You'll find few insects and no reptiles or amphibians in the northern Arctic area of Canada. Awe-inspiring mammals such as polar bear, muskox and caribou can be found all year, while the only small mammal hardy enough to endure the temperatures is the collared lemming, which tends to take shelter under the snow. The snowy owl, arctic fox and ermine depend on these lemmings for food. Migrant birds arrive in the spring. Canada geese and snow geese build nests in wetlands near coasts and river valleys, while ducks nest by ponds on areas of grassy tundra. Shore birds that do not require much vegetation for their nests survive in this meager Arctic environment, such as the snow bunting and horned lark.
A lack of vegetation certainly characterizes the plant life here. Only particularly tough species can survive the permafrost and dryness of the climate, most notably the arctic poppy, which is well-suited to track the sun's path through the sky and to absorb its heat to quickly ripen its seeds. The wind is a particular problem for Arctic flora, which tends to grow close to the ground to avoid it, like the yellow oxytrope. The best places to find plants--and the wildlife they attract--are in coastal lowlands, valleys and areas next to rivers and streams. These areas support the growth of mosses and other low-lying vegetation necessary for area wildlife.
Dramatic rocky shores, lakes both large and as yet undiscovered, and the symbolic animals of the north woods of Canadian wilderness make up the Boreal Shield, where the boreal forest and the Canadian Shield (the bedrock that most of the country lies on) overlap. While some of the waters and forest areas have been disrupted by human activity, a great deal remains untouched. In the spring and summer, the water attracts fowl such as the wood duck, the Canada goose, the great horned owl and the white-throated sparrow to breed, eat and to stop off en route to migrate farther north. Mammals common to the Boreal Shield include the black bear, snowshoe hare, moose, lynx and wolf, while the wet areas attract beaver, mink and muskrat. Marine waters are home to killer whales, harp seals and the bowhead whale. These wetlands, bogs and marshes of the Boreal Shield create active ecosystems where the water lily and wild sarsaparilla grow, and a great deal of blueberries and cranberries that are exported worldwide. Trees growing throughout the Boreal Shield need to be able to adapt to the low temperatures, threat of forest fires and a quick growing season. White spruce, balsam fir and the most common tree of this area, the black spruce are ubiquitous. Yellow birch, white cedar, mountain maple and sugar maple trees grow in the southeastern areas of the Boreal Shield, where the climate is less extreme.
One of Canada's largest ecozones, this forest area goes across the northern subarctic area and includes lakes, wetlands and an intersection of different climates that create a cross-section of flora and fauna. Plants and animals from both the Boreal Shield and the Arctic regions make their homes here. The migration of birds, attracted to the water in the area, is phenomenal. The bald eagle, red-breasted merganser, Pacific loon and yellow warbler settle here. A million caribou travel through the Taiga Shield in the fall, and its trees attract the black bear and arctic fox. Sedge meadows, wetlands and forests characterize the Taiga Shield, and with elements of both tundra and boreal areas, more than 50 mammals make homes here. Beaver, snowshoe hares, mice, voles and weasels all live here as well.
Adaptable trees of the Boreal Shield, such as the black spruce and jack pine, make their home in the Taiga Shield, where they face similar growing challenges like forest fires and short growing seasons, while also withstanding the permafrost that's characteristic of the Arctic. Paper birch, creeping juniper and trembling aspen grow in the Taiga Shield as well, along with lichens and low-lying shrubs on the rocky areas. Gooseberry, wild rose, crowberry and cupidberry grow here, too.