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Woodland Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou)

Woodland Caribou


  • Adult bulls can weigh up to 270 kilograms (600 pounds), but average about 180 kilograms (400 pounds).
  • Adult cows average about 115 kilograms (250 pounds).


  • Unlike their counterparts in other deer species, both caribou males and females grow antlers. Mature bulls grow large racks, but those of cows are shorter and have fewer points.
  • Summer coats are a rich dark brown on back, sides, legs and face, and creamy white at the neck.
  • Large feet with crescent-shaped hooves make travel easier in deep, soft snow or spongy moss bogs.
  • Woodland caribou inhabit the boreal forest of northern Alberta and mixed coniferous forests and alpine regions of west-central Alberta.
  • Recent assessments estimate that Alberta's woodland caribou inhabit about 113,000 square kilometres (43, 630 square miles) of the northern and west central parts of the province.
  • Caribou distribution has moved northward from southern habitat limits where human encroachment has been greatest.
  • Woodland caribou are migratory but their movements are not as extensive as those of the barren ground caribou (Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus).
  • In Alberta there are two ecotypes of woodland caribou that differ primarily in their migration habits:
    • Mountain ecotype (west-central Alberta) - undertakes long migrations of 80 kilometres (50 miles) or more (straight line distance) between its forested foothills winter range and mountainous summer range.
    • Boreal ecotype - may carry out long or short seasonal migrations ranging from 15 to 80 kilometres (9 to 50 miles) but remains within forested habitats throughout the year.
Natural History


  • Pure pine, pine/black spruce forests and treed muskegs are the main habitats woodland caribou use in winter.
  • During spring, summer and fall, mountain caribou use alpine snow beds, treeline habitat and subalpine forest.
  • Woodland caribou in other areas of Alberta use open muskeg as well as mature coniferous forests spring through fall.


  • Caribou are well-known for their ability to use ground and tree lichens as major food sources, and they browse in mature coniferous forests that provide substantial quantities of both.
  • The summer diet is diverse with increased use of willow and forbs. Lichens, however, remain a major component often comprising 25 to 35 percent of their summer food.
  • Usually, 60 to 70 percent of the winter diet is composed of tree lichens, with shrubs and grasses forming the majority of the balance.
  • It takes 80 to 150 years for a forest community to grow adequate amounts of lichen for caribou.
Reproduction and Growth

Breeding Behaviour

  • Woodland caribou gather in large groups to breed in early to mid-October.
  • Mature bulls grow large racks which they use during the breeding season (rut) to defend their group of cows from other bulls. The mature, breeding bulls drop their antlers in December, whereas young bulls usually retain their antlers until late winter.
  • Calves are usually born between late May and early June.
  • Cows calve alone while widely dispersed over their summer range. Cows drop their antlers during or just after calving.
  • A caribou cow does not mate or breed until she is two-and-a-half years old, and will usually produce only one calf a year. Caribou productivity is low compared to other members of the deer family, which breed at a younger age and often produce twins.
Conservation and Management


Woodland caribou are classified as At Risk in the General Status of Alberta Wild Species report. See:

Also see the Status of the Woodland Caribou in Alberta report at:

This species is also listed as Threatened under the Wildlife Act. See more information on this species and the assessment and listing process at:


  • Most populations declining, with some at immediate risk of extirpation (local extinction).
  • Primary threat is habitat change brought about by human activity, which enables increased predation by wolves.
  • Maintenance of old-growth forest habitat is critical.

Current management


There is no open season for woodland caribou in Alberta. See details in the Alberta Guide to Hunting Regulations. To view the guide online or to order a printed copy, visit the My Wild Alberta website at:


Page Information

Updated: Dec 19, 2017