#Daves Feathered Friends

#Daves Feathered Friends

We love sharing resources and tips to help YOU connect with nature, not just more often, but in different ways. Observing and learning to identify local wildlife is not only a great way to interact with nature, but it is also fun and rewarding!

Friend to both BurlingtonGreen and our local feathered friends, resident Dave Tourchin, is teaching us about local birds. Our #DavesFeatheredFriends social media feature is all about showcasing birds you can observe locally, including how to identify them, where you may find them and even what they sound like.

Print out this handy Checklist for Beginner-Intermediate Birders (PDF), so you can check out all of the amazing birds you have been learning about and spotting at home and out in nature!

Check out the growing list of #DavesFeatheredFriends features:

Spring is special, with so many birds arriving to breed, or migrate through our city. Most notable are the active and colourful warblers!
Birds migrate at night, landing in early morning to rest and forage. If you’re outside before 9am in the spring, you might get lucky and see many warblers. They typically don’t visit feeders, as they mainly feed on insects and larvae in trees and bushes. Warblers are among the last to arrive, and the first to leave in mid-August/Sept. on their long journey to Latin America.
Why not use this stay-at-home period to learn the warblers? Many are distinctive and visible near the ground or mid-level tree canopy – learn those ones first (we’ll help you!).
Learn more.
This interesting and unusual bird can be spotted near the shore at several parks around Burlington Bay and Hamilton Harbour (eg. LaSalle Park, Bayfront Park, Pier 4 Park). Often mistaken for a duck, the American Coot is actually in a family of birds called “Rails”.
 
It has a dark grey body, a white bill, red eye, and unmistakable green legs, and feeds on plant material. They are most numerous locally between fall and early spring. See if you can spot some on the Bay!
 
Ahh, good old Goldfinch! Their brilliant yellow plumage, stark black wings, and orange beak is always a treat for the eyes. They are common locally year-round, albeit their bright plumage molts into more subdued colours by the time they flock to winter backyard feeders.
 
Their unique flight pattern consists of BIG dips in the air. At the bottom of each dip, they chirp 4 times (saying “po-ta-to-chip”) as they flap their wings and rise up again…watch them land in a nearby tree, and there’s your Goldfinch! Also, watch for them feeding on seeds of small plants, like thistles.
This striking warbler is fairly common, but takes a bit of looking to spot. Listen for their high-pitched song to hone in on them in the low to mid-level tree canopy.
Look for a small, black bird with orange on sides and distinctive orange notch marks on the tail (females are greyish with similar yellow markings). Their colouring resembles an Oriole, but they are much smaller and have a white belly.
Hotspot to see them: along the trails at the east end of LaSalle Park in spring & summer!
Let’s take a pause from winter ducks to meet the American Tree Sparrow! You may spot this one foraging for seeds on the ground while out hiking, or below your bird feeder, or perched low in a tree. At first glance you may think it’s just another local sparrow, but far from it. This winter visitor comes to us from the tundra regions of the Canadian far north!
 
To identify a Tree Sparrow, look at its unique beak — the top half is black, the bottom half is yellow. Also, look for a dark spot in the centre of its clear (non-streaked) breast. These, together with a brown cap and brown eye line, are unmistakable ID marks.
 
They can be spotted anywhere around the city in winter, but good places to look are trails at Cityview Park, LaSalle Park, RBG’s Hendrie Valley, and Bronte Creek Provincial Park.
 

Who doesn’t love the super cute Chickadees? Did you know that the number of ‘dees’ they add to their namesake ‘Chickadee-dee-dee’ call can indicate their level of alarm? Did you know they also have a song? It’s 1 high note followed by 2 low notes, as if saying, “Hey, sweetie”. Listen for it the next time you’re in a wooded area.
Hear it and learn more.

As far as warblers go, this one is easy to identify and remember. It is simply a streaked black and white warbler.
Hotspots to see them are Hendrie Valley (RBG) and LaSalle Park, but really they can be found anywhere, foraging for insects on tree limbs.
They are quite vocal, so listen for their high-pitched song to help locate them.

Many are familiar with the Great Blue Heron, but have you seen this other local heron? A heron’s plumage can make them difficult to spot as they stand motionless amongst trees, reeds, and driftwood, but careful scanning of wetlands can reveal their presence.

