eat deer and other smaller mammals. Also luckily for us, cougars prefer to stay up in the mountains, and are very rarely seen in Whistler.
If you do happen to come across a cougar, stay calm and back away slow. Never run, as sudden movements might provoke an attack. And don’t worry – this is one wildlife encounter you’re very unlikely to have in Whistler.
Of course, no list of Whistler’s wildlife would be complete without mentioning our local bear population. Bears are the animal that everyone wants to see in Whistler, and we can see why. They are downright adorable, while still a little bit scary, and they’re fascinating to watch.
The best way to spy a bear in Whistler is on a Bear Viewing Tour. Not only will your guide keep you safe, they also know all the best spots to view bears from a safe distance, and will teach you fascinating facts about their lifestyle and ecology. Keep reading to find out more about the species of bears in Whistler, and how to observe these beautiful animals safely.
What Animals Will You See While Skiing Whistler Blackcomb?
Many of Whistler’s most famous animals hibernate in the winter months – and we can’t blame them really, we’d like to do the same. But there are still some iconic species you can spot while skiing in Whistler. In particular, the birds on Whistler Mountain attract a lot of attention (and feature in lots of Instagram posts).
- Whiskey Jack
Whiskey Jacks have gained a reputation as the friendliest, most persistent birds on Whistler mountain in recent years. These cute little birds are also known as grey jays and even camp robbers. That’s probably because they’re infamous for approaching people and stealing food. And while it’s tempting to feed them to get the perfect instabanger – please don’t. Feeding birds interferes with the ecosystem, and can make the birds ill.
The best spots to encounter a Whiskey Jack is in the lift line. Harmony, Symphony, Peak and Seventh Heaven are all prime spots for some bird-watching. They might even land on your hand or your ski pole if you’re lucky!
- Steller’s Jay
A close relative of the Blue Jay, the Steller’s Jay is another beautiful bird you can spot year-round in Whistler. Their distinctive dark blue and black colouring makes them easy to identify. You’ll often see them perched on the branches of trees, or even coming up to say hi – they’re inquisitive and not scared of humans.
In the summer you can see Steller’s Jays everywhere in Whistler’s parks and forests. They’re around in winter too, mostly in the forest of the lower ski slopes where they move to avoid the coldest temperatures. Indigenous to the west coast, the Steller’s Jay is actually the provincial bird of British Columbia – so make sure to snap a photo to remember your trip.
- Bald Eagle
The most majestic of birds, the bald eagle, are surprisingly common in Whistler and Squamish. And the winter is actually the best time to spy them, as they return to nest from October – March. They feast on the huge numbers of spawning salmon in the rivers, and can be spotted perched in the trees along river banks throughout the Squamish Valley.
Visit the Eagle Run Park viewing area in Squamish for the best chance of spotting eagles, and to chat to the friendly, knowledgeable volunteers. Make it a day trip to Squamish! You can spot them in Whistler too – keep an eye on the skies around the parks and lakes, and you might witness a pair of eagles soaring overhead.
What Kind of Bears are in Whistler?
Alright, we know bears are everyone’s favourite Whistler animal. And we’re lucky to have 60+ local bears in Whistler who live throughout the mountains and the valley. But what kinds of bears live here, and how can you tell them apart?
You’ll Probably See Black Bears
The bears you see around Whistler are pretty much always black bears. Confusingly though, they aren’t always black. “Black bears” can actually vary in colour from deep black to cinnamon brown. So don’t panic if you see a brown-coloured bear on the slopes – he’s most likely not a grizzly (more on them later).
Black bears are the more placid and easy-going species of bears. They eat mostly plants, berries and small insects, and don’t often attack or approach humans. Nonetheless, it’s very important to keep your distance from bears. If they get too used to people, they become more of a risk. And sadly, when a bear gets too comfortable with us, it’s often them that pays the price.
Bears are truly amazing animals to watch, and sightings are fairly common in Whistler. You’re most likely to see them around dawn and dusk, anywhere where there is grass. The ski slopes underneath the gondola is a common spot, along with the golf courses in Whistler valley. But like we said, if you want to guarantee a sighting, book a guided bear viewing tour.
You Probably Won’t See Grizzly Bears
Grizzlies are black bears bigger, badder cousins. They are significantly less common in Whistler than their smaller cousins, but there are a few around. Grizzly bears don’t become habituated to humans as easily, so they tend to stay away from parks and streets, unlike black bears. If you do spy a grizzly, it’s likely to be on quieter hiking trails or high in the alpine.
If you’d like to know how to tell a grizzly from a black bear (and why would you not?!), here’s a few key differences. Grizzlies tend to be bigger – a lot bigger. They can weigh up to 400 lbs. They also have a noticeable hump on their shoulders, a dish-shaped face and long, light claws. Though if you’re close enough to see their claws, something has probably gone wrong already! Black bears meanwhile have pointed faces, pointed ears and shorter claws, with no shoulder hump.
What is Bear Aware?
Being bear aware in Whistler is a must. Not only will it keep our bears safe and healthy, it will also save you from hoares of protective locals chasing you down with pitchforks! Nah we’re only joking – sort of. Locals are very protective of bears, and rightly so. So to save yourself from their anger, here’s a few ways to be bear aware and awesome in Whistler.
- Never ever feed a bear
- Put all your garbage in the special bear-safe trash cans (tip: there’s a latch on the lid so you can open them)
- If you see a bear, keep your distance (at least 100m) and never approach
- Don’t try to take a selfie with a bear (no. 1 reason locals will get mad with you!)
- Keep dogs on a leash
- If you’re hiking or out on the trails, make plenty of noise to warn bears that you’re coming
Follow these tips and you’ll help to keep our bears wild, and win yourself some Whistler local brownie points too. The Get Bear Smart Society provides loads more excellent information about how to look after our favourite four-legged friends.
Do Wolves Live in Whistler?
The short answer is no. While wolves are one of the most iconic animals of British Columbia, they are very rarely sighted around Whistler. They can still be encountered on nearby Vancouver Island however, where subspecies of the wolf hunt fish off the coast in the Pacific Ocean!
If you see an animal that looks like a wolf in Whistler, it is most likely a coyote. They look very similar, but are much smaller, weighing 20 – 50 lbs. They also have more pointed ears and a narrower snout – they look more like a fox than a wolf does. Coyotes are shy animals and will normally run from humans, but they are spotted around Whistler from time to time.
Wildlife Spotting in Whistler | An Unforgettable Experience
The trick to wildlife spotting in Whistler is to keep your eyes peeled at all times. If you slow down and stay quiet, you never know who you’ll discover! Whether you see a huge black bear or a tiny little pika, viewing wildlife in Whistler is always a thrill. Take a photograph if you can, but sometimes it’s better just to sit still, stay quiet and enjoy being up close and personal with a truly wild animal.
Finally, always remember to respect the wildlife – Whistler is their home too, and we want them to live here for generations to come. If you follow all the local advice, you’re sure to have some unforgettable wildlife encounters in Whistler!