Birding isn’t just for avid ornithologists – the hobby appeals equally to families with young children, photographers, sustainability advocates and people seeking an excuse for a stroll. It’s also accessible; there’s no need to purchase fancy equipment or travel to far-off locales to watch birds. So, with World Migratory Bird Day (May 14, 2022) fast approaching, there’s never been a better time to consider when and where to enjoy the best birding in Canada.
There are 426 recognized Canadian bird species, many of which are endangered. Approximately 327 bird species live in the boreal forest, an area that lies between the treeless tundra of the Arctic and the temperature zone in southern Canada. Birders flock to areas such as Wood Buffalo National Park in northeastern Alberta and the southern Northwest Territories, which is part of the boreal forest and provides an important habitat for birds, including migratory forest songbirds. Wood Buffalo National Park is a nesting area for the last migratory flock of whooping cranes in the world. Find birding hotspots near you, and learn what species to look out for, on eBird Canada.
Canada is home to millions of migrating birds that return to its lakes and forests each spring to nest and reproduce. Learn about migratory birds by checking out local events on World Migratory Bird Day. This year’s avian celebration calls attention to the impact of light pollution on migratory birds. Light pollution causes disorientation for birds flying at night, can lead to collisions with buildings and interferes with birds’ ability to undertake long-distance migrations. You can also learn about the Canadian flyway and download a migratory bird map at Nature Conservancy Canada.
Top birding spots include:
Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve in Newfoundland and Labrador is a protected seabird ecological reserve, and home to thousands of gulls, razorbills, great cormorants and other majestic feathered friends. The reserve is also the southernmost breeding area in the world for thick-billed murres. The focal point is Bird Rock, the third-largest nesting site and southernmost colony of northern gannets in North America. When to go: In early summer, the bird sanctuary comes alive with tens of thousands of migrating seabirds.
It’s a surprise to most people, but Toronto, Ontario, provides access to some of the best birding locations in the region. Tommy Thompson Park is a natural habitat for several species of colonial waterbirds, waterfowl and shorebirds, making it a favorite of birders. It’s also an important stopover during migration for many bird species that need to rest and refuel before continuing their journey. When to go: In May, you’ll have the best chance of spotting flycatchers, sparrows, thrushes and different types of warblers. Songbirds can also be heard, and occasionally seen, in the summer.
Fundy National Park in New Brunswick shelters more than 260 bird species among its marine coastal environment. In December, the park participates in a Christmas bird count, where ornithologists and visitors search the area and tally resident birds. When to go: In spring, visitors can observe up to 15 types of warblers, as well as the pileated woodpecker, junco, great blue heron, cormorant, ruffed grouse and others.
Bonaventure Island and Percé Rock, at the tip of Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula, are home to the largest migratory bird refuge in North America. The island’s colony of over 110,000 northern gannets is the most accessible gannet colony in the world. When to go: Spot northern gannets in the summer months, generally between June and September.
Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park in Alberta is a vital birding habitat. Nearly half of all North American birds rely on the boreal forest surrounding the lake, and over 300 species regularly breed here. Visitors can pop into the Boreal Centre for Bird Conservation to learn about birds and the boreal forest; there are also interpretive trails and family-friendly programming. When to go: Spring and fall migrations are peak birding time in Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park, where flocks of up to 3,500 migrating tundra swans have been seen. In the winter, you can see the black capped chickadee, downy woodpecker and pine siskin. Tip: the Songbird Trail, just outside the Boreal Centre for Bird Conservation, meanders through towering aspen forest, with benches for visitors to stop and listen for birds.
The George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary in Delta, BC contains nearly 300 hectares (850 acres) of managed wetlands, marshes and dykes in the heart of the Fraser River Estuary. The sanctuary has recorded nearly 300 species of birds, with the highest diversity and numbers seen between fall and spring. When to go: October to early December is the best time to see large flocks of waterfowl (including ducks, geese and swans) during migration. A flock of lesser snow geese draws crowds each year, as they arrive in BC from their nesting grounds on Wrangel Island, Russia. In March and April, thousands of shorebirds pass through the Fraser Delta, including western sandpipers, which stop to feed and roost en route to their breeding grounds in the Arctic.
Canada’s also got some great birding festivals, including:
The Huron Fringe Birding Festival, one of Ontario’s most popular birding events, takes place in late May at MacGregor Point Provincial Park. The park is bursting with bird habitats and late May captures the end of migration and the beginning of the nesting season to ensure the forests and fields are bursting with birds!
A Celebration of Swans in the Yukon commemorates the mass migration of tens of thousands of swans, ducks and geese with guided walks and education workshops (April and May).
Wings Over the Rockies in the Kootenays, BC boasts a collection of online birding workshops, presentations and events, as well as a photo contest (May 9-15).
Songbird Festival in Alberta features guided birding hikes, nature workshops, a songbird scavenger hunt, and tours of the migration monitoring station (May 28-29).
The Toronto Bird Celebration in Toronto, Ontario celebrates the spring return of some 50 million birds with online events, webinars and courses (May).
In Search of Whoopers: Go in search of one of North America’s most captivating birds. The area around Saskatoon is one of the most reliable areas on the continent to see North America’s tallest bird: the endangered Whooping Crane
Lake Erie Spring Migration Tour: The songbird migration spectacle at the “Big 3” – Pelee, Rondeau and Long Point! Also includes an exclusive day boat trip to the Long Point Bird Observatory research station at the Tip of Long Point.