Located across northern North America and bounded by the Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic oceans, Canada is the second largest country on Earth. 

The ‘grizzly bear’is the name used for various populations of North American brown bear (Ursus arctos), which first arrived on the continent some 50,000 years ago after crossing the Bering Stait land bridge from eastern Asia. Historically found continuously, and in a very wide ecological range, from the arctic coast of Alaska in the north to Mexico in the south and from the eastern edge of the Great Plains westward to the Pacific, it was in particular an inhabitant of the entire extent of the Rocky Mountains. The almost continual human warfare that has been waged against it, however, along with massive habitat destruction, has resulted in the grizzly having long since vanished from most of these areas. Today it survives only in the large wilderness regions of Alaska and north-western Canada, as well as in some national parks and reserves in the northern continental United States, where it lives mostly in the mountains above the timber line. While the precise taxonomy remains confused and disputed, many of the more isolated populations are known to be under serious threat and a few have already become extinct. 

The grey or timber wolf (Canis lupus) has undergone an enormous reduction in range over the past 150 years due to human persecution and habitat destruction, but still occurs in reasonable numbers in remoter areas. 

The cougar, puma, or mountain lion (Puma concolor) remains one of the most widespread mammals in the Western Hemisphere, being found in a variety of habits across the length of the Americas. In the past a great many subspecies were described, although today only six or seven are generally recognized. The North American cougar (P. c. couguar) includes those populations found in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and most of Central America (possibly as far as South America north-west of the Andes). These large cats were intensively hunted following the European colonization. By the end of the nineteenth century they had been largely extirpated in the eastern part of their range, an area extending from the Maritime provinces of Canada to the Great Plains and southward to Georgia and Alabama. Only remnants survived in remote, mainly northern areas as well as in south Florida, where the ‘Florida panther’ (sometimes considered a distinct subspecies) is critically endangered.

The American bison or buffalo (Bison bison) is divided into two subspecies. The tragic yet ultimately hopeful story of the plains bison (B. b. bison) has been told so many times that it is almost unnecessary to give a detailed account of it here. When Europeans first penetrated into the interior of North America this subspecies occurred south of the range of the wood bison (B. b. athabascae) and east of the Rockies to the north-eastern Mexican states of Durango and Nuevo León, east to the Atlantic seaboard from New York to Georgia (and perhaps as far as Florida). Its centre of distribution was the Great Plains, both in lowlands and highlands. Hence, it had an immense range and constituted a tremendous natural resource, converting prairie grass into tons of meat and hides. The enormous herds utilized the prairies without destroying them and made seasonal migrations on a scale rarely seen in terrestrial mammals. Indeed, at the time of the European arrival in North America the bison were the largest aggregation of land animals on that continent, and perhaps in the world. Only the herds of ungulates that once roamed the savannas of Africa could compare with them in numbers. It is generally believed that the native people had hunted bison for centuries before the European settlers streamed westward. In reality it was at a rather late stage that they began to base their economy on these animals. Hunting bison on foot was certainly not productive. Most cultures of the few tribes inhabiting the prairies were based on the cultivation of maize, beans, and squash. However, when horses became available to native people of the prairies during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, quite a new culture developed. Tribes from the mountains converged on the prairies, making use of horses, and quickly changed their economy so that it became based on the bison. Because of the horse the Indians could pursue the bison effectively, but their hunting was still without any negative effect on the overall population. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, when Europeans started to push westwards over the plains, the slaughter of bison commenced, but it was not until the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad in the 1860s that the herds began to be annihilated. Professional hunters moved in and millions of animals were killed. Many deplored this wanton destruction, but any measure to stop or regulate the carnage was opposed by politicians, who saw in the destruction a way to get rid of the ‘Indians’. In the 1870s, Idaho attempted to protect the bison as well as other hoofed animals. Another law giving protection to the bison was passed in Congress, but President Ulysses S. Grant never signed it and the massacres continued. Despite this, a herd numbering several million was reported as late as 1871. However, from then on the number dwindled rapidly. Between 1870 and 1875 at least two and a half million bison were killed every year. In 1883 the last important herd, about 10,000 animals, was destroyed. Only small, stray herds remained in remote areas. One group in Colorado was destroyed by taxidermists in 1897. In 1899 a census put the number of plains bison at just 541, and in Canada there were only a few. Most of these were collected onto various private ranches, with the last-known wild population, consisting of less than 30 animals, living in the area that later became Yellowstone National Park. Although it was the official policy of the United States government to minimize or exterminate the species, and most farmers considered it to be a pest or a nuisance, some people were concerned about the demise of this American icon and took steps to protect it. Some did so with the express purpose of ranching or hunting the animals, but others, such as the American Bison Society, endeavoured to save the species and to reintroduce it into a least part of its former range. In 1908 the National Bison Range in Montana was established, and later other reserves were set aside in the United States and Canada. With growing numbers bison were reintroduced to a number of other protected areas, thus saving it from extinction at the very last moment. Since then it has continued to increase steadily to its current total of around 20,000, although it remains entirely conservation-dependant and largely restricted to national parks and reserves.

