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Gray Wolf Habitat and Behavior

Updated on November 17, 2014

Gray Wolf Habitat across the Globe

Gray wolves, sometimes also called timber wolves, are not as common as they once were. Once upon a time gray wolves roamed all across Europe, Asia, and the North American continent (perhaps more than 2 million gray wolves). Today, gray wolves are nearly extinct in Western Europe. There are small populations of gray wolf habitat in Scandinavia, Spain, Italy, and Eastern Poland. But most gray wolves live in Eastern Europe, Northern Asia, and Northern North America (fewer than 200,000).

"Yellowstone Wolves in the Wild" by James C. Halfpenny
"Yellowstone Wolves in the Wild" by James C. Halfpenny

Gray Wolf Habitat in the US

In North America, the gray wolf habitat has diminished to Canada and Alaska with only a few gray wolves in the continental US. Canada has over 50,000 gray wolves and are considered as hunting game throughout most of the country. Alaska, which also considers wolves as game, may have more than 10,000 gray wolves. There is a very small gray wolf habitat in the Great Lakes area of Wisconsin, Northern Minnesota, and upper Michigan. And the Rocky Mountain regions of Wyoming, Montana, Oregon, and Idaho sport a few gray wolves. Perhaps the most well-known gray wolf habitat is in Yellowstone National Park. However, less than 100 gray wolves live there (as reported by Yellowstone National Park in 2009).

Gray wolves of Yellowstone

Gray Wolves who live in a forested area are often called Timber Wolves.
Gray Wolves who live in a forested area are often called Timber Wolves.

Type and Size of the Gray Wolf Habitat

A gray wolf habitat varies in size and type. In harsh areas such as the icy tundra or hot dry plains, the gray wolf habitat range is rather large – up to 1,000 square miles. In areas where there is more prey, such as forested areas, the gray wolf habitat is smaller – as small as 20 square miles. The pack size of gray wolves may also be affected by the habitat. The more prey that is available, the larger the pack. Likewise, the less prey available, the smaller the pack of gray wolves tend to be. As few as three gray wolves can be considered a pack but a pack can also be more than 20 gray wolves. As many as 30 gray wolves in a pack have been reported. However, the average pack size is 4-9 adult gray wolves.

A pack of gray wolves consist mostly of siblings and offspring.
A pack of gray wolves consist mostly of siblings and offspring.

Wolf Behavior

What is it about gray wolves that fascinate us? Is it because we associate them with the wild version of dogs? Some behaviors of dogs are reminiscent of wolf behavior. Is it because we are fascinated with their hunting prowess? When tracking down large prey, gray wolves work as a coordinated unit. Different hunting tactics are used depending on size and type of prey as well as the terrain. Or is it because the wolf behavior of the pack resembles our own family units? A pack of gray wolves consists of a breeding pair (mother and father) with the subordinates being cousins, siblings, or offspring.

Pack of gray wolves take down a buffalo (caution - may be graphic).

A pack of gray wolves are are generally very amiable towards one another... except during mating season.
A pack of gray wolves are are generally very amiable towards one another... except during mating season.

Breeding Information on Wolf Behavior

Female gray wolves come into season once per year – as early as December in warmer regions and as late as March in colder areas. The wolf behavior of the pack gets tumultuous during this 5- 7 day period. The alpha female aggressively drives the subordinate females away while the alpha male does he same with the male subordinates. While it is generally the alpha female and alpha male gray wolves which mate, this is not always the case. The alpha male or female may choose to mate with a subordinate or two subordinate gray wolves that had been temporarily driven away may mate.


Wolf Den
Wolf Den | Source

Wolf Behavior after Mating

About six weeks after conception, the gray wolves begin preparation of the den. A den can be a hollow dug out of the ground, a cave, or other dark concealed enclosure. Often, gray wolves will use the same den year after year. Just before giving birth, which is about 62-63 days after conception, the pregnant wolf retires to her den. During a period of about 3 hours, the wolf delivers 4-7 pups.

Gray wolves mother and her pups.
Gray wolves mother and her pups.

Gray Wolves and the Wolf Pups

The wolf pups are born blind and helpless. The mother wolf stays in her den to nurse the pups. She seldom, if ever, leaves the den in the first few weeks so the other gray wolves in the pack bring her food. The wolf pups, born with blue eyes, can see, hear, walk, and growl after about 3 weeks. Weaning begins and the wolf pups are fed milk as well as food regurgitated by other members of the pack. By 8 weeks, the wolf pups are fully weaned. The gray wolves abandon the den and move to a more open area where the wolf pups can continue to develop and grow.

