Often, we are asked tons of questions about moose and bears. Will we see one during our stay? What do the bears eat? How big are they?
Glacier Bay is full of wildlife. From bears and moose to eagles, Ermines, and even porcupines. We’ve made a list of the most common wildlife guests will see here, and added a little bit of information for those curious wildlife viewers:
Black bears, found mostly in the forests of Alaska, are the smallest species of bear. About 100,000 black bears roam around Alaska.
Males can weigh up to 350lbs and females 250lbs. Adults stand up to 29 inches at the shoulders, and are about 60 inches from nose to tail. These solitary creatures actually range in color, from jet black to white, to cinnamon, which are common in the interior of Alaska.
Black bears have a straight facial profile and an outstanding sense of smell. Their omnivorous diet includes vegetation, salmon, blueberries, insects- they’ll eat nearly anything they encounter! During the summer, they can be found in both high and low elevation, in either river bottoms or berry patches. We see them randomly around the lodge all season long.
Although Brown Bears are associated with Grizzly Bears, there is a difference in behavior between the two. Brown bears can be found along the southern coast of Alaska, where spawning salmon is abundant, while Grizzlies are found in the interior and northern parts. Identifying features include a prominent shoulder hump and long, straight claws used for digging for food. Males can grow up to 9 feet in length and weigh up to 1,500lbs, while females weigh up to 850lbs!
Like their cousins, brown bear feast on salmon, berries, and roots, as well as caribou or moose. Though they are solitary creatures, feeding in groups is not uncommon, especially if there is a tasty whale carcass lying around the beach! During summer, they can be found in both low and mid elevation, just like black bears. Here around the lodge, we rarely encounter a brown bear, though their tracks can be spotted on the beaches of the Icy Strait. We recommend booking a bear viewing tour, or the Glacier Bay Day Boat Tour, which is where our guests have the most interactions with brown bears.
A momma grizzly and her cubs
Fun fact: Twins are common for brown bears.
Moose are common in Alaska, but did you know the first moose didn’t arrive in Glacier Bay until around the 1960’s? Once the terrain allowed it, moose migrated from Haines, AK, through the Endicott Inlet.
Though they are solitary animals, a calf will stay with their mother for up to two years. Bulls can weigh up to 1,600lbs and up to 6ft tall, and cows up to 1,300lbs. Males are recognized and prized by their antlers, which grow in the summertime. These herbivores eat willow, birch, weeds, and grasses. Moose have been known to sneak into our garden here at the Bear Track, or walk in front of the lobby windows!
Seeing wolves in Glacier Bay is a rare treat, as they do not inhibit surrounding territories, such as Admiralty or Chichagof Island. They range over about 85 percent of Alaska and come in a variation of colors from black to white, gray, tan- even “blue”. Wolves here in the southeast tend to be darker and smaller than those in the northern parts, and can weigh from 85 to 115lbs for males.
Wolves live in packs of about six or seven that include adults, sub-adults, and pups of the year. The territory of a pack is about 600 square miles, and they can disperse up to 500 miles! Surprisingly, pack overlap is only occasional. Here in the southeast, their diet includes moose, mountain goat, and black-tailed deer, as well as salmon and ground squirrel.
Though we have spotted them here in Gustavus, your best chance of seeing wolves is on the Glacier Bay Day Boat Tour.
Coyotes are a newcomer to Alaska, and were first spotted in the southeast in the early 1900s. Features include a gray coat with tan along the belly, pointed ears and nose, and a long, bushy tail. Coyotes only average about 30lbs and are one-third the size of wolves. Like the black bear, coyotes are an opportunistic predator that feast on almost anything, from hares and rodents to moose, fish, and even insects.
Fun fact: Eagles and Great Horned Owls have been known to prey on coyote.
Mountain goats inhibit – you guessed it- the mountainous regions of western North America. Here in the southeast, they live on steep, rugged, rocky cliffs in the mid-upper bay of Glacier Bay. In fact, scientists believe that mountain goats were the first land animal to recolonize Glacier Bay after the ice retreated.
You can distinguish these 300lb creatures as off-white specks among the mountainous terrain. Their thick, white coats of hollow hairs help keep them warm in extremely cold weather, and their specially shaped hooves help them to leap from ledge to ledge on such rugged terrain. They feed off of shrubs, berries, hemlock, and lichen. The only place for our guests to spot mountain goats is on the Glacier Bay Day Boat Tour.
Fun fact: Females have differently shaped horns: they are more slender, bend back more, and have a sharper tip.
Most of our guests are pleasantly surprised when they spot a porcupine or two on their morning hike. Porcupine spend most of their time high up in cottonwood trees, nibbling on leaves or inner barks of trees. These creatures are large, yet stout with short legs, ranging from 25 to 31 inches long. They are completely covered with hair and quills- except on their foot pads and nose. These quills are modified hairs tipped with barbs for protection from predators. Once threatened, the porcupine will turn their back towards the predator and try to intimidate with a display of prickly quills.
Fun fact: Porcupines grunt, whimper, and even scream as communication.
Ermine are another species that guests are surprised to learn live around these parts. Resembling the long-tailed weasel, Ermine have a long body with short legs, long necks, round ears, and long whiskers. They grow up to 34cm in length and weigh 100-180 grams. Their fur ranges from reddish-brown or creamy-white in the summer, to completely white in the winter.
Ermines feed on small mammals called voles, or mice, and live in dens that they create in hollow logs or under stumps. The best chance to see them here at the Bear Track is while on a walk to the beach.
Fun fact: Ermines have a life span of about 2 years.
Recognized by their white head and up to 7.5 foot wing span, the Bald Eagle is Alaska’s largest resident bird of prey are are more abundant in Alaska than anywhere else in the U.S., with a population of about 30,000. The highest nesting densities are actually here in the islands of the southeast. Bald eagles will nest in old-growth timber along shorelines or by mainland rivers. They are known to use and rebuild the same nest each year.
These fascinating birds of prey have a diet of mainly fish, such as herring, pollock, and salmon, although they have been known to feast on small mammals as well as sea urchins, clams, and crabs. Bald eagles are also known to harass smaller raptors into dropping their catch so that they can steal it for themselves. The best opportunity to view them here are either at the Gustavus Dock, or while on a walk to the beach.
Various Species of Bird
Finally, there is a long list of various species of birds that are often spotted around the Bear Track Inn. Early June and late August are best for viewing rufous and anna’s hummingbirds, while other species are residents all summer. We will provide more specific information in another post, but for now, here is a list of the beautiful variety of bird species we encounter almost every day:
Barn Swallows, Canadian Geese, Sandhill Cranes, Blue Herron, Robins, Juncos, Common Sparrow, Crows, Ravens, Magpies, Warblers, Belted King Fishers, Chestnut Backed Chickadee, Red-breasted Sap Sucker, Hermit Thrush, Spruce Grouse, Red-breasted Nut Hatch, Common Loons, and Wilson’s Phalarope.
For more information on wildlife around Glacier Bay, click here.
Tips for wildlife viewers:
- Keep a low profile: Don’t make sounds to get an animals attention. Remember, if your presences is causing the animal to stop it’s natural behavior- give it more space. Be respectful of nesting or feeding areas
- Right time: Dawn and dusk are when species are most active. Low tides expose tide pools, while midday is great for seeing eagles and hawks
- Look for signs of wildlife: Tracks, droppings, trails- the works. Use tracking books, etc., for more information on what signs to look for based on species.
- Help keep wildlife wild: NEVER FEED A WILD ANIMAL!