Small yellow, black and white bird on branch in spring

The spring bird migration

Today’s post was written by Laura Penner, Natural Heritage Education Leader at Rondeau Provincial Park.

Watching a forest wake up and spring back to life after a long winter is something almost everyone looks forward to. While the winter has charm and stunning beauty, the thought of those long, warm days simply change the pace of outdoor activity.

We aren’t the only ones anticipating the change of seasons. In fact, nature has been investing large amounts of energy in order to take advantage of this relatively short burst of warmth and the seemingly limitless supply of food that comes with it. This is evident in the countless flocks of birds that migrate north each spring.

Have you ever stopped to wonder why some birds migrate at all?

It’s easy for us to understand why they would head south in the winter – it’s cold! If insects and fruit make up the bulk of your diet, it makes sense to go where those would be more abundant.

Prothonotary Warbler. Photo: Ric McArthur

It’s the return trip that gets a bit harder for humans to understand. Why would birds leave “paradise”? Why would they risk everything to fly thousands of kilometres on the dangerous journey back north each spring?

This journey is necessary for their survival!

If they stayed south for the summer, the competition for resources would be fierce between the migrating birds and the birds native to the area.

Summer Tanager. Photo: Allen Woodcliffe

Also, the spring migration north is timed perfectly with the opening of leaves on the trees, allowing migrating birds to take advantage of a huge increase in insect populations, hatching in time to eat those fresh new leaves.

The days become longer as the birds travel north and increased daylight hours provides more time for gathering insects.

Invisible highways in the sky

As the birds travel, they follow four main flyways — think of invisible highways in the sky. These flyways normally follow natural features like shorelines, mountain ranges, and river systems and help guide birds back to their nesting grounds.

flock of birds

In Ontario, we are lucky to have two of these major flyways branch off and cross over the province, bringing a huge variety of migrating birds through certain areas.

The value of the Great Lakes sand spits

The Great Lakes can be a challenge during the migration as many birds must wait for favourable weather in order to cross successfully. Lake Erie’s three sand spits (Point Pelee National Park, Rondeau Provincial Park, and Long Point Provincial Park) provide the perfect place for weary birds to touch down and refuel as they continue to move north.

Long Point beach dusk
Long Point Provincial Park

Visiting any of the sand spits during the month of May as the warblers and other songbirds move through is sure to be some of the best birding the province has to offer with as many as 365 (or more) species to potentially check off your sighting list.

Birding at Rondeau

Rondeau in particular has habitat unlike any other, and therefore, birding opportunities like no other!

Check out our beaches for loons passing overhead, and the marsh for birds like rails and herons.

Virginia Rail. Photo: Ric McArthur

The sloughs offer habitat for rare birds like the Prothonotary Warbler, which nest right in the park. They are also great habitat for birds just passing through, like the Louisiana Waterthrush!

Rondeau spring birding events:

birders with binoculars at Rondeau

Our Festival of Flight is a great opportunity to flex your birding muscles, regardless of experience. We have accessible birding areas and a local guide to help you with ID. The Ontario Parks natural heritage education staff are always around to answer questions when you have them!

Drop by the Friends of Rondeau Birder’s Breakfast to enjoy some snacks, a meal and exchange your sightings with other birding enthusiasts!