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Maine's Watchable Wildlife
Discover Maine’s natural treasures
Discovering Maine’s rugged beauty and amazing wildlife has been a tradition for hundreds of years. Pristine streams flow from craggy mountains through magical pine forests, down to the bold and rocky coast. And everywhere are diverse wildlife populations that can be seen in abundance, many found nowhere else on the East Coast. A visit to Maine, whether to the mountains, lakes, forests or thousands of miles of coastline, can only be complete by experiencing Maine’s natural treasures.
See a moose. Hear the loon’s melancholy cry. Watch seals playing in our harbors or photograph puffins on a rocky coastal island. Our lodging, guided excursions, state parks and public lands are second to none and offer visitors an experience of natural, unspoiled wonder.
Why our wildlife loves it here: a look at the habitats of Maine
Whether visiting the breathtaking splendor of Acadia National Park, Baxter State Park or the more than thirty state parks and many public lands in Maine, you’re bound to see exciting wildlife. Bald eagles, moose, loons, seals and porpoises are just a few of the animals you may encounter, whether touring by car, relaxing over a picnic, on a porch, on a harbor cruise or along a forest trail.
Maine’s exceptional variety and diversity of wildlife species are the result of a joining of several specific habitats; Maine is the natural boundary of the northern evergreen boreal forests, each of which offers an unusual variety of wildlife. In addition to forestland habitats, Maine’s 33,000 square miles of landscape range from sea level to cloud-capped mountains, and each change in elevation and geography brings with it its own unique variety of birds, mammals and fish, contributing greatly to the diversity of wildlife. Add to this some 5,500 miles of rugged coast, 6,000 lakes and ponds and thousands of miles of rivers-all offering incredible opportunities to view animals on, in and around the water-and visitors to Maine are sure to have a spectacular and memorable wildlife experience.
Where wildlife viewing is guaranteed
A visit to the Maine Wildlife Park on Route 26 in Gray, Maine, offers great viewing of moose and other wild animals found in Maine like lynx and bear. Open daily 9:30 to 4:00 from mid-April through Veterans Day in early November, this park allows visitors to see wild animals that are in need of human care due to injuries or other special needs. Visit the Maine Wildlife Park website or call (207) 657-4977.
Swan Island Wildlife Management Area on the Kennebec River in Richmond, Maine, is known for its deer, bald eagles and wild turkeys as well as its rich history. Today, historic buildings from the 18th century stand as reminders of Swan Island’s past. Tours of the island, available by reservation, cover island history, natural history of native wildlife and wildlife habitat management. Visit the Swan Island website or call 207-287-8000 for more information or (207) 547-5322 for reservations.
The Marine Resources Aquarium in West Boothbay Harbor, operated by the Maine Department of Marine Resources, is an exciting way to interact with and observe some of the creatures living in the waters of the Gulf of Maine. Open May to September daily from 10:00 to 5:00, the aquarium delights visitors with shark and skate tanks, a 20-pound lobster and a “touch tank” teeming with sea stars, urchins and hermit crabs. Contact the aquarium for more information at (207) 633-9559 or visit DMR’s website and follow the department link entitled “Marine Education.”
Moose and other land mammals
Many mammals call Maine their home, both in the forest and along the coast. In fact, Maine has more moose, lynx, black bears and marten than any other state east of the Mississippi.
Thousands of visitors come to Maine each year to catch a glimpse of a moose. The tallest land mammal in North America, moose can stand over seven feet in height. These huge animals range all over Maine, particularly in northern and western sections of the state.
Many guides and outfitters even offer moose-watching tours. You can venture on back roads yourself, or ask your lodging hosts where the best local viewing spots are. A few tips on location and habitat: moose typically eat the tender shoots of vegetation at the edges of lakes and ponds and come to the water during early morning hours and at dusk. Look for moose tracks on dirt roads, identified by their large cloven impression, which can be more than five inches long and show a stride of ten feet- a sure sign that the moose was on the run.
Remember to drive cautiously in moose country, however, since they are often encountered ambling in the middle of a road. Keep a sharp eye out for the moose’s cousin, the white-tailed deer, which can be seen in fields and forest clearings, particularly at dawn and dusk.
Maine has an abundant black bear population. Bears can occasionally be seen in northern, central and western sections of the state, although they are shy and will likely avoid contact with people. Their broad tracks can resemble the print of a flat-footed person with inwardly-turned steps. These powerful animals should be appreciated from afar and not be approached or startled.
One of Maine’s most active furry creatures is the beaver, which builds its home in streams, rivers and lakes. Look for its dome-like lodges, which can stand as high as five or six feet above the surface of the water. Another sure sign of “beaver country” is finding sharpened and chewed sticks on the shores of rivers and lakes that appear to have been whittled at the ends.