The Roosevelt elk (Cervus canadensis roosevelti) is the largest surviving subspecies of elk in North America, historically found over much of the Pacific Northwest, extending to parts of northern California, where at one time it was heavily hunted. The desire to save it from possible extinction was one of the primary reasons behind the establishment of the Mount Olympus National Monument in 1909 by President Theodore Roosevelt (now Olympic National Park). It was introduced to parts of Alaska in 1928 and reintroduced to coastal British Colombia during the 1980s. 

The pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) is the only survivor of the Antilocapridae, a family of North American antelope whose closest living relatives are the giraffe and okapi. It is also the fastest hoofed animal in the world, able to achieve speeds of up to 96 km per hour. The species formerly occurred in large herds on the American plains, deserts, and tablelands from Alberta in the north to the Pacific slopes in the west and the Mexican plateaus in the south, where they were said to be as numerous as the bison. During the nineteenth century pronghorns were hunted senselessly, and by 1910 only small, scattered groups remained. Like the bison, those of the prairies escaped extinction at the last minute thanks to legal protection. 

The eastern spotted skunk (Spilogale putorius) was historically common over a wide area of North America, where at one time it was heavily trapped for its fur. Three subspecies are recognized. The midwestern spotted skunk (S. p. interrupta) ranges from south-central Canada through the central United States and into north-eastern Mexico.

The New England cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus transitionalis) was formerly widespread in the north-eastern United States and southern Canada, but has undergone a massive decline due to hunting and habitat destruction. It is now confined to a few scattered areas.

The bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) is a type of sea eagle that, after suffering a precipitous decline during the midtwentieth century, is once again found in wetland habitats across most of North America. Overuse of the pesticide DDT, which destroyed its eggs, was the primary cause, although direct human persecution in the form of hunting was also a factor. At its lowest point in the 1950s the species was largely restricted to Alaska, the Aleutian Islands, northern and eastern Canada, and Florida.

The North American osprey (Pandion haliaetus carolinensis) is a large fish-eating hawk that, although notably widespread, was at one time seriously threatened by overcollection of its eggs and hunting, and later by the spraying of pesticides. It has since made a remarkable recovery and is no longer considered threatened.

The spotted owl (Strix occidentalis) is divided into a number of subspecies found patchily from south-western Canada and the western and south-western United States to central Mexico. The northern spotted owl (S. o. caurina) is found from south-western British Columbia to northern California. 

The plight of the whooping crane (Grus americana) has long been well-known in North America, resulting in one of the most ambitious conservation recovery efforts in history. This magnificent bird formerly bred in the isolated marshes and bogs of north-western Canada south to Alberta, Manitoba, North Dakota, and Iowa, with an additional breeding population on the coast of Louisiana. Its winter quarters were located along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico from Florida to Mexico. It is thought that there were more than 20,000 birds prior to European settlement of these areas, but relentless shooting and disturbances in both the breeding and wintering grounds reduced this total to around 1300–1400 by 1870, and to just a handful by the 1930s. The latter were confined to the southern Mackenzie River region, fortunately within the confines of Wood Buffalo National Park on the border between Alberta and the Northwest Territories. From there they would migrate southward each year to Texas and Louisiana. After 1938 the entire population wintered in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, which had been established especially for them. This provided an opportunity to take a precise census of the birds each wintering season. When the record-keeping began there were just 14. After years of fluctuating, the population reached a high of 38 in 1961. The following year, however, disaster struck – six birds were lost and no young were born. But in the autumn of 1964 the cranes brought 10 young back to Texas, making a total of 42. In 1970 the figure was 57. By this point a small captive-breeding programme was also underway and numbered around two dozen. Since then the efforts have continued unabated. As of 2017 there were four wild populations totalling some 483 birds. This includes the original natural population along with three reintroduced ones in the eastern United States that are not as yet self-sustaining. The latter includes a large flock that migrates between Wisconsin and Louisiana and two smaller, non-migratory flocks in Florida and Louisiana, respectively. The captive population, meanwhile, totals around 150. All told it has been a remarkable recovery from near and almost certain extinction, but is still a precariously small number to ensure the survival of a long-distance migrant.