The stocky Black-crowned Night-Heron is most commonly seen near dusk, as it ventures out from its daytime roosting hideaway to feed along shorelines.

Hotspots to look: Hendrie Valley boardwalk & trails, LaSalle Park shoreline, and Cootes Paradise. (Also, keep an eye out for Green Herons, too!)

Listen & learn more.

Our city is a brief stopover destination for this warbler each spring and fall, on their migratory journey between the Caribbean and the more northern forests of Ontario and Quebec. Watch for them in May and again in September/October, in the shrubby understory and lower canopy of forested areas.
Learning their buzzy, “I am so lazzzy” song, with the last note rising upward, can alert you to their presence. The females are mostly light brown, yet have the same distinctive white square mark (“handkerchief”) on their wings, as the males do.

It’s warbler time…again! In May, we featured a few warblers of spring migration. Well, the warblers have bred, raised their young, and are now passing back through the city in September and October, on their long journey to their winter homes in Latin America.

Some young birds don’t have their full colours yet, and some adults have lost their bright, spring breeding colours, making them trickier to identify. Fortunately, there are many that do retain their colours, such as the Black-throated Green Warbler. This one has a black and white body, a yellow face with a dusky cheek patch, and a greenish back. Males have a black throat.

Watch for them and other warblers fueling up on insects in a tree canopy near you! (Tip: mornings are the best time to look.)

Listen & learn more.

The Brown Creeper is common to our region and is fun to watch. You are more likely to see them in fall & winter. However, because they are small, and their brown backs resemble tree bark, they are easy to miss. They typically fly down to the base of a tree trunk, and creep up the tree in a spiral pattern in search of insects, then swoop down to the base of the next tree and repeat. Keep a keen eye out for them while walking on wooded trails in winter, or on the wooded edges of parks.
Another mimic, the Brown Thrasher is also a pro at imitating other birds’ songs. It’s a Robin-sized, light brown bird, with a yellow eye. They can be hard to spot at times, hidden in dense foliage. Cityview Park is a hotspot to listen for them (near south parking lot area).
Listen for a bird perched in a tree singing a wide variety of songs back-to-back, with each sung only twice before moving to the next song. If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of this striking bird!
This duck breeds in the boreal forest of central Canada, with many migrating to our local shorelines for winter. The Bufflehead is a very small duck, with a large head. Males have a characteristic white patch on the back of their head (in suitable light, you may also see green/purple iridescence). Females have a brown head with a white cheek patch.
 
Being diving ducks, Buffleheads are under water a lot, foraging for food. You can often spot them through binoculars from any of our waterfront parks during winter.
Interesting nature niche: Buffleheads nest in old tree holes made by Northern Flickers that other cavity nesting ducks can’t fit into!
 
This large duck breeds in central and northwest Canada, with many migrating to our local shorelines for the winter. They are easily recognized by their uniquely sloped forehead that continues down through their bill, reminiscent of a ‘ski jump’. The males have a grey-white body, with black on either end, and a beautiful rust-red head and red eye. Females are similar with a light brown head.
 
Canvasbacks are divers that often feed on the base of plants at the lake bottom. They are particularly fond of the Burlington Bay area off of LaSalle Park and Bayshore Park, where it’s not uncommon to see 50 to 100 of them in winter, through binoculars.

This small vocal bird is full of character! Listen for a loud “tea kettle, tea kettle, tea kettle” song and other loud calls, to help you locate them. They have the typical wren shape (plump body and narrow, upright tail), but their bold, white eye-stripe and yellow belly is unique. Watch for them low to the ground and in bushes. Good places to look/listen are along the LaSalle Park and Paletta Lakefront Park wooded trails.
Listen and learn more.

Have you ever wondered, are Cardinals actually a brighter red in winter? Yes, they are!
Male Northern Cardinals molt and regrow their feathers in late summer and early fall, with the colour of the fresh new feathers reaching a peak in winter, just as mating season approaches. 
Learn more.
How impressive is this bird’s colourful plumage? They are often up high in the trees and are more prevalent than you may realize, year-round. They are late breeders and can be seen attending to nests as late as July and August. Their courtship ritual involves a ‘hopping dance’ toward each other and the exchange of berries and other offerings.
 
