Gray wolves, also called timber wolves, once roamed across most of North America. Now they're found only in sparsely settled parts of northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, Alaska, Montana, Michigan and Canada. They can vary in color from white to black but most are gray. The wolves are the largest wild dog species. Adults range from from 55 to 130 pounds.

Wolves are social, living in packs of a few to a dozen, and are mostly family members. They mark their territories with urine and feces, and howl to announce their whereabouts.

The pack ranges over a territory that covers about 100 to 300 square miles, making the gray wolf one of the most mobile animals. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources estimated the state wolf population at 2,423 a year ago. It's a thrill and a privilege to see one in the wild. Gray wolves mate near the end of February, and 63 days later they produce from one to seven young. Usually only a single pair in the pack breeds.

Wolves are omnivores, and their diet is vast. It includes insects, mice, rabbits, fish, deer, moose, wild fruits and other plant material. There are no confirmed cases of wolves killing or seriously injuring people in Minnesota.

Jim Gilbert's Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio at 7:15 a.m. Sundays. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.