Wildlife On Pelee Island


Pelee Island is home to some of Canada’s most rare, endangered, and at risk species of birds, reptiles, mammals, insects, and more. While you’re exploring the island keep a close eye out for a variety of species that you are unlikely to find anywhere else in Canada. Please note that species listed as threatened or endangered are listed as such on the species at risk in Ontario list and may not fall under the same classification on a national or international level.

Reptiles of Pelee Island

A Blandings turtle on a sandy beach.
Photo credit Shirley Steingart

Blanding's Turtle

The Blanding’s Turtle is a threatened species of medium sized turtle with a black and brown, yellow speckled shell that can reach around 27 centimetres in length. The shell is more dome shaped than many other turtles. Its head and legs are typically a greyish-black colour, while its throat, chin, and underside of its shell are a bright yellow colour.

The Blanding’s Turtle can be found throughout much of Pelee Island, specifically in areas of shallow water and wetlands that are rich in aquatic plant life.

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A blue racer coiled up in the grass.
Photo credit Ryan Wolfe

Blue Racer

Anyone who visits Pelee Island in search of the opportunity to experience rare species of animals is surely well aware of the Blue Racer.

The Blue Racer is a large, non-venomous snake that cannot be found anywhere in Canada other than on Pelee Island. The Blue Racer can reach lengths of up to 1.5 metres or nearly 5 feet. Its primary body colour is typically a dark greyish-blue with its belly/underside typically being a distinctive bluish silver colour.

The Blue Racer can be found in a select few areas throughout the island but don’t get your hopes up, due to its extremely low population, and intolerance to human activity this snake is extremely difficult to spot.

As with any snake please be extra cautious when driving on the island as the snakes love to sunbathe on the warm roads but often take the appearance of sticks and small branches to motorists. Road fatalities are the leading cause of death to snakes on our island.

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An eastern fox snake coiled up in the grass.
Photo credit Ryan Wolfe

Eastern Foxsnake

The Eastern Foxsnake is an endangered species and is one of Ontario’s largest snakes with some adults reaching over 1.7 metres or 5.5 feet in length. This snake is non-venomous and is easily identifiable due to its light brown coloured body with large dark brown blotches and its rusty orange coloured head. Their underside is typically a combination of light yellow and black.

Eastern Foxsnakes are known for their ability to climb and their vibrating, rattlesnake-like sounding tail when they are threatened.

The Eastern Foxsnake makes fairly common appearances all across the island. As with any snake please be extra cautious when driving on the island as the snakes love to sunbathe on the warm roads but often take the appearance of sticks and small branches to motorists. Road fatalities are the leading cause of death to snakes on our island.

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Lake Erie Watersnake

The Lake Erie Watersnake is a large, non-venomous, highly aquatic snake that is commonly found near the shorelines of Pelee Island and other islands throughout western Lake Erie. The snakes can reach over 1 metre in length and are typically a pale grey to dark brown, almost black colour with faint banding on their backs.

The Lake Erie Watersnake can be found lurking in waters hunting for small fish, hiding in the crevices of rocky shorelines, or basking on rocks and roadways. Up until 2016 this snake was listed as endangered but has since been reassessed and due to growing populations is now listed as special concern.

As with any snake please be extra cautious when driving on the island as the snakes love to sunbathe on the warm roads but often take the appearance of sticks and small branches to motorists. Road fatalities are the leading cause of death to snakes on our island.

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Spiny Softshell Turtle

The Spiny Softshell turtle is an endangered turtle and is the only softshell species found in Ontario. This species is highly aquatic and will rarely be found far from water. They are easily recognizable by their unique look - a flat leathery looking shell that can reach up to 57 centimetres in length and its pointed snout. The Spiny Softshell turtle is typically a deep green/olive, brown, or greyish colour.

Though fairly uncommon this turtle is most likely to be found near the northern and southern points of the island.

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Amphibians of Pelee Island

In addition to the links below, you can learn more about the species of salamanders found on Pelee Island at https://www.natureconservancy.ca/en/where-we-work/ontario/stories/salamanders-of-pelee-island.html

Small-mouthed Salamander

The Small-mouthed Salamander is a medium sized species growing to a maximum length of nearly 18 centimetres or 7 inches. They have a dark coloured body with grey patches along its sides and tail. Pelee Island is the only place where Small-mouthed Salamanders can be found in Canada.