Listen for their faint and extremely high-pitched “zeeeee” call. Checking the tops of nearby trees may reveal several of them perched together, often on exposed branches or feeding on berries. Learn their call and see if you can spot them more often!
This is also one of Dave’s favourite warblers! 
It’s the bird that sings, “Pleased, pleased, pleased to meetch-you!” This dapper warbler has a yellow cap and chestnut patch on sides, and can often be spotted at close range on the branches of young trees along the edges of open spaces.
They also respond well to “pishing”. If you make a “Pshh, pshh, pshh” sound, they will sometimes come closer to investigate!
If you find yourself in downtown Burlington in spring or summer, between Maria and Pine Street, listen for the chattering of Chimney Swifts overhead, especially around sunset.
They are dark grey with a cigar-shaped body, and wings that arc backward (ie. a “flying cigar”). Check out their aerial acrobatics, often high up, as they glean insects from the air!
They look similar to the familiar Barn Swallow, but have a squared-off tail, rather than the deeply forked “swallow tail” of the Barn Swallow. Also, note the white, triangular patch on the forehead, and white belly.
Hot spot tip: Cliff Swallows nest under the Brant Street Pier! Spring and summer mornings are the best time to see many of them foraging for flying insects around the pier. They’re very fast and busy, but see if you can identify them!
This duck is plentiful at our end of Lake Ontario during winter. The male has a green head, with a large, white dot behind its bill, and a golden eye. The female has a brown head with a yellow tip on the bill, and a golden eye.
 
They can be seen from any of the waterfront parks around the GTHA. Watch for the males’ unusual courtship display, where they stretch their head back to touch their rump, then spring forward. When in flight, their wings make a unique whistling sound. Goldeneye numbers have increased here since Zebra Mussels invaded the Great Lakes, as they are a food source.
 
Note: if you ever see a male that has a large, white inverted comma behind its bill instead of a dot, this is the similar Barrow’s Goldeneye, a rare and highly sought-after find by local birders!
Redpolls in Burlington?  Finches that usually dwell farther north have moved south in search of more food. The cute Common Redpoll is the most likely finch you’d see, at a feeder or in large flocks in birch trees feeding on catkins. There’s also the odd chance of spotting an Evening Grosbeak, Pine Siskin, or White-winged Crossbill. They’re not everywhere, but a few are around, so if you do see one, consider it a special treat!

There’s a good chance you’ve heard this common warbler before, if haven’t seen it. It sings a “witchety – witchety – witchety – witchety” song, often heard while walking along edges of wetlands or brushy fields.

They are small and often hidden, but if you watch where their song is coming from, you’ll likely spot them darting out periodically. The males have an unmistakable black mask. Yellowthroats respond well to “pishing” and will often pop out to investigate the curious sound. Try it…”Pshh, pshh, pshh!”

Learn more.

This beautiful bird is common to our region each fall/winter. They can be seen flitting around near the ground, or perched low in a tree. Look for them on the edge of trails or walking paths lined by bushes and trees, in your yard or at a feeder. A key ID feature is their bright white tail edges that flash white when they fly. Their song is a steady trill.
For Invasive Species Awareness Week, let’s look at the European Starling. This non-native and very successful invasive bird can outcompete native birds for food and cavity nest sites (eg. Bluebirds and Woodpeckers). They can be seen across most of the continent in large numbers, year-round, often perched on power lines, or flying in impressive, tight, synchronized flocks. They are also mimics that can imitate the songs of other birds.
 
True story: In the 1890s, some well-meaning Shakespeare enthusiasts introduced 100 European Starlings at New York’s Central Park, in an effort to have all of the birds present that Shakespeare ever mentioned in his works. Great idea, right? Not so much. The 100-bird population grew into the more than 200 million invasive Starlings now present across North America.
 
