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Ontario Parks

Birding at Ontario Parks

Are you fascinated by the antics of birds at your backyard feeder but want to learn more? Are you looking for an activity that will get you outdoors and doesn’t cost a lot? Then birding might be for you…and Ontario Parks is a favourite birding destination.

What to Bring?

One of the advantages of birding is that the equipment list is very simple:

  • Buy a set of binoculars and practice using them before you go out on your first expedition. Binoculars can vary greatly in price but you don’t need to spend a lot of money on a starter set. Practice finding and focusing quickly on objects. Birds won’t often wait for you.
  • Bring a digital camera along so you can study your bird sightings later at home and make an identification.
  • Most parks have a checklist of the birds of that park. Ask a staff member if there is a list available. Here are some sample checklists for Rondeau, Presqu’ile and The Pinery.
  • Bring a notebook. You’ll want to record what you saw and where you saw it.
  • Bring your normal outdoors gear; suitable clothes, footwear, sunscreen, bug repellent etc. And remember that you will be standing still and observing so you may need warmer clothing than on a vigorous hike.

How to get started?

Ontario Parks staff have a few tips to get you started on the road to becoming a better birder:

  • Attend a session lead by an experienced birder. Many of our parks offer birding hikes as part of their natural heritage education programs – particularly those parks located in birding hotspots like Presqu’ile, Sandbanks, Rondeau, Long Point, MacGregor Point and Sleeping Giant.
  • Maximize your chances of seeing birds. Start with something that is easy to spot and identify; many people start with winter birds. There are fewer birds but they are easier to spot with the lack of foliage. Or go during spring and fall migration when the sheer numbers and variety of birds are at a peak. During the breeding season, usually June, songbirds will be wearing their brightest breeding plumage and are easier to identify.
  • Study up on the five “s"s for identifying birds – size, shape, shade (colour), song, and sweep (flight pattern).
  • Join your local naturalist club.

Where to Go?

The key to seeing more birds is to visit many different habitats. If you head to Rondeau or Long Point on the shores of Lake Erie, you could encounter southern species like the yellow-breasted chat and the endangered prothonotary warbler. Head to the far west of the province at Rushing River or Sioux Narrows and prairie species such as black-billed magpies, sandhill cranes or brewers blackbirds start to make their presence known.

Parks located in the boreal forest like Sleeping Giant and Wakami Lake are home to species like spruce grouse, boreal chickadees, and yellow-bellied flycatchers. Lucky birders might see a northern hawk owl. Algonquin is also the “go-to” southern park to see more northern bird species like the very social gray jays. The contact zone between the Canadian Shield and limestone lowlands at parks like Finlayson Point and Petroglyphs are rich territory for birds. And many people forget that Ontario has a far north landscape of tundra and saltwater. Visitors to non-operating parks like Polar Bear or Tidewater could glimpse willow ptarmigan or smith’s longspur.

Birding Festivals

Ontario Parks has many organized events to celebrate birds. These are great places to learn from Ontario Parks’ staff and other enthusiastic birders.

Waterfowl are the first migrating birds that return to Ontario. Mid-March, Presqu’ile hosts its Waterfowl Weekend. Volunteer naturalists will help you view and identify over 25 different species of ducks, geese and swans.

Heading further west and south to the shores of Lake Huron, birders can visit The Pinery for the Return of the Swans, during March weekends. Every spring, up to 80 000 tundra swans stop off at the Thedford Bog adjacent to the park as they migrate to their arctic breeding grounds. Pinery naturalists are on hand with spotting scopes to provide you with close-up views of these incredible birds.

The swans also make an appearance on the Lake Erie shore so you may want to drop by Rondeau for the Wings of Spring festival in mid-March.

Throughout the month of May, thousands of dedicated birders, flock to Rondeau’s Festival of Flight to watch the fantastic spring migration pass through. From unexpected oddities such as the blue grosbeak sighted in 2010 to seasonal returnees, such as the prothonotary warbler, there are many delights for birders.

May also brings birders back to Presqu’ile for the Warblers and Whimbrels Weekend. See the elusive whimbrel and many colourful warblers as they pass through on their way to northern nesting grounds.

MacGregor Point is home to the Huron Fringe Birding Festival on the two weekends following the Victoria Day weekend in May. Mornings are filled with guided hikes; afternoons feature more hikes, and workshops on bird identification and nature photography. Registration is required for this popular event.

During mid-May, the focus is on The Pinery again for Migration Weekend. Celebrate the return of songbirds by participating in the capture of songbirds with the Ontario Bird Banding Association. See these spectacular long-distance travellers in their dazzling breeding plumage up close and in the hand. Bird Hikes with local experts run each day.

Citizen Science

Birding is one field where amateurs play an important role in the knowledge, understanding and preservation of species.

The Audubon Christmas Bird Count is one of the longest running Citizen Science surveys in the world. You can join staff at Killarney when they undertake their annual count in December. New birders are teamed with experienced birders. Algonquin also hosts a Christmas bird count.

If winter isn’t your thing, you can join Killarney staff in July for their summer loon count.

Many of Ontario’s birds are under threat by habitat loss and other environmental conditions and Ontario Parks plays a big role in their protection. Wasaga Beach is one of only a handful of places in Ontario where the endangered piping plover nests. Each year, volunteer plover guardians help to protect nests and ensure that plovers have the best chance of successfully breeding.