Churchill Northern Lights, Wildlife and Snow

A snowy tundra was the perfect setting for an Arctic fox greeting Natural Habitat Adventures guide Moira Le Patourel and her group of travelers. As snow fluttered to the ground the inquisitive fox seemed indifferent to the rover’s presence. What beautiful colors melding together in an Arctic landscape!

Arctic fox churchill, Manitoba

Arctic fox surveying the land fast ice along the Hudson Bay. Moira Le Patourel photo.

Caught between the search for lemmings and waiting for the Hudson Bay freeze, this gorgeous fox will patiently wait for the latter in order to feed off the left -overs of polar bear seal kills. A fascinating existence for sure. Polar bear season in Churchill reveals the subtleties of survival in the far north.

Arctic Fox Churchill

Arctic fox waiting out the eventual freezing of the Hudson Bay. Moira Le Patourel photo.

Later, out on the tundra of the Churchill Wildlife Management Area, a sow with two cubs of the year (coy) revealed themselves on the horizon and explored the ground close to the polar rover. The three moved confidently across the thermokarst landscape while circling the group observing from the rover. Purely incredible to witness these polar bears in their natural environment.

polar bear family in Churchill, Manitoba

Sow and two coy wandering the Hudson Bay coast near Churchill. Moira Le Patourel photo.

The persistent unseasonable moderate temperatures have polar bears resting and conserving energy for the most part though we are still seeing magical behavior across the tundra. Surely the snow and cold will escalate and we will see more sparring in the coming weeks. Until then we are not complaining about the number of family interactions so far this year as well as the variety of other wildlife sightings.

Polar bear in Churchill, Manitoba

Resting polar bear by a stand of willows. Moira Le Patourel photo.

The group was charmed with a first – night orientation of some fantastic northern lights which they took in down by the large inukshuk behind the town complex. What a display squeezed in between the clouds and snow squalls.

northern lights churchill inukshuk

One of the best spots in Churchill to capture the magical northern lights. Moira Le Patourel photo.

The following day Moira brought her travelers back for an iconic group photo from the head of the Hudson Bay. If the incredible aurora displays this polar bear season are any indication, we are in for quite a northern lights season in January through March.

Churchill inukshuk

Natural Habitat group photo at the Churchill inukshuk. Moira Le Patourel photo.

Snowy Owls and Lemmings

The snowy owl is the largest owl – by weight- and certainly the most photogenic with its’ regal white feathers and stunning yellow eyes. Birders and travelers from around the world venture north to the Arctic to catch a glimpse, and sometimes more in heavily populated years. Summers are spent deep in the Arctic to take advantage of the 24 hour sunlight that enhances chances to gather more prey such as lemmings and ptarmigan. In bountiful years when the lemming population is prolific, snowy owls can rear twice or three times the number of young. The two species are intertwined.

JBM1tX snowy owl

Snowy owl flying right into view of a traffic camera in Montreal, Quebec. transport Quebec photo.

Snowy owls are prevalent in Churchill during polar bear season in October and November. Last season, high numbers of sightings across the tundra drew the awe of people whom had ventured to the polar bear capital of the world mainly to see the bears. However, the magnificent owl always seems to create a lasting impression on the groups. Though the seasonal fluctuations are sometimes frustrating to travelers and in particular birders that journey to Churchill to see the species, there is a pretty basic explanation for the changes year to year. Why do we have these vastly different numbers in various seasons?

Lemmings in particular are a unique prey species for snowy owls. Lemmings prey upon tundra mosses and will remain in an area until their food supply has been exhausted. Unlike voles that eat grasses which replenish naturally fairly quickly, the mosses that lemmings eat take years to regrow. Therefore they move to another region and the predators such as snowy owls follow. The lemming population crashes after reaching a peak density and the owls emigrate to greener pastures or, at least those with healthy moss populations. There they will usually find lemming populations…and the cycle continues. The theories that lemming populations decrease due to predators such as foxes, owls and other raptors in a region is simply not true. The available vegetation is the key to the cycle.

snowy owl in Montreal, Quebec

Five “Other” Animals You Could See In Churchill

Churchill is known worldwide at the best, most accessible place to see polar bears. Now, if you’ve spent much time in this northern Manitoba outpost town you know there’s much more than the “king” of the Arctic. In fact, often it’s the other animals of this remote land on the shores of the Hudson Bay that give travelers thrills. The unexpected often can be as exciting as seeing the main event.

A polar bear lurking in the willows around Churchill, Manitoba.

Polar bear in the willows in Churchill. Eric rock photo.

Here are five other animal attractions around Churchill you could see during polar bear season and possibly other times of the year.

1. Arctic Fox– This icon of the Arctic is one of the most beautiful animals in the north. To some extent the white fox symbolizes the Arctic as much as the mighty polar bear. the population tends to run in cycles and fluctuates with the lemming population and will compete from year to year with the red fox.

Arctic fox sniffing the tundra for prey in Churchill, Manitoba.

Arctic fox sniffing the tundra for prey. Brad Josephs photo.

2. Moose– Usually individual moose can be seen from a polar rover or  from a helicopter journey over the vast tundra.

A moose on the tundra. Brad Josephs photo.

A moose on the tundra. Brad Josephs photo.

3.- Red fox– The “other’ fox in the Arctic has been increasing its range of habitat over the years and even foraging seal-kills out on the Hudson Bay ice pack. The red fox numbers fluctuate from year to year…highly dependent on lemming numbers.

red fox on the Churchill, Manitoba tundra.

Red fox along the coast in Churchill,MB. Brad Josephs photo.

4. Beluga Whale– Although you will not see this whale during polar bear season, you could see polar bears during whale season which can extend until late August and even early September.

Beluga whale in Churchill River.

Beluga whale in the mouth of the Churchill River. Photo-Steve Selden

5. Killer Whale (Orca)- A very rare sight in the Hudson Bay. Occasionally these leviathans surface in areas where they can be seen, usually just outside the mouth of the Churchill River. If you are lucky enough to see one the chances of getting a photo are slim.

killer whales in the Hudson Bay near Churchill, Manitoba.

Orca’s in the Hudson Bay. Dwight Allen photo.

Come to the north and Churchill to see these amazing animals with Natural Habitat Adventures! Visit for information.




Video: Arctic Fox Raids Polar Bear Kill

The Arctic fox is primarily a carnivore that lives inland, away from coasts. However, in recent years we have seen a notable increase in numbers spotted along coastal areas and out on developing sea ice.

Lemmings constitute the main diet of the animal though they also prey on seabirds and their eggs as well as various marine life along the coast. The lemming population tends to exist on a wavering scale from season to season. With those fluctuations we also see yearly changes within the population of Arctic fox in the Churchill region. When the rodent population decreases, foxes head out onto the Hudson Bay pack ice and survive on seal or other marine kills from polar bears. One can clearly see how the delicate web of life in the Arctic is reliant on opportunistic principles of survival.

Want to see these majestic creatures and polar bears in the wild? Visit to see how.

Pin It on Pinterest