Porcupines are viewable throughout the state, although they are typically more active at night. Contrary to popular belief, porcupines cannot throw their quills, which number more than 20,000. These animals are not aggressive and present great photo opportunities.
Some of the more elusive furry animals found throughout Maine include fishers, marten, ermine, red foxes and coyotes.
Whales, seals and other marine wildlife
Several species of whales can be found in Maine’s coastal waters. Finback, humpback, and minke whales can be seen throughout the summer season. Many guide boats and outfitters offer whale-watching tours that will take you right to their popular feeding areas in the Gulf of Maine. An unforgettable sight is watching these massive creatures breach, leaping from the water and landing on their backs with a tremendous and joyful splash. Or keep a sharp eye for their signature spouting-hot air and water spouting from the blow holes in their heads-which can be seen from more than a mile away. Also be on the lookout for the basking shark, one of the largest of sharks (they can be up to 40 feet long), or the ocean sunfish, which can weigh in at several thousand pounds! You can view alewives running in spring in several areas, particularly at “the mills” area of the Damariscotta River in the Mid-Coast town of Newcastle.
Harbor seals can be found in virtually every harbor along the coast, from Kittery to Eastport. These playful creatures, with their dog-like faces and large brown eyes, are best seen from the deck of a tour boat, particularly if you want to catch them sunning themselves on rock ledges. Seals will congregate around fish piers, too, taking advantage of handouts. But if you walk along any harbor front, look for them poking their dark heads out of the water to get a better view of YOU.
Porpoises can also be seen on a harbor cruise. Often traveling in groups, porpoises surface for air in a playful rhythm, showing their sharp dorsal fins and sleek black backs.
Tidal pools, the shallows left in rocks by a falling tide, exist along the entire Maine coast in rocky areas and are host to spectacular mini-ecosystems that teem with life: anemones, sea urchins, crabs, sea cucumbers and small fish. Exploring tidal pools is a wonderful opportunity to view wildlife with children. A field guide is a great way to identify the numerous plants and animals wriggling in tide pools, and a tide chart will help identify the best time for viewing. Keep in mind that the lowest pools, those closest to the water’s edge, offer the most diversity and abundance of life. Look carefully and move gently; life in tidal pools is fragile.
For more information on fishing in Maine, see the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife fishing brochure, “Make a Splash Fishing in Maine,” available at information areas and Visitor Information Centers. You can also visit the www.maineguides.org site or contact any number of Maine’s professional guides, either on the Internet or through local Chambers of Commerce and Visitor Information Centers. Saltwater fishing does not require a license; contact the Maine Department of Marine Resources for rules and regulations: www.maine.gov/dmr
Bald eagles, loons, puffins and other feathered creatures
The sound of a loon’s mournful cry is a true symbol of Maine. Often observed in pairs on Maine’s thousands of lakes and ponds, loons have a very distinctive appearance, with black-and-white spotted bodies and large teardrop-shaped heads. They can be seen –and heard-from many parks and lake-front lodgings. Also keep an eye out for them as you cross lakes and ponds by boat or travel the roadsides along larger water bodies.
Eider ducks, buffleheads, mergansers, guillemots and cormorants can be seen diving in the waves just offshore of any part of Maine’s rocky coast. Cormorants have a curious habit of standing on rocks and spreading their dark slender wings to dry them out.
Maine is host to many species of predatory birds, including hawks, eagles, ospreys and falcons, often seen soaring high above on thermal currents. Bald eagles, identified by their pure white head and tails, range across Maine, from most coastal sections to forest and upland regions and along lakes and rivers. Their broad, dark wings make a striking silhouette overhead as they hunt for food. The Kennebec River from Waterville south is a great place to look for eagles; boat ramps and marinas make excellent vantage points for seeing these awesome predators in action.
Ospreys, also called fish hawks, have a more slender, M-shaped flying silhouette. Found around coastal and freshwater habitats, ospreys nests are huge piles of sticks that can be seen in the tops of dead trees, on bridges and utility poles. A special treat is watching an osprey dive from high in the air into the water. They usually fly off with a large fish clutched in their powerful talons.
Atlantic puffins are a popular seabird that can be encountered only on islands off the Maine coast. They have colorful, clown-like beaks and a comic nature that endear them to all. Puffins use several Maine islands for summer nesting sites. Coastal outfitters offer puffin cruises from early summer through August.
Graceful great blue herons and snowy egrets can be observed wading in the shallows of ponds, lakes, rivers, and freshwater and coastal wetlands.
The large and boisterous pileated woodpecker, which lives throughout Maine’s woods inland and along the coast, is a thrilling sight for any bird enthusiast. Maine’s songbirds, particularly migrating warblers and many resident species, make the woods come alive with their melodious songs.
