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Dens and rendezvous sites

Since dens and rendezvous sites are highly sensitive to human disruption, the park’s wildlife technicians visited a number of them with a view to understanding—and, ultimately—protecting them better. 

A female wolf and her one-month-old cub outside their den. © Shutterstock
A female wolf and her one-month-old cub outside their den.

Biological periods

This graph illustrating the distance between two individuals from the same pack helps scientists determine the approximate dates of the park wolves’ different biological periods. (Legend:  nomadic, denning, rendezvous sites) © Sépaq

The 2015–2018 study on the wolves in the park helped establish the dates of the different periods representing the biology and ecology of the animals, namely the denning, rendezvous sites, and nomadic periods. By transposing onto a graph the distance separating two wolves from the same pack (Adrianne and Galuzot) for a period of 12 months, we can see their behavior patterns begin to appear. We see that the two individuals are together, in close proximity, nearly 100% of the time from mid-October to late April. This is the nomadic period, characterized by movements and hunting activities in which the whole pack takes part. Then, from late April to late June, the two wolves are together on average 50% of the time, and apart the remaining 50%. This is known as the “denning” period, during which the wolves’ young are born in the den—the center of activity for the animals in the pack. Aside from the breeding female, the other adult wolves frequently stray from the den to hunt in the surrounding area and feed the wolf cubs and their mother. After that, from late June to mid-October, Adrianne and Galuzot are practically never together, since this is the rendezvous site period. During this period, the wolf cubs are more mobile, and travel to the different rendezvous sites, accompanied by an adult. Although the pack regularly gathers there, the adults, aside from the one in charge of the young, spend most of their time hunting thereabouts, in order to find the prey needed for the survival of the rapidly growing cubs.

Denning period

Installing a camera facing a wolf den (visible in the background). Eric Loiseau | © Sépaq

The denning period of the park’s various wolf packs ranges from April/May to June/July. The architecture of the den is generally quite straightforward, consisting of a tunnel of various lengths, with a rounded or slightly flattened opening. After the den has been in use for a number of years, secondary or tertiary tunnels may be added, possibly giving onto other openings. Dens are often located atop small hillocks, or alternatively, on the lower third of slopes. They usually face south, and are burrowed in well-drained soil whose surface material presents cohesive properties. It is interesting to note that a wolf den can also be much more rudimentary, ranging from a former beaver lodge to large stump, or even any sort of natural cavity.

It’s not always easy for wolves to find a place that meets the necessary criteria to set up a den and, in fact, dens may often be used from one year to the next by the same pack. Wolves also tend to take care not to leave any signs of their presence near the den so that its existence remains discreet. These important sites are highly sensitive to disturbances and to the presence of humans. Fewer than ten den sites have been identified within the park boundaries, and there are several others whose locations remain a mystery.

Rendezvous site period

Wildlife technicians visit a rendezvous site characteristic of the park, in the fall of 2021. Hugues Tennier | © Sépaq

To date, some thirty rendezvous sites have been identified within the park. The rendezvous site period begins at the end of the denning period, around June or July. At that time, the wolf cubs, which are about two months old, need to move and are very active. This means the pack must leave the den site, in order to keep its location as much a secret as possible. Right up until the fall, the adults and cubs will occupy several different rendezvous sites. These consist of sparsely treed areas usually near a water source, allowing the cubs to continue their development through play, by chasing insects and small prey, by imitating the howling of the adults, etc. Of course, the cubs are never left on their own, with an adult (not always the same individual) always by their side. The pack occupies the same rendezvous site for three to four weeks. The location of the rendezvous sites is often determined based on the place where the adults have managed to successfully bring down a large prey.

Nomadic period

Wolves tend to walk in single file when travelling across snowy terrain, in order to save energy by following in each other’s tracks. © Shutterstock

The nomadic period starts in the fall when the cubs have almost reached their full adult size. Now they’re ready to follow the adults and continue learning. During this time, the pack will travel and hunt together until they return to the den site in the spring. The nomadic period is when the wolves cover the largest part of their home range, to fulfill their needs. Winter is also the season when cervids are easier for the wolves to catch since they tend to be weakened by the harsh conditions and the low energy value of the available food.

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