Yes indeed, we have Bluebirds in the Burlington area, with a few even here year-round! They are related to Robins, in the Thrush family, and are easiest to spot where nest boxes have been installed just for them. Look for single or pairs of boxes spread out across a field (many close together are for Tree Swallow colonies).
Bluebirds breed in late winter/early spring. Spot them guarding their nest box or gathering food or nest materials nearby. Hot spots to see them are: Bronte Creek Provincial Park (east of parking lot A), McMaster Forest bluebird trail (Ancaster), RBG Arboretum trails, Gate of Heaven Cemetery (off Snake Road), or Hendrie Valley (RBG).
Also, watch for larger numbers migrating in late October/early November. Watch from a distance, don’t disturb, and enjoy these beautiful birds!
You’ve likely walked past this member of the Flycatcher family many times. When out on a forest trail, listen for a loud “pee-a-weeeee” song, with the last note rising upward (or periodically falling downward). They are quite vocal throughout the day in spring/summer.
They often perch on bare branches, with an upright posture, ‘sallying’ out to catch flying insects and returning to their perch. Learn their easy-to-remember song, and you may be surprised how often you notice them!
If you’ve spent time on the trails at City View Park, you’ve likely heard the Field Sparrows singing their “bouncing ball” song.

They have a plain face, non-streaked breast, and a peach-coloured bill. It can take a bit of searching to spot them perched in the young trees near the fields, but their song will help you hone in on them as they fly from perch to perch.
 
The Field Sparrow has one of the easier songs to remember. It consists of a series of short whistles that builds to a rapid trill, akin to the rhythm of a ball bouncing when you let it go.

Listen at the link below. Isn’t it remarkable how each bird species has developed its own unique and often complex song to communicate? Nature is amazing!
 
Listen and learn more here.
A crow that quacks like a duck? Well, sort of. If you’re down by the lakefront and happen to see crows, they may not be your ordinary American Crows. The Fish Crow looks identical, but has a very different call. While the American Crow makes its familiar “Cawww!” sound, the Fish Crow makes a softer and nasal “Uh” sound, more reminiscent of a quacking duck.
 
Primarily a bird of the Atlantic Coast, Fish Crows have expanded to inland waters, and can be seen (and heard) locally close to Lake Ontario, from Hamilton to Toronto.
 
Sioux Lookout Park is a good spot to listen for them. There’s always something to look & listen for in the world of birds!
So, who’s heard of a Gadwall before? Gadwalls are an elegant looking dabbling duck that people often overlook. The males don’t have brightly coloured plumage, but rather a subdued blend of grey-brown tones and intricate patterns that are quite striking — take a closer look at the photo. They have a slate-grey bill and a black rear end. Females are light brown with an orange bill and look very similar to a female Mallard. Also, look for yellow legs and a white wing patch on both males and females (Mallards have orange legs).
 
Gadwalls can be best seen from October through May, near the shore of many of our waterfront parks, like LaSalle Park and Burloak Waterfront Park.
 
This tiny songbird is best seen during spring and fall migration. They have been observed in LaSalle Park in October in flocks of 20 or more, actively foraging in the tree canopy, before moving farther south.
Keep your eyes and ears peeled for this energetic bird in a tree canopy near you. Its very high-pitched song and call will reveal its presence. A few may also be seen locally during winter.
 
Confirm its ID by the eye-stripe, short wingbars, and an always-visible yellow crown.
 
This largest gull species in the world visits our area each fall and winter from its summer breeding territory on the north Atlantic coast. It is easily distinguished from other gulls by its dark black back and large size. They are aggressive and prey on other birds and will steal their food.
 
In late fall/winter you can often spot a few roosting with large flocks of gulls on an island or breakwater (eg. LaSalle Park, Pier 4 Park (Hamilton), Bronte Harbour) or swimming or hunting over the lake (Brant St. Pier, Burloak Waterfront Park).
See if you can spot one while on your waterfront walks!
Have you seen any Great Egrets this fall? They can be a surprising sight, since people often associate them with winter vacation destinations such as Florida, or the Caribbean. But, they can indeed be seen locally in our wetland areas, usually between August and October.
 
A good place to view them is RBG’s Hendrie Valley, where Grindstone Creek flows into Burlington Bay. Cootes Paradise in Hamilton is also a hotspot.
 
You may still have time to spot a few of these elegant birds before they’ve all headed south!
 

Did you know we have a few wild birds locally, known as mimics, that imitate other birds’ songs and can produce a wide variety of sounds? A common one is the Gray Catbird, which can be seen throughout the city, often on a low perch in brushy areas. It’s all grey, with a black cap and a dark red patch under the tail. Listen for its ‘mew’ call sounding like a sick cat, or rambling songs and sounds resembling other birds or R2-D2! The Gray Catbird sings each song/sound once, without repetition, unlike other mimics. Listen & view more.