Wolf Pup
Wolf Pup

The entire pack cares for the wolf pups. It is generally left to the lowest level wolves to care for the pups while the stronger wolves go out to hunt. When the gray wolves return from the hunt, the pups nip and lick the faces of the adults to stimulate regurgitation so that they can eat. Play time for the pups helps them to learn hunting and fighting skills. The pups play with one another as well as with the adults. Even the alpha gray wolves are known to play with the wolf pups from time to time.

Black wolves are the same species as gray Wolves (Canis lupus).
Black wolves are the same species as gray Wolves (Canis lupus).

In the fall, the wolf pups learn to hunt by joining the adult gray wolves and watching as they take down prey. Soon they are allowed to help hunt. And after about one year of age, the wolf pups have learned the skills needed to either strike out on their own or take their place amongst the pack.

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    • profile image

      frank 

      5 years ago

      very well written dawn this was very informative

    • profile image

      joe 

      5 years ago

      i loveit

    • profile image

      the wolfes 

      6 years ago

      the wolfes are so cooooooooooooooooooooooooooool

    • profile image

      lalala 

      6 years ago

      i like the videos

    • FirstStepsFitness profile image

      FirstStepsFitness 

      6 years ago

      Very nice hub ,well illustrated too.Really I have much respect and admiration for this fine animal born free.

    • ecury tanaka profile image

      ecury tanaka 

      6 years ago from Pearl of the Orient: Penang, Malaysia

      Wow! thank you for the informative hubs on wolves...loved the wolf pup picture. Sad to say in Malaysia we can't seem to find any wolf, besides watching them on National Geographic. :P

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is a fascinating hub, Dawn! I'm very interested in wolves, and your article and videos were very informative. The photos were lovely too.

    • justmesuzanne profile image

      justmesuzanne 

      6 years ago from Texas

      Lovely! Voted up and interesting! :)

    • Brian Burton profile image

      Brian Burton 

      6 years ago

      Beautiful article, flowed nicely, and was a joy to read. It is very interesting how closely the behavior of wolves matches our own behavior.

    • Purely Nature profile image

      Purely Nature 

      6 years ago from Lincolnshire

      Beautiful creatures, great Hub Dawn :)

    • Sun-Girl profile image

      Sun-Girl 

      6 years ago from Nigeria

      Nice and great info you actually shared in here which i enjoyed reading from.

    • Movie Master profile image

      Movie Master 

      6 years ago from United Kingdom

      Wonderful informative and interesting hub on one of my favourite animals.

      Welcome to HubPages and Happy Writing!

    • Gypsy Willow profile image

      Gypsy Willow 

      6 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

      Very well written and informative. A very misunderstood, beautiful animal. Thank you!

    • Jamiehousehusband profile image

      Jamiehousehusband 

      6 years ago from Derbyshire, UK

      Nice hub Dawn, I too love animals and especially any deratives of dogs. Enjoyed readin, thanks.

    • Nature by Dawn profile imageAUTHOR

      Dawn Ross 

      6 years ago

      Canis lupus familiaris is the subspecies classifcation for dogs. They can breed with wolves and coyotes. In fact, you can find lots of wolf-hybrids for sale online. But the personality of dogs and wolves are still too different for me to ever consider getting a wolf or even wolf-hybrid as a pet. Wolves can be very domineering and there could be constant competition between you and the wolf for the alpha position. Wolves are cool-looking animals, but you are taking your chances if you try to make them a pet.

      Thanks for the info on the book. I will put it on my book list. Thanks! :0)

    • profile image

      keith s 

      6 years ago

      Hi Dawn,

      Interesting article. By the way, the latest thinking by most who classify animal species now classify the dog as a sub-species of the gray wolf, which is probably appropriate because wolves and dogs do interbreed.

      If you haven't read The Wolf in the Parlor by Jon Fulton, you may find it interesting. It's about the coevolution of protodog and homo sapin over thousands of years.

      Lastly, please vote for Max A. Pooch. He's in the running to have his image on a Times Square, NYC billboard. Go to http://about.me/maxapooch.com/ and cast your vote once a day until Sept 20. He is in the running to win! He's in the top five percent! Tell all your friends.

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