The story of the passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) is one of the most tragic in the annals of conservation history. Prior to the permanent settlement by humans in North America, the breeding area of this species covered a vast region from the Great Plains in the west to the Atlantic coast, and from Manitoba and Quebec in the north to the Appalachians and northern Mississippi in the south. Much has been written about it. There is no doubt that the seemingly fantastic accounts of flocks darkening the sky or of their weight breaking great branches from trees where they perched are reliable. The well-known ornithologist Alexander Wilson estimated 2,230,272,000 birds in a single flock that he saw in 1832. Audubon witnessed another immense flock passing over him for hours on end, in such a concentration that the sunlight was almost blotted out and the sky in all directions, as far as the eye could see, was filled with flying pigeons. He calculated that there were well over one billion. A. W. Schorger found as many as 136 million pigeons in a concentrated nesting area in Wisconsin as late as 1871. When the European settlers pushed westwards they hunted passenger pigeons mercilessly, but it was not until professional hunters began to earn their livelihood by killing the birds that the species started to decrease. The annual slaughter of tens of millions in the 1860s and 1870s was more than it could endure. By the 1880s it had become evident that the species was doomed if hunting remained unregulated. Nobody seems to have heeded the warning signs, however, and in the 1890s the species faded out in the wild. The precise cause of the extinction is difficult to determine, but widespread clearance of forests, combined with the expansion of the railway and telegraph networks that enabled the efficient location and harvesting of nomadic nesting colonies, were clearly important factors. Others include disease and, in the final years, breakdown of social facilitation. The last fully authenticated wild specimen was shot near Oakfield, Illinois, on 12 March 1901, although it is possible that another was killed near Laurel, Indiana on 3 April 1902. Various sight records were made up to 1907. The very last individual of the species, ‘Martha’, died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914. Thus, in less than 50 years, humans had succeeded in wiping out one of the most abundant birds on Earth.

The rusty blackbird (Euphagus carolinus) remains widespread, breeding across the boreal zone of North America from New England to Alaska and wintering across the southwestern United States. Nevertheless, the species has been undergoing massive declines since the mid-twentieth century, the reasons for which are poorly understood.

The clouded salamander (Aneides ferreus) is found patchily on Vancouver Island (British Columbia), south-western Oregon, and north-western California. It has suffered significant declines due to intensive, short-rotation logging practices, which result in increasing scarcity of coarse woody debris on the forest floor.

Mountains and Highlands

Bicknell’s thrush (Catharus bicknelli) is one of North America’s rarest and most secretive birds, with a breeding range entirely restricted to the north-eastern part of the continent. A habitat specialist, it favours coniferous mountaintops in south-eastern Quebec and the Maritime provinces of Canada, along with parts of New England, from where it migrates south to the Caribbean.

The Cascade Range

The Cascade Range extends from southern British Columbia through Washington and Oregon to northern California. It includes both volcanic and non-volcanic mountains.

The Cascade Mountains wolf (Canis lupus fuscus) was a cinnamon-coloured subspecies confined to the Cascade Range, where it became extinct in 1940. It has recently been replaced by a different subspecies of grey wolf.

Lowland Forests

During the last few centuries North America has witnessed one of the most violent exploitation of forests that has ever been seen. We are still so close to these drastic alterations that we can hardly appreciate their full significance. The rapid decrease of forests and the habitat changes in them have had serious effects not only on the wildlife but also on entire ecosystems. Many species have been wiped out or are on the verge of extinction. Fortunately, an increasing public as well as official governmental consciousness of the value of unspoiled habitats, rich in wildlife, has done much to ameliorate the situation in Canada and the United States during the last few decades.

