Why every Ontario birder should visit Frontenac

Who knew that Frontenac Provincial Park is one of the hottest spots for viewing some of the most beautiful and endangered species of birds in all of Ontario?  Some 12 bird species at risk, including the rarely seen cerulean warbler, Louisiana waterthrush, and golden-winged warbler, call Frontenac Provincial Park and the surrounding area their home. 

If you visit this southeastern Ontario park, situated in the middle of the Frontenac Arch (the billion-year-old foundation of eastern North America and a unique ridge of ancient granite that joins the Adirondack Mountains to the iconic Canadian Shield in southeastern Ontario), you’ll be treated to “a vital habitat corridor for migration and a critical nursery for many of Ontario’s disappearing flora and fauna,” says Dan Derbyshire, head of Frontenac Bird Studies (FBS) at the Migration Research Foundation. 

White-throated Sparrow (photo credit:Seabrooke Leckie)

FBS is a new long-term initiative for the study and protection of birds in the Frontenac Arch, launched in the spring of 2009.  The goals of the research project are to improve our knowledge of birds in the Frontenac area, increase protection of biodiversity and increase awareness and community involvement.

As part of that, Derbyshire has set up an extensive network of monitoring stations throughout the park using international protocols. He routinely bands the birds and tracks their whereabouts and activity within the park.  He is also working hand-in-hand with park biologists who are learning much from his findings.

One of the study's volunteers conducting fieldwork. (Photo credit: Dan Derbyshire)

“FBS is very important for us because we’re actually currently updating the management plan for the park,” says Ontario Parks’ ecologist Corina Brdar.  “By working with Dan we can use the information he’s finding to help us make appropriate management decisions and ensure that we are protecting habitat for rare species.”

Brdar says FBS is finding that the number of species and number of birds at Frontenac has been changing over time.  “A lot of species have been declining over the past four years, but we don’t know why,” says Brdar. “It may be for the same reasons we are seeing declines in some other species across the province such as grassland birds and ‘aerial insectivores’, birds that eat insects while flying.” 


Yellow-billed Cuckoo (photo credit:Seabrooke Leckie)

Fast facts about FBS at Frontenac

  • The most common species detected is the red-eyed vireo, known for its “Here I am. Where are you?” song.
  • One of the survey methods involves mist-netting birds at specific sites every year and safely marking them with numbered aluminum bands so they can be identified in future years.  One individual veery (a small bird) has been recaptured seven times in the same spot since he was first banded as a youngster in August 2009.   The veery is a species that winters in Brazil and migrates back to U.S and Canada each spring to breed.
  • A total of 83 species of birds were found in Frontenac Provincial Park between May and August 2013.  Thirty one species were confirmed as breeding (nesting) in the park.  Since the beginning of the project in 2009 a total of 123 different species have been found and at least 68 have nested in the park.
  • Through this research Derbyshire has discovered new species breeding in the park that researchers didn’t know about or had not confirmed for a long time, including the Louisiana waterthrush and red-headed woodpecker, both of which are species at risk.
  • FBS has discovered that approximately 30 to 40 per cent of the known cerulean warblers in Canada are more or less split between two dense clusters, one at Frontenac and one 15 km to the east at the Queen’s University Biological Station.


Aside from giving researchers a window into what types of birds are nesting at Frontenac, it also hints at how healthy the local habitats are, which provides vital information on the overall health of the park. 

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (photo credit: Seabrooke Leckie)

“Sometimes certain species can tell you how good the habitat is because they’re so picky. If they’re there in good numbers, it means the habitat’s in good shape,” Brdar says.

For more information on FBS, click here.

To book your visit to Frontenac, visit the Ontario Parks online reservation system here.