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'Love' on the wild side

A look at some of the curious mating habits of Squamish wildlife.

Love is in the air at this time of year.

With Valentine's Day fast approaching, The Chief caught up with WildsafeBC provincial co-ordinator Vanessa Isnardy to find out about some of our local wildlife's mating habits. What she told us ranged from delightful to horrifying, but it was all fascinating.


Bears mate in late June but the sows have delayed embryo implantation.  

"It is an incredible adaptation where they... are going to wait and see, do they have enough fat? When they enter the den, their body determines if the sow is in good shape, she has enough fat on her... Then her body decides, OK, we are going to implant, and we are going to have offspring," Isnardy said.

The sow will not eat or drink, defecate or urinate the whole winter.

"Then she is going to produce really high-fat, nutritious milk."

(Cubs are being born about now, Isnardy noted.)

Isnardy said another fascinating thing about bears is that a litter of bear cubs can have multiple fathers as the female may mate with numerous boars. The male also induces ovulation, and both sexes may mate with numerous partners.

Isnardy said it’s important not to anthropomorphize wildlife, meaning, don't give animals human characteristics. They aren't people.

Humans can't know if animals feel love, for example, though some of their behaviours, such as the southern resident killer whale off of Vancouver Island in 2018 that carried its dead calf for weeks after it died, make it appear they may feel for each other.

This next fact makes clear that animals are not that much like humans.

Male bears may kill cubs to try to force a female to become sexually receptive.

Females will avoid male bears when they have young — if they can, Isnardy said.

"Males want to kill the offspring, if they can, so they can have their own offspring and impregnate her," said Isnardy.

The boars can't tell if the cubs are their own or not.

Black bear cubs are generally self-sufficient at five to seven months of age and can den on their own, though they may stick around for a year after that.

Sows will often choose areas near humans — using them as shields — especially if there is dense forest and thick shrubs to keep them hidden from humans, particularly during mating season, Isnardy said.

"In Squamish, because we have so much dense cover and so many shrubs and so many of these travel corridors all throughout the community, it is kind of like a perfect location where they can stay in the bushes and on the perimeter and in the riparian streams and travel pathways and corridors and go unseen through all these areas," she said.

This can increase bear-human conflict because Squamish has places for the sows and their cubs.

"Squamish has a tough job to keep conflicts down because it is such great habitat for bears and they consider it a safe place to raise their offspring," Isnardy said.


Cougars are polygamous and can mate any time of the year. Kittens will stay until they are 16 to 19 months old. Cougar females can have babies about every 18 to 24 months.

All cougar parenting is done by the female.


Wolves breed February through March. They may have four to six cubs 63 days later. Wolf pairs are somewhat monogamous, but alpha males can stray, Isnardy said.


Beavers may "divorce" but are great at co-parenting, Isnardy said, and form a family unit or colony.

Both beaver parents work together to raise the young for two years until their kits leave, Isnardy said.

"They have their beaver lodge," she said. "They stay there, and they stick pretty close to home. That is kind of unusual. A lot of animals don't stay."


Birds are mostly monogamous.

However, like humans, sexual infidelity is more common than we think, Isnardy said.

Barn owls

Barn owl couples that are producing many young tend to stay loyal to each other. However, if conditions get tough, they may split up rather than cheat.

"If conditions are tough and they aren't producing enough offspring, they might just call it quits," Isnardy said.

"They don't really cheat. They divorce. Some animals are mostly monogamous, but they might cheat."

Bald eagles

Bald eagles spend winters and migrations alone but will often find each other in the spring, returning to the same nest.

They will keep building on the nest and doing renovations together, according to Isnardy.

(A fun fact is one nest used for three decades can weigh more than two tons.) 

The male eagle also helps incubate the eggs and feed the offspring. Wild eagles can live up to 28 years.

They are mostly monogamous, but every once in a while, they might cheat.

"Which is tough [for the females in those species] because they need the males to raise the offspring," Isnardy said.

Garter snakes

Many male garter snakes may pursue a single female, leading to a ball of snakes.

Once the female has mated, it forms a copulatory plug, so other males cannot mate with her.

The other males seem to sense this and leave her alone, Isnardy said.

Female garter snakes give birth to live young between July and August. The average number of young is 10 to 15, but they have been known to give birth to between 70 to 80.

Safety advice so you don't love wildlife to death

Isnardy recognizes that locals and visitors alike love to see Squamish wildlife in nature, but caution has to be taken.

"If we really care about wildlife, definitely learning more about animals, I think is really helpful. Understanding what their needs are. Think about what their needs are, not what our needs are," she said.

She said mountain bikers are wise to make noise on the trails.

"You don't want to collide with a sow and her cubs when they are the trails. So, let wildlife know you are there," Isnardy said.  

Dogs should be kept on a leash and avoid areas where wildlife is most vulnerable.

"Keep yourself safe, keep wildlife safe," she said.

The Squamish Estuary is a very important place for many species.

"It is a rare eco-system in B.C. Only 3% of B.C.'s coastline is estuary," she said.

"And it is so productive and such great habitat for wildlife."

She said user groups in Squamish are often very respectful of wildlife and serve as positive examples of co-habitating.

Good stewardship by those groups includes that they encourage their members to avoid the central estuary and to not paddle down the channel when birds are breeding.

"Having stewardship groups doing that is fantastic," she said.

The climbing community in Squamish has also been great about working with BC Parks to avoid peregrines when they are nesting.

Females invest considerable energy raising offspring, so they ought to be given a wide berth and keep dogs from harassing them.

"They may also be more defensive," she said, adding that black bear sows are more likely to flee into the forest or send their cubs up a tree to escape a threat.

"This is very stressful at a time when the sow is trying to replenish her fat reserves. Remember, she has not eaten all winter and has been producing rich milk for her offspring."

Isnardy notes that coyotes can become more aggressive toward dogs during mating season and are protective of their offspring and denning site.

Wolves are territorial and will often kill intruders in their territory, she said. 

"They see domestic pets as a potential threat or prey. Wolves may travel quietly through Squamish undetected but do not generally linger except on the perimeter," Isnardy said.

Coyotes are more adaptable and are found more frequently in urban areas.

Grizzly sows put in a lot of time raising their cubs and are the slowest reproducing land mammal we have.

According to the Get Bear Smart Society's website:

"In 10 years, a male [or] a female born today could grow to a population of only eight. By comparison, a pair of white-tailed deer could produce more than 1,400 descendants in 10 years."

In a study of serious or fatal bear attacks on humans in B.C. from 1960 to 1971, 79% of grizzly attacks involved female grizzly bears, and all serious black bear attacks were male, Isnardy said.

The majority of serious black bear attacks were predatory, while 62% of grizzly bear attacks were bears startled at close range — less than 50 metres — and 19% involved a carcass.

"Grizzly bears really want to avoid people. If they know you are in the area, they will go out of their way to avoid you."

Here's a recent webinar on co-existing with grizzlies.

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