Due to their preference to spend most of their non-breeding season hidden in burrows, decomposing trees, and leaves, these amphibians are extremely rare to spot, but if luck is on your side you may be able to spot one at Fish Point Provincial Nature Reserve or other areas on the island with tall grasses, soft soil, small bodies of water, and a generally wet environment.

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A blue-spotted salamander on a moss covered rock.
Photo credit Ryan Wolfe

Blue-spotted Salamander

The blue-spotted salamander is a medium sized species with individuals growing to a maximum length of 16 centimetres or 6.3 inches, just slightly smaller than the small-mouthed salamander. Their colouring is typically black or a dark greyish-brown with light blue spots. These salamanders are typically found on the ground in forests, hiding under leaves and burrowing underground. As they are amphibians the Blue-spotted Salamander can be found breeding in swamps, ponds, marshes, ditches, or other areas with standing water.

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Birds of Pelee Island

For a full list of bird species recorded on Pelee Island please check out the checklist of birds from Pelee Island Bird Observatory which can be found here: https://pibo.ca/en/research/checklist-of-the-birds-of-pelee-island/

American White Pelican

The American White Pelican is a large, threatened species of bird with predominantly white feathers and black wing tips. These birds can reach a weight of 6-7 kilograms or approximately 13-15 pounds and a wingspan of 2.5-3 metres or approximately 8-10 feet. They have a large yellowish-orange bill and webbed feet.

On the island American White Pelicans are typically only found at the far southern tip on the beach of Fish Point Provincial Nature Reserve.

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An adult bald eagle perched atop a tree.
Photo credit Ryan Wolfe

Bald Eagle

The Bald Eagle is a relatively large and well known species of predatory bird. Adults have a stark white head, neck, and tail, with a dark brown, and sometimes almost black body. They have large yellow curved beaks and powerful legs and talons making them one of the best fishers around! Bald Eagles can have a wingspan of over 2 metres or 6.5 feet.

Pelee Island has an impressive population of Bald Eagles with recent counts by Pelee Island Bird Observatory (PIBO) at 9 individuals on December 18, 2022. Bald Eagles can often be seen sitting atop some of the tallest trees along the west side of the island or soaring over the lakes, and occasionally fields searching for prey.

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Barn Swallow

The Barn Swallow is a medium-sized threatened species of Songbird reaching sizes of approximately 15 - 18 centimetres or 5.9 - 7 inches in length. Their backs are covered in steel blue coloured feathers, they typically have a rusty red coloured face and lighter brown underbellies.

Barn swallows are fairly common on Pelee Island and are typically nesting in their nests largely constructed of mud along the edges of man-made structures such as pavilions and barns.

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A great-horned owl nesting in a tree.
Photo credit Ryan Wolfe

Great Horned Owl

The Great Horned Owl is one of the most commonly found owls in North America. This owl is a relatively large species of owl with large, prominent feathered tufts on either side of the top of their heads. The largest of these owls can grow to have wingspans of nearly 1.5 metres or almost 5 feet. Their bodies are typically covered in faded brown-ish grey feathers with reddish faces and a white spot on the through, though overall colour-tones can vary quite a bit.

Though they are a species of least concern in Ontario, the Great Horned Owl is still a fairly rare species to sight due to their nocturnal nature.

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Ring-necked Pheasant

Ring-necked Pheasants are commonly found on Pelee Island at certain times of the year. While there are likely small breeding populations of them year round these pheasants are predominantly farmed off the island, brought over, and released at various locations to populate the island for the annual Pelee Island Pheasant Hunts that take place each fall.

The male pheasants typically have a rusty reddish-orange body with a bluish-green head, red patches around its eyes, and a thick white ring around its neck. The females typically have light brown feathers covering their entire body with some darker spots throughout.

You’ll most often see the Ring-necked Pheasants scouring the ground in fields, along roadways, and in bushy areas around the island.

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A male turkey in a field.
Photo credit Shirley Steingart

Wild Turkey

The Wild Turkey is a large, very commonly found bird on Pelee Island. They are often found foraging for beans, fruits, and insects in fields, and wooded areas and typically travel in large groups. Keep an eye out as these birds have a tendency to cross roadways on the ground in a single file line, typically one adult will be at the front of the line with the young birds in the middle and another adult at the back to ensure no one is left behind.