Bird watchers generally have the best luck at dawn and dusk.
Helpful hints for seeing Maine’s amazing wildlife
Keep in mind that Maine’s animals are wild and should not be approached, fed or startled.
Wildlife are more active in early morning and evening
Carry adequate water, particularly in summer, and dress appropriately, keeping in mind the cool temperatures that can occur in the evening and when exploring on and around the water
Sunscreen and insect repellant are necessary during warmer seasons.
Several specialized items, like binoculars and field guides, can enhance your wildlife viewing
A camera will help you bring your Maine wildlife adventure home with you; a telephoto lens will help get a close look without actually being too close to the wildlife
In Maine, 95 percent of the land is privately owned. Please respect landowners’ wishes and obey posted signs
The Maine Department of Conservation’s Bureau of Parks and Land manages more than 30 state parks and several public land areas where wildlife lives in its natural habitat: (207) 287-3821 or www.maine.gov/doc
The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife is an excellent resource for information on wildlife viewing-including where to see particular species-and offers a field guide, On Water, On Wings, In the Woods: A Guide for Maine Wildlife Watchers. (207) 287-8000 or www.mefishwildlife.com
The Maine Department of Marine Resources offers information on fishing and fish-viewing opportunities: (207) 624-6550 or www.maine.gov/dmr
The Maine Office of Tourism can supply information on wildlife touring opportunities, guides, outfitters, lodging and other services: (207) 287-5711 or www.visitmaine.com
Chambers of Commerce and Visitor Information Centers are excellent resources for information on outfitters and local wildlife viewing opportunities: www.visitmaine.com
The Maine Professional Guides Association offers custom wildlife viewing tours: (207) 338-3932 or www.maineguides.org
Maine Audubon offers guided tours at numerous natural areas. Visit them at 20 Gilsland Rd., Falmouth, Maine or 207-781-2330 or www.maineaudubon.org
The Maine Sporting Camp Association provides information on Maine’s many traditional sporting camps: www.mainesportingcamps.com
Festivals and fun things to do and see
Warblers & Wildflowers Festival, Bar Harbor - Enjoy bird walks, tours of Mount Desert Island's gardens, lectures and socials. (207) 288-5103 or 1-888-540-9996, www.barharbormaine.com
Down East Spring Birding Festival, Cobscook bay Area - A Down east Maine birding experience during spring migration and the breeding season. You'll have many opportunities to see puffins, razorbills, owls and many others in their special habitats. (207) 853-4644, email@example.com, www.downeastbirdfest.org
Damariscotta River Association Field Trips - To view alewife run, call (207) 563-1393 or visit www.draclt.org
May - August
Bird-banding Demonstrations, Falmouth - Watch up close as a Maine Audubon naturalist catches and bands live birds. (207) 781-2330, www.maineaudubon.org
Maine Canoe Symposium, Bridgton - Join us in early June at Winona Camps, a classic Maine woodland camp, in a family-friendly environment for lessons, demonstrations, slide presentations and on-the-water fun for all ages and levels. (207) 892-3121, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.mainecanoesymposium.org
Moose Mainea, Greenville - Dedicated to Greenville's most popular four-legged resident, this month-long celebration features a variety of activities for all ages. Moose River Canoe race, mountain bike race, Tour de Moose, craft fair, kids day and more. (207) 695-2702 or 1-888-876-2778, email@example.com, www.mooseheadlake.org
Grand Lake Stream Folk Art Festival, Grand Lake Stream - Build a canoe, see handmade quilts, juried artisans, Native American basket weaving and hear local music. (207) 796-8199, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.thecclc.org/glsfaf
Outdoor Sporting Heritage Day, Rangeley - Join the experts for a day celebrating the region's outdoor sporting heritage for the whole family. Day includes fishing demonstrations, canoe races, moose calling and more. (207) 864-5647, www.rangeleymaine.com
Bald Eagles of Merrymeeting Bay, from Boothbay Harbor - Join Maine Audubon on this annual boat trip to one of the largest concentrations of bald eagles in Maine. (207) 781-2330, www.maineaudubon.org
The Maine Salmon Festival in Eastport - Enjoy a salmon dinner, see salmon aquaculture pens and enjoy music, arts & crafts, educational displays and tours. (207) 853-4644, www.eastportme.net
Spawning Spectacular, Craig Brook National Fish Hatchery, East Orland Visit this US Fish and Wildlife site's interpretive center and watch the artificial spawning of Penobscot River Sea Run Atlantic Salmon. (207) 469-6701
(207) 454-7161- Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge, Baring
Maine Office of Tourism
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