Lowland Boreal Forests 

North America’s boreal forests are located just south of the tundra, covering most of inland Canada, Alaska, and parts of the northern continental United States. They are strikingly similar to those of the Eurasian Region, with the same general pattern of interspersed bogs, lakes, and rivers. Much of the biodiversity is also shared, although the forests of the boreal Nearctic Realm are much richer in species.

The dramatic and tragic history of the plains bison (Bison bison bison) is well known and discussed previously, but the near-extinction and recovery of the wood bison (B. b. athabascae) is also of considerable interest. This northern subspecies – the largest terrestrial animal in North America – historically also had a wide range, extending throughout the boreal forests of Alaska, Yukon, western Northwest Territories, north-eastern British Columbia, northern Alberta, and north-western Saskatchewan. When the plains bison had become almost extinct through wanton exploitation, men turned to the wood bison. It could not withstand the tremendous persecution, and the number dwindled rapidly. It was practically extinct south of the Peace River by 1875, and by 1891 only about 300 remained in an area south of Great Slave Lake. In 1903–04 only 24 individuals were observed, and three years later, 33. In 1922 the Canadian government set aside a protected area, the Wood Buffalo National Park, which included the entire habitat of the remaining herd. By 1929 the population had increased to about 1500, but at that time a serious mistake was made in the introduction into the reserve of no less than 6673 plains bison. As might have been expected, the two subspecies interbred freely and the wood bison disappeared as a pure breed. Fortunately, in 1957 another small herd of some 200, genetically pure animals was discovered in the north-western part of Wood Buffalo National Park, where they had been isolated by swamps. By 1965 only about 100 were left, however, and so 18 were transplanted to Fort Providence north of the Mackenzie River in 1963, in order to establish an independent herd. In 1965 another 43 were captured, destined this time for Elk Island National Park in Alberta. All three of these populations have since prospered with careful management, and additional reintroductions have since taken place elsewhere in Alberta as well as in the Northwest Territories, Yukon, British Columbia, and Manitoba. In 2006 an outherd was established in north-eastern Siberia, where the related steppe bison (B. priscus) died out over 6000 years ago, and there are currently plans to establish populations in Alaska. All told, about 7000 wood bison now live in the wild.

The caribou (Rangifer tarandus), previously discussed in this volume, is also found in Nearctic boreal forests. The woodland caribou (R. t. caribou), the largest subspecies, occurs across southern Canada and the north-western United States, where it is nevertheless considered vulnerable. Osborn’s caribou (R. t. osborni) is confined to an area of British Colombia.

Lowland Broadleaf and Mixed Forests

About 40 per cent of the United States mainland was originally covered by virgin deciduous forest. In 1600 they were still intact except for some local tree removal in the north-eastern states and in Virginia. Today, primeval deciduous forests cover no more than a tiny fraction of this, chiefly in the eastern United States and southern Canada.

In early colonial days the eastern elk (Cervus canadensis canadensis) ranged throughout the vast forests of southern and eastern Canada and the eastern United States as far west as the Mississipi. It was everywhere common, but always much hunted. Gradually it declined and was at last exterminated. In 1851 John James Audubon noted that a few elk could still be found in the Allegheny Mountains, but that they were virtually gone from the remainder of their range. In Pennsylvania the last one was killed in 1877. A few populations held on till much later in the western parts of the range, where human pressure was less severe. It was found in Minnesota north of Lake Superior as late as 1885, and still existed in Wisconsin in 1892, but (reports from northern Ontario as recently as the 1980s notwithstanding) it was almost certainly extinct by the end of the nineteenth century.

The wood turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) is a semi-aquatic species still found over a wide area of the north-eastern United States and parts of southern Canada. It has declined greatly in number due to loss of habitat and overcollection for the international pet trade.