It’s unfortunate that gulls have a poor reputation, often due to people feeding them or leaving garbage out. But, what people colloquially call “seagulls”, are actually quite interesting birds. Did you know there are at least 6 kinds of gulls that can be seen locally (plus a few more out by the Niagara River)?
 
Over 90% of our local gulls are either Herring Gulls or Ring-billed Gulls. Adult Herring Gulls are larger, have a red dot on their lower bill, and have light pink legs. Adult Ring-billed Gulls are a bit smaller, have a black ring on their bill, with yellow legs. Gulls that are speckled brown are likely immature versions of either.
 
See if you can tell the two gulls apart. There’s always something interesting to look for in the world of birds!
 
Do you ever wonder what kind of hawk it was you just saw?  Here are some quick ID tips:
 
75% of hawks you’ll see in the GTHA will be Red-tailed Hawks — but, their red tails aren’t always visible, or are absent in immature birds. More reliable field marks are:  a narrow “belly band”, and “patagial bars” on shoulders if overhead. If not present, it could be a Red-shouldered or Broad-winged Hawk (ie. large, soaring hawks), or maybe a Rough-legged Hawk (winter only).
 
If it is a smaller hawk with a long, narrow tail with thick stripes, it could be a Cooper’s Hawk, or the similar but smaller, Sharp-shinned Hawk. These are woodland hawks, but also visit yards to prey on birds at feeders. (Cooper’s have rounded tail corners, Sharp-shinned have square tail ends.)
 
If it flies very low over fields or marshes, with wings in a V-shape, and a white rump, it’s a Northern Harrier, which are fun to watch, too!
Learn more.
Did you know we have over 20 species of northern and arctic ducks that spend the winter along our local shorelines? Yes, we are their winter getaway destination! The Long-tailed Duck breeds from Hudson Bay up to the northernmost points of the Arctic, but thousands of them spend the winter on Lake Ontario.
This diving duck is easily recognized by its unique plumage and long tail (males only), and of course its yodel! That’s right, these ducks have an amusing song unlike any duck you’ve heard before.
Watch for hundreds of them congregating in the Burlington Canal from December to February, plus several off the shore of any of our waterfront parks.
Another passer-through, this warbler is most likely to be seen in our city in May, or again in August/September. Watch for it feeding on insects at the tips of branches. It prefers to breed in the conifers of more northern forests.
The bright yellow chest and belly, black necklace, and black mask of the males will surely catch your attention in spring. Females lack the dark black tones.
Have you wondered lately where all the colourful male Mallards have gone?
Well they’re still around, but after spring breeding the males molt their body feathers and look more like the females. They also molt all their wing feathers, rendering them flightless for about 2 weeks. The duller “eclipse plumage” helps protect males from predators while flightless, often hiding away in marshes for safety. (Non-waterfowl birds molt their wing feathers in stages, so they can retain flight.)

You can still identify males by their dull-yellow bills, unlike the dirty-orange bills of the females. By November, they will have undergone another molt of their body feathers (but not wing feathers), and they’ll be back to their colourful, showy selves. Plus, the first-year males will have also gained their new colours. 
Listen & learn more here.
It’s time to meet the dabblers! Unlike diving ducks, dabbling ducks feed on the surface, or just below it, close to shore. Our most common dabbler is the Mallard. Also, look for American Black Ducks nearby. While the male Mallard is easily recognized, it can take practice to tell the female Mallard from the American Black Ducks. (Both species are closely related and may interbreed sometimes, creating hybrids.)
 
Black Ducks have a darker body (not black, but dusky), with a light neck. Female Mallards have orange-black bills, while Black Ducks have yellow-olive bills (the female’s being much darker). Also, if visible, check their blue-purple wing patch (“speculum”) — if it has white borders it’s a Mallard, if not, it’s a Black Duck. See if you can spot any Black Ducks the next time you’re by the lake.
 
Meet the Nothern Flicker (yellow-shafted). Keep an eye out for this fairly common, year-round local resident from the woodpecker family while on your forest hikes. They have very striking markings that are a treat to view in your binoculars. Note the black ‘whisker’ mark extending from the male’s bill, and absent on the female.
 
