Winter Birds in Canada: Reasons you don't want to miss out on this popular outdoor birdwatching activity
Winter Birding in Canada is an exciting outdoor activity, especially for beginner birders. Bird watching may not always be counted along with ice hockey, downhill skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, or snowmobiling as a favourite outdoor winter activity in Canada. However, there are many reasons to break out the binoculars and field guides, run through the checklist of Essential Gear for Birdwatching for Beginners, and head out into the winter wonderland. Whether you enjoy braving sub-zero temperatures to snowshoe out to frozen waterfalls through silent snow covered forests, or you prefer to stay tucked up beside a cozy fire in the warmth of your home, winter birding is the perfect way to stay connected with nature throughout Canada's coldest season. These are our top five reasons to take up birding in winter:
Winter Birding in Canada with Dr. Sonya Richmond and Sean Morton
Dr. Sonya Richmond and Sean Morton
1. Birds to Observe when Winter Birding in Canada
One of the top reasons for watching and photographing birds in winter is that birds are much easier to observe in winterthan during spring or summer. For example, in forested landscapes, a lack of foliage makes it much easier to get a clear view or an unobstructed shot of forest birds like Pileated Woodpeckers, Brown Creepers, Dark-eyed Juncos, or Snowy Owls. In addition, they tend to be in less of a hurry than during the breeding season, when nest building, territorial defense, and feeding fledglings keep them constantly on the move. Furthermore, waterfowl can also be easier to spot in winter, because they tend to congregate in large groups anywhere there is open water. In summer, many waterfowl fly north to breed in the Boreal or Arctic Tundra, while others are dispersed on smaller lakes and rivers to nest, making them more difficult to track down and spot. However, visiting a shoreline in winter often yields great views of multiple species of ducks, geese, and gulls. So, whether you're a novice birder or an expert bird photographer, winter is a great time to observe birds in Canada.
Pileated Woodpecker in Canada's winter. Photo credit: Sean Morton.
Brown Creepe sighting. Photo credit: Sean Morton.
2. Winter is a Great Time to Learn and Practice Birding Skills
While it is true that fewer species remain behind in the colder weather, this can make it the perfect time to build a solid foundation on which to develop excellent identification skills. During spring and fall migration the sheer number of different bird species moving quickly through the trees and shrubs can make it very difficult to focus on an individual long enough to make a positive identification. Similarly, during the height of nesting season, when dawn chorus can be almost deafening, and songbird males compete to outdo each other, it can be very difficult to pick out, locate, and identify individual birds. In contrast, winter birding in Canada can be much less overwhelming, especially for beginner birders. Learning to use binoculars and spotting scopes quickly and efficiently, becoming familiar with local field guides, and studying the habits, sounds, and identification marks of local birds is much easier during winter, when there are fewer obstructions and distractions. Even for accomplished birders, winter birding can be the perfect way to prepare for birdwatching in spring and summer by learning and practicing new birding skills.
Birding in Canada in the winter. Photo credit: Sean Morton.
3. New Bird Species to Add to Your Life List
Birding in winter in Canada also offers an exciting opportunity to add a whole new suite of species to your life list, not just for beginner birders, but also for experts. For one thing, some bird species which spend the summer months nesting up on the Arctic tundra migrate down into parts of southern Canada for the winter months. For example, large flocks of Snow Buntings can be seen foraging in agricultural fields during the winter, and Common Redpolls are frequent visitors at bird feeders across many parts of Canada. For Harry Potter fans, the chances of seeing a Snowy Owl like Hedwig increase during the winter months, especially during irruption years, when population booms bring many young owls south for the winter. In addition, during the winter months there is also a good chance of spotting a vagrant - a bird that has been blown off course and finds itself outside its usual breeding or wintering range. These unpredictable, small feathered surprises provide winter birding highlights for beginners and experts alike. and making winter in Canada the perfect time for bird watching.
Waterfowl in Canada in the winter months. Photo credit: Sean Morton.
4. Winter is Bird Feeder Season
Winter is a great time to watch birds in Canada, because it's bird feeder season! Putting a bird feeder in your backyard offers a great way to stay connected with nature even on the coldest days. In addition, bird feeders make birding accessible to everyone, including those who have difficulty navigating icy or snowy conditions. Wild birds require around 10,000 calories per day, and during winter high-energy foods like insects or seeds can be scarce or difficult to access. Providing a reliable, steady food supplement lowers stress levels, improves body condition, and supports a healthy population of wild birds. It is also an easy way to attract a wide range of different bird species to your yard, where you can watch them from the comfort of your own home. Hanging a suet feeder can attract colourful woodpeckers, jays, nuthatches, and wrens. Choosing different types of seed mixes can be used to attract cardinals, sparrows, finches, and more. Similarly, if you live along the west coast, hanging a nectar feeder can bring jewel-like hummingbirds right to your window all winter long. Bird feeders make winter bird watching a blast, and having repeat visitors makes it easy to learn your local birds, start a yard bird list, and share your observations with others through Citizen Science!
Red Bellied Woodpecker at a Suet Feeder. Photo credit: Sean Morton.
5. Opportunities to Connect Through Citizen Science
Winter birding in Canada offers several exciting opportunities to connect with other like-minded people in our own communities, while also helping us Connect to Nature through Citizen Science. A Citizen Scientist is anyone who makes observations about birds or nature and shares them online to help scientists monitor and manage Canada's wildlife populations. Several national Citizen Science projects are carried out each winter in Canada. For example, the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) has been undertaken since 1900. Participants sign up to join a team in their local area, and go out for one day during December or January to record all the birds they see and hear in a 24 km diameter survey circle. Similarly, another great option is the Great Backyard Bird Count. This four-day event is held every February, and participants can choose how long or short to collect observations of the birds in their own backyards or favourite local birding hotspots, and how many observations, photos, and stories to share. Finally, Project FeederWatch is another great community science project that takes place between November and April each year. Participants are given access to specialized tools and resources to help them track and learn about the birds that visit their feeders, backyards, and local parks which help scientists track winter bird distribution and abundance. As a result, exciting opportunities to become involved in Citizen Science projects across the country makes winter the perfect time to begin birding in Canada.
Black-Capped Chickadee bird sighting. Photo credit: Sean Morton.
Dr. Sonya Richmond and a Jay. Photo credit: Sean Morton.
Winter Birding in Canada
In conclusion, winter birding in Canada is an exciting outdoor activity for beginner and expert birders alike. Whether you're interested in developing or practicing your bird watching skills, adding new species to your life list, enjoying backyard birds at the feeder, or finding new ways of Exploring Canada with Citizen Science, winter is the perfect time to go birding in Canada.
"I don't feed the birds because they need me; I feed the birds because I need them."
by Kathi Hutton
Winter Birdwatching In Canada
Top 5 Reasons to Go Bird Watching in Canada in Winter