Lowland Coniferous Forests

Areas of temperate coniferous forest once covered much of North America, mainly in the northern areas. Of special note are the Pacific temperate rainforests that lie along the northwestern coast of North America from Prince William Sound in Alaska, through western British Colombia, Washington, Oregon, and northern California. Unique in being rainforests dominated by conifers, this extraordinary habitat is produced by a combination of maritime moist climate, mild temperature, high rainfall, and the huge mass of organic matter accumulated and produced by the forests themselves. Altogether the region contains a quarter of the world’s remaining temperate rainforests, and is rich in animal life. Sadly, they are highly threatened by logging activity.

Kirtland’s warbler (Dendroica kirtlandii) is a small songbird that very nearly went extinct during the mid-twentieth century. While it may have once been much more widespread, by the 1960s its breeding range had been reduced to a small area of central Michigan, from where the 1000 or so birds that made up the total population migrated to the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands for the winter. The species has extremely specialized habitat requirements for breeding, namely large areas of dense, young jack pine historically created by forest fires. A stand of growing trees satisfies these warblers for only 10–15 years, after which they move to another area where the trees are smaller. Intensive conservation measures including controlled burning and timber harvesting now produce the exact habitat that the birds need, and as a result they have been able to expand their breeding range into parts of southern Ontario and Wisconsin. The species is now considered to be out of immediate danger.

Lowland Grasslands, Savannas, and Shrublands

A wide variety of temperate and subtropical grassland types once covered a broad belt of central North America, with outlying regions in north-western, south-western, and southern United States and northern Mexico.

The black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) may have once been the rarest mammal in North America, and indeed very nearly went extinct by the late 1980s. This large weasel is entirely dependent upon prairie-dog towns, which provide it both with prey and den sites. Thus, its former range coincided with that of the ‘prairie dogs’ (Cynomys), that is, the grasslands steppes between southern Canada and northern Mexico. Destruction of the prairie dogs as agricultural pests by means of poisoning and the resulting elimination of prairie-dog burrows, as well as of the original grasslands themselves, was the cause of this species’ decline. By 1970 it had already become extremely rare. In 1981 a small, remnant population of <100 was discovered near Meeteetse, in north-western Wyoming, which was unfortunately decimated by disease within a few years. In 1985, 18 of the survivors were captured in order to serve as the nucleus of a captive breeding programme. The operation was entirely successful, as was a subsequent reintroduction effort. As of 2015 the total wild-living (released or wild-born) population in the United States was around 500, with several hundred additional animals living in ex situ facilities. It must be considered one of the all-time great conservation comeback stories. It should be noted that the black-tailed prairie marmot (Cynomys ludovicianus) itself, while greatly affected by twentieth-century eradication efforts, is today still to be found across most of its former range and is not considered to be threatened. This is fortunate, as many other species in addition to the black-footed ferret are dependent upon its presence for their own survival.

The Great Plains

The Great Plains are a broad expanse of flat land located west of the Mississippi and east of the Rocky Mountains, encompassing much of the Canadian provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta and the American states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma, along with sizeable parts of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Historically covered in prairie, steppe, and grassland, much of it has been converted by humans.

The Great Plains grey wolf (Canis lupus nubilus) historically ranged throughout the Great Plains, but was ruthlessly persecuted by humans (encouraged by bounty payments). By 1875 sightings had become rare, and by 1887 they were almost gone. Two were recorded in North Dakota in 1915, and the last known individual was shot in 1922. It was declared extinct in 1926.

The swift fox (Vulpes velox) historically occurred on the plains of south-central Canada and in the adjacent United States south as far as Texas and New Mexico. Driven to the verge of extinction during the 1930s by a predator eradication programme aimed at coyotes and grey wolves, it had been entirely extirpated in Canada by the end of the decade. A programme begun in 1983, however, was successful in reestablishing the animals in south-eastern Alberta and south-western Saskatchewan. While still much reduced in the rest of its former range, the species is now considered to be out of danger in the central United States.

Sprague’s pipit (Anthus spragueii) is a type of passerine bird that breeds in the north-central prairies of southern Canada and northern United States, from where it migrates to the south-western United States and northern Mexico in winter. It is declining due to loss of habitat.

Lakes, Rivers, and Marshes

As a result of its geological past and great glaciers, North America is very rich in lakes and marshes. In their retreat northwards the glaciations left thousands of wetland areas.