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A red bellied woodpecker perched on the side of a tree preparing to search for food.

Red-bellied woodpecker

The Red-bellied Woodpecker is a medium sized woodpecker that can be found throughout Pelee Island. They are identified by red feathers on the top of their head and going down the back of their neck, white feathered face, and black and white striped back and wings. Despite their misleading name the Red-bellied Woodpecker typically has a white underbelly. These birds typically nest in the cavities of tree trunks and are most commonly found in heavily wooded areas.

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Wood Duck

The Wood Duck is hands down one of the most stunning species of waterfowl you will ever see. These birds are easily identified by their large crested heads, skinny necks, ornate markings, and an attractive combination of feather colours including deep greens, rusty oranges, light and dark browns, white, and black.

Keep an eye out for Wood Ducks in marshy areas, wooded swamps, and any small bodies of water throughout the island.

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Insects of Pelee Island


The Monarch Butterfly is one of the most widely known species of butterfly in North America, but due to threats of habitat loss it is a species of special concern, just one step up from being threatened.

As a caterpillar the Monarch is easily recognized by its black, white, and yellow banding and is found almost exclusively feeding on milkweed. As a butterfly the Monarch is once again easily recognized by its relatively large size and orange and black wings with white spots. The butterflies can be found feeding on the nectar of wildflowers and are most commonly seen on the island in the late summer and early fall on their migration route to Mexico. During the migration season it is not uncommon to see groups of Monarch butterflies in the thousands.

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Hoptree Borer

The Hoptree Borer is a small endangered species of moth which relies solely on the common hoptree which in itself is an extremely rare species of plant and is found almost nowhere else in Canada.

The Hoptree Borer is very small with an average wingspan of 17-20 millimetres or about 0.75 inches. Its front wings are white with black spots and its slightly smaller hind wings that are a light brown and sometimes pinkish colour.

It is extremely unlikely that you will ever see a Hoptree Borer on Pelee Island, but if you want to test your luck take a stroll through Fish Point Provincial Nature reserve and keep your eye out for them on the common hoptree that can be very sparsely located throughout the reserve.

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Thanks to the abundance of naturally occurring flowering plants on Pelee Island, in addition to the recent addition of the Pelee Island Butterfly Sanctuary and Teaching Garden, as well as Sinclair Honeybees located on the island, Pelee Island is buzzing with a relatively healthy population of Honey Bees (and lots of other bees too!). Honey Bees are small docile insects and will almost never sting. They play an extremely important role in the pollination of many plants including the threatened and endangered species located on the island.

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Mayflies are a large-winged insect that occurs for just a month or two during each summer. These insects are also incorrectly, but commonly referred to as fish flies or june bugs. These bugs are typically only found near large bodies of water and are hatched annually from eggs that the females lay in freshwater areas (ie. all around the island). Each year in the early-mid summer the larvae matures and becomes the very recognizable mayfly.

These insects are less than mediocre flyers, have a short lifespan, often times less than 24 hours, and are attracted to light. Though these insects are completely harmless they come in an abundance! If you happen to visit the island during mayfly season be sure to keep outdoor lighting, and indoor lighting that is visible through windows to a minimum at night otherwise you could potentially wake up to a special surprise in the morning - thousands of these insects grasping to the exterior walls of your cottage until they just die.

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Stable Fly

The Stable Fly is a common species of fly found along the shores and in wooded areas of Pelee Island. Though they are present throughout the entire tourist season they are most common in the late summer and sometimes into the early fall. These flies are known for their irritating bite and typically target the ankles and feet. The stable fly is not an exciting animal to see by any means, and is really only being included on this list as a warning to visitors. The best ways to avoid or reduce your chances of having to deal with the bite of a stable fly is to wear long pants, closed toe shoes, and use a good bug spray. Also pay close attention to the wind direction as it plays an important role in where the flies may be located around the island on any given day. If visiting beaches on the island during fly season your best bet is going to be to visit one where the wind is blowing away from the shore.