The North American beaver (Castor canadensis), like the previously discussed Eurasian beaver, had been brought to the brink of extinction during the nineteenth century due to hunting for its pelt, but has since made a complete recovery.

The trumpeter swan (Cygnus buccinator) is the largest living waterfowl and the heaviest bird in the Nearctic Realm. At the arrival of the Europeans it ranged from Alaska to Mexico, but was thereafter severely depleted by hunting for its meat and feathers. By 1933 fewer than 70 wild individuals were known to exist, all from remote hot springs in or near Yellowstone National Park, and the species seemed doomed to extinction. Careful reintroductions, however, at first to a special refuge in Montana, gradually restored the birds to many areas of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. Meanwhile, an aerial survey in the 1950s unexpectedly discovered a population of several thousand in the Copper River region of Alaska. By 2010 the total number exceeded 46,000 throughout north-western and central North America, and the species was no longer considered threatened.

The Nearctic horned grebe (Podiceps auratus cornutus) breeds across much of north-western North America, from where it winters in the south-eastern United States and Mexico. It is declining due to the effects of human disturbance, loss of habitat due to deforestation around breeding lakes, and other factors.

Blanding’s turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) has a range that centres on the Great Lakes and extends from the north-central United States eastwards through southern Ontario and the south shore of Lake Erie as far east as northern New York. There are also isolated populations in south-eastern New York, Pennsylvania, New England, and Nova Scotia. In spite of this wide distribution the species is everywhere rare and localized.

The spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata) is a semi-aquatic species that occurs in wetland areas of southern Canada (Ontario) and the eastern United States (eastern Great Lakes region and east of the Appalachian Mountains as far south as Florida). It has been much reduced in population owing to habitat destruction and overcollection for the pet trade.

The Pacific pond turtle (Actinemys marmorata) was historically widespread within the western Nearctic, where it is usually divided into two subspecies. The northern Pacific pond turtle (A. m. marmorata) was found from south-western Canada (British Colombia) to California, but is now extirpated from Canada and only occurs patchily elsewhere. During the nineteenth century it was heavily exploited for use as food, although since that time the primary threat has been loss of habitat. 

The North American paddlefish (Polyodon spathula) is the only surviving species of an ancient family of large, shark-like freshwater fishes. The species was historically found throughout the Mississippi River and adjacent drainages, its range extending into the Great Lakes. It has now been extirpated from much of its former range due to overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution, and the relentless demand for caviar.

The shortnose sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum) is a relatively small species whose earliest remains are from the Late Cretaceous period, more than 70 million years ago. It lives within the larger coastal rivers and bays along the eastern coast of North America from New Brunswick to Florida. Long harvested for its flesh and eggs, it is now mainly threatened by dam construction and pollution. The lake sturgeon (A. fulvescens) occurs widely within the Mississippi River drainage as well as in the Great Lakes and numerous other rivers and lakes throughout North America. Once killed as a nuisance bycatch because they damaged fishing gear, during the late nineteenth century their flesh and eggs became highly prized and the species became commercially targeted at unsustainable levels. This coupled with pollution and dam construction ultimately resulted in the collapse of the fishery, which has never recovered. While the species remains rare it is not presently considered to be threatened.

The Atlantic cisco (Coregonus huntsmani) is known only from three freshwater lakes within the Petite Rivière drainage of Nova Scotia, in eastern Canada. It formerly occurred in two other rivers where the populations were anadromous, migrating to coastal estuaries to feed. The shortjaw cisco (C. zenithicus) is largely confined to the Great Lakes basin where it is extant but declining in Lake Superior and apparently extirpated from lakes Michigan, Huron, and Erie. The species occurs as well in Great Slave Lake and from lakes Nipigon, Winnipeg, Athabasca, and a few others in central and northern Canada. Hoy’s cisco or bloater (C. hoyi) formerly occurred in Lake Nipigon and in all of the Great Lakes except for Lake Erie. It is now evidently extirpated in Lake Nipigon and was formerly so from Lake Ontario (although now successfully reintroduced), and is declining in lakes Superior and Huron. All three species are threatened by overfishing, loss of habitat, and introduced predatory fishes.

The bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus) remains widespread in north-western North America from the Yukon to, at least historically, northern California. It is everywhere threatened by habitat degradation, dam construction, and hybridization with non-native brook trout.

The copper redhorse (Moxostoma hubbsi) is a type of sucker fish confined to the St. Lawrence and Richelieu rivers of south-eastern Canada (south-western Quebec). 

The unarmoured threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus williamsoni) is known for certain only from a small area in southern California, although there have been unconfirmed reports from British Columbia and Mexico.

The darktail lamprey (Lethenteron alaskense) is known only from a few river and creek localities in central and southern Alaska, with an additional highly disjunct record from north-western Canada (Northwest Territories).

The Great Lakes

The Great Lakes are a group of large freshwater lakes located in north-eastern North America, straddling the Canada–United States border. Once greatly polluted, they have made a comeback in recent years. However, many invasive species, such as the zebra mussel and sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus), have been introduced due to trade in the area, threatening the region’s biodiversity.

Four species of salmon-like cisco (Coregonus) are believed to have gone extinct within the Great Lakes. The deepwater cisco (C. johannae) from lakes Huron and Michigan was last seen in 1952. The longjaw cisco (C. alpenae) was formerly abundant in the Great Lakes and even sold commercially during the early twentieth century. The last specimen was taken in Georgian Bay, Lake Huron in 1975. The blackfin cisco (C. nigripinnis) historically occurred in lakes Huron, Michigan, Ontario, and Superior. The last known specimens were taken from Lake Huron in 1923 and Lake Michigan in 1969. The shortnose cisco (C. reighardi) was historically found in lakes Michigan, Huron, and Ontario. It has not been reported since 1985 and is most likely extinct. A surviving species, the kiyi cisco (C. kiyi), was formerly widespread within the Great Lakes but is now found only in Lake Superior.

Coasts and Satellite Islands

The coasts around North America are marked by a tremendous variety of habitats: islands, cliffs, estuaries, deltas, tidal marshes, sand beaches, coral reefs, mangrove forests, and so on. Animal life varies in relation to these habitats. It is chiefly in California and Mexico that coastal and island animals of North America have been exterminated or seriously reduced in numbers. Some belong to the mainland coast, but most of them live on islands. 

The northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris) lives along the eastern Pacific coasts where it spends most of its time at sea, only coming to land at certain times to breed in remote rookeries. During the nineteenth century these creatures were ruthlessly hunted for the oil in their blubber. They were thought to be extinct in 1884 until a remnant population of eight individuals was discovered on Guadalupe Island in 1892 by a Smithsonian expedition, who promptly killed seven of them for their collections. The elephant seals managed to survive, and were finally protected by the Mexican government in 1922. The species has since recovered its former range and numbers. 

The northern fur seal (Callorhinus ursinus) is also once again widely distributed in the misty ocean waters of the North Pacific (including the Bering Sea and Sea of Okhotsk), after having almost been driven to extinction during the nineteenth century by hunting. The species was first observed off Bering Island in 1741, but it would be almost half a century before its breeding grounds were discovered. In 1786 the Russian explorer Gerasim Pribilof, sailing among the group of islands that would later be named for him, came upon the greatest concentration of marine mammals ever observed, at least by Europeans. Millions of fur seal bulls, cows and pups covered the beaches and rocks of what is now St. George Island. About a year later another island in the group, St. Paul, was discovered to have even more seals than the previous one. The exploitation of the species was begun almost immediately by the Russians, and within 20 years the enormous herds had been so sharply reduced that the species had begun to be threatened. In 1834 it was decreed that only mature bulls could be killed, a measure that saved it. In 1864 the population was still estimated at between two and three million and yielded between 80,000 and 90,000 bulls every year, seemingly without any drastic effect. When in 1867 the United States bought Alaska from Russia, the fur trade was taken over by Americans. In 1870 the United States limited the number shot to 100,000 seals each year. However, Canadian and British sealers continued to shoot the species indiscriminately on the open sea. Moreover, the majority of these dead seals sank beneath the waves before they could be secured. The annual harvest in the Pribilof Islands dropped continuously, and in 1910 only 12,000 pelts were taken. Fortunately, the American government arranged an international treaty in 1911 that banned all sealing in open waters. From a low of about 125,000 seals, the population increased until it at last returned to its former abundance. At present about half of these breed in the Pribilof Islands, with the remaining larger colonies located in the Commander Islands, Tyuleniy Island off the coast of Sakhalin, and the central Kuril Islands. Smaller rookeries are found in the Aleutians, and on San Miguel Island and South Farallon Island off the coast of California. During the winter months the animals may be seen as far south as the southern tip of Japan and the Baja California Peninsula. The Guadalupe fur seal (Arctocephalus townsendi) was originally found off California and Mexico from the Farallon Islands in the north to the San Benito Islands in the south. During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries it was avidly hunted for skins and oil. In 1810, for example, a party of only eight men killed 33,740 seals on the Farallon Islands; the next year they took 21,153; and in 1812 the catch was 18,509. By 1826 this seal was almost extinct on the Farallons. The most important remaining population was that of Guadalupe Island, where about 30,000 fur seals still survived. They decreased rapidly: in 1880 there were 3000–4000 seals and by 1892 only 7 seals were left, the last seen in that century. Commercial sealing was finally banned in Mexico in 1894. For 30 years the Guadalupe fur seal was considered extinct, but in 1928 a fisherman captured two specimens and reported that he had seen a herd of about 60 animals on Guadalupe. But searchers could not locate them. In 1950 Professor George Bartholomew visited San Nicolas Island off southern California and discovered one Guadalupe fur seal. This lone specimen was observed several times between 1949 and 1951. In 1954 a breeding colony of 14 seals was seen at Guadalupe. In 1965 the population was reported to be between 200 and 500, and in 1972 at least 500. The species has now recovered thanks to protection, but the eastern coast of Guadalupe remains its only major breeding site. 

The sea mink (Neovison macrodon), at the arrival of the Europeans, occurred along the mainland coast and islands of the north-east from Massachusetts to Newfoundland. Because of its large size and valuable fur, it was hunted avidly. Skins were procured regularly until about 1860, and then the number shrank rapidly. It is thought to have survived until about 1894 in New Brunswick. 

The marbled murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus) is a small seabird that breeds along the the western coast of North America and a few satellite islands, where it is threatened mainly by loss of its forest-nesting habitat. 

The Labrador duck (Camptorhynchus labradorius) is an extinct species whose historical breeding range and precise habitat are unknown. It most likely bred along the Gulf of St. Lawrence and in coastal Labrador, Canada, and wintered from Nova Scotia south to Florida. Shooting, trapping, and overharvesting of its eggs had already rendered it rare by the beginning of the nineteenth century, and the last known specimen was shot off Long Island in 1875 or possibly 1878. 


Newfoundland is a large island located off the eastern coast of Canada. 

The Newfoundland grey wolf (Canis lupus beothucus) was reported to be common in 1875 on Newfoundland, where it fed mainly on caribou and rodents. Unfortunately, it also preyed upon young cattle, and therefore a bounty was put on it. By the end of the nineteenth century it had been decimated, and the last specimen was killed about 1911. 

The Newfoundland caribou (Rangifer tarandus terraenovae) is confined to the woodlands of Newfoundland. 

Vancouver Island 

Located on the south-western coast of Canada in the northeastern Pacific, Vancouver Island is the largest island on the western coast of North America. 

The Vancouver Island grey wolf (Canis lupus crassodon) is confined to northern Vancouver Island. 

The Vancouver Island marmot (Marmota vancouverensis) is confined to the mountains of central and southern Vancouver Island. 

The Vancouver Island lake lamprey (Entosphenus macrostoma) is found only in Cowichan and Mesachie lakes (which are connected) and their in-flowing tributaries on southern Vancouver Island. 

The Queen Charlotte Islands are an archipelago approximately 45–60 km off the northern Pacific coast of Canada. 

Dawson’s caribou (Rangifer tarandus dawsoni) was historically found on Graham Island, the largest of the Queen Charlotte Islands. A victim of overhunting, introduced disease, and habitat destruction, the last three were killed in 1908. 

Sable Island is a small, greatly elongated sand island located about 175 km south-east of Nova Scotia.

The Ipswich sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis princeps) breeds almost exclusively on Sable Island and is decreasing in number, possibly owing to the erosion of its small island world.