Mammals of Pelee Island

Red Fox

The Red Fox is a common species of fox similar to the Gray Fox but with some noticeable differences. Red Foxes are typically about 3 feet long and around 2 feet tall, they have a burnt orange colour fur covering most of their bodies with white areas around the mouth, chin, on their bellies and at the tip of their tails. They have large pointy ears and long snouts.

To those who don’t know the difference between the Red Fox and the Gray Fox they can often mistake one for the other. The easiest ways to tell the difference between the two species is the primary fur colour and the tip of the tail, Red Foxes always have a white tip, and Gray Foxes always have a black tip.

Red Foxes, though rarely seen, can be found all across the island.

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A Gray Fox standing in the grass at the edge of a tree line.
Photo credit Ryan Wolfe

Gray Fox

The Gray Fox is a threatened species of small canid. While abundant across much of the United States, in Canada the Gray Fox is only found in Manitoba and Ontario, with Pelee Island being one of just two breeding populations of Gray Fox in Ontario.

The Gray Fox is relatively small weighing on average somewhere in the range of 3.6 - 7 kilograms, or 7.9 - 15.4 pounds. They have relatively short legs, a short snout, and often times a long and bushy tail. This fox features predominantly grey fur on its back and side, a white underbelly, and rusty reddish-orange fur near the ears, around a portion of the neck, chest, legs, and often times a stripe of the red fur between the grey fur on their back and the white fur of their bellies. Their tail colour typically fades from the grey of their back to black at the tip.

Though not commonly seen, the Gray Fox can be found in areas all across the island.

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A Fox Squirrel standing on the small twig of a tree.
Photo credit Shirley Steingart

Fox Squirrel

The Fox Squirrel is the largest species of tree squirrel in North America and is the only species of squirrel on Pelee Island. These squirrels have a typical size of 10-15 inches in length and weight in the range of 1-2.5 pounds. The Fox Squirrels colours and markings vary based on their location and on Pelee Island typically have a brownish-grey back with a yellowish-orange and sometimes rusty red coloured belly and face.

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Coyotes are a medium sized species of canid that can be found all across Pelee Island. They are considered an apex predator on the island and often feed on some of the larger species of animals on the island including wild turkeys and rabbits. Coyotes are a similar size to the Red Fox and have a more wolf-like appearance with a combination of red, grey, and white fur.

Coyotes are primarily nocturnal and can be found in densely wooded areas where prey is most accessible to them. Coyotes on the island have not been known to be a nuisance to humans. At night keep your ears open for the yapping of Coyotes and their pups in nearby wooded areas.

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Molluscs of Pelee Island

Pelee Island is home to over 30 species of snails and slugs, including 8 rare species.

A broad-banded forestsnail from three different angles on a black background.

Broad-banded Forestsnail

The Broad-banded Forestsnail is an endangered species of land snail that, in Canada, only exists on Pelee Island, and at nearby Point Pelee National Park in Leamington. The snail has an approximate shell diameter of 30 millimetres or 1.18 inches. The shell colour is a very light yellowish-brown with slightly darker brown banding. These snails are most active from the early evenings, overnight into the late mornings when they will find shelter for a few hours midday.

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Carolina Mantleslug

The Carolina Mantleslug is a threatened species of large slug. Adults can range from 6-10 centimetres or approximately 2.3-4 inches in length. This slug is typically an ash grey colour with two lines of black dots going down the top side of the body, however they can also sometimes be found with dark grey and brown marbling patterns.

The Carolina Mantleslug is a land slug and prefers wet areas of undisturbed forests and decaying trees.

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Eastern Banded Tigersnail

The Eastern Banded Tigersnail is a large species of endangered land snail that is only found in Canada on Pelee Island and nearby Middle Island. This snail ranges in size from 2-2.5 centimetres or about one inch. Their shell colour fades from yellow to brown and has a distinctive light coloured band down the centre of its shell that is bordered by dark brown bands on either side.

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The Shagreen is a medium-sized endangered species of land snail that, in Canada, can only be found on Pelee Island and nearby Middle Island. The shell of the Shagreen has an approximate width of 1 centimetre and is typically a yellow or brown colour.

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Round Pigtoe

The Round Pigtoe is an endangered species of medium-large size freshwater mussel that can grow to sizes of approximately 13 centimetres or 5.1 inches. The shell of the Round Pigtoe is a deep brown colour and develops growth rings as it ages, similar to those found in a tree stump.

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