If you ever see birds foraging for ants and beetles along a trail or the shoulder of a rural road, which display bright white patches on their rumps as they fly off, there’s a good chance they are Northern Flickers.
This mimic is our local master at imitating other birds’ songs! It is grey and black, with a yellow eye, and striking white patches on the wings which flash white when it flies. It has a repertoire of several hundred songs and sounds that it sings throughout the day (and even night) from an exposed perch. Each is sung 3 or more times. Sometimes you could swear they are imitating a car alarm!
While they can be seen across Burlington with a little luck, a most reliable spot is along the Waterfront Trail by Bayfront Park in Hamilton (beside rail yard), where it’s not uncommon to see/hear several during your walk, year-round!

Here’s another colourful warbler to watch for locally during fall migration. This smaller bird is very active and doesn’t sit still for very long as it hops around the tree canopy gathering insects, often fluttering at the tips of branches like a hummingbird.

With its blue-grey uppers, bright yellow throat, 2 white wingbars, and its unmistakable olive-green ‘backpack’ and white eye crescents (a split eye-ring), a Northern Parula is always a treat to spot in your binoculars!

This elegant dabbling duck breeds across most of Canada, all the way up to the Arctic. They winter in the southern U.S. and Mexico, with a few visiting Lake Ontario. The unique blue & black bill, long narrow tail, long neck, and brown head of the males are unmistakable features. Females are plainer looking with brown/white plumage.
 
If you’re lucky, you may spot 1 to 3 of them at LaSalle Park in winter — look closely, because there might be one right under your nose, amongst a hundred Mallards! Also, look for small flocks in rural areas during spring migration in March, on reservoirs (eg. Mountsberg Conservation Area) or flooded farm fields (eg. Hamilton mountain), and again during fall migration (Oct/Nov).
 

This medium-sized woodpecker has a vibrant red streak on the back of its head (yes, the name is misleading!). Resist calling this one a Red-headed Woodpecker, as those have a completely red head, and are a different and rare species. Find the Red-bellied Woodpecker by listening for its unmistakable call, or a loud drumming sound as it pecks on trees. They are common at LaSalle Park and Royal Botanical Gardens trails.
Listen and learn more.

It’s a Nuthatch Irruption! A bird irruption is when a species migrates in large numbers beyond its typical range, usually in search of food. In years of poor spruce and pine cone crops in boreal forests up north, many northern birds move south. This winter, Red-breasted Nuthatches have irrupted south to our region and beyond.
Watch for them at feeders or creeping around trees looking for insects. Where there are Chickadees, there might be Nuthatches tagging along (White-breasted or Red-breasted). Also, watch for them up north year-round, if camping or cottaging. Listen for their unique nasal calls, which often reveal their presence.

It’s #DavesFeatheredFriends time! Let’s learn about another duck, the Redhead!
The Redhead is yet another winter visitor to Lake Ontario. This diving duck feeds on underwater vegetation and is often spotted away from shore, in large flocks with other diving ducks. Note the unique red head and blue-grey bill of the males, and grey back and sides. Females are brown.
 
Once again, the LaSalle Park waterfront is a great place to look for them out in the bay.
 
This tiny songbird is constantly moving about and flicking its wings. A resident of northern forests, our only chance to see them locally is during migration. During October, they show up in large numbers for a short period, not passing through again until late April/early May.
If you’re up north in spring/summer (eg. Algonquin Park area) and hear a loud and very musical flurry of notes coming from the tall conifers, think Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Locally, listen for their “Ji-dit” calls as they forage for insects in the lower branches of trees, or hover at plants like a hummingbird.
 
ID them by their white wingbar with a black wingbar below it, and their white, split eye-ring. Despite the name, they rarely display their ruby crown. Check your local forest patch for them today!
 
These diving ducks also visit our end of Lake Ontario in large numbers each winter. Both the Greater Scaup and the Lesser Scaup are similar in appearance, and it can be challenging for beginner birders to tell them apart.
 
Here are some tips:
In ideal lighting, male Greater Scaups have a green iridescence to their head, while male Lesser Scaups have a purple iridescence. But, the most reliable feature is head shape: the Greater Scaup’s head is very rounded, while the Lesser Scaup’s head is slightly peaked and flat on the back. Females of both species are brown with a white patch behind their bills (the head shape ID trick also applies).
 
LaSalle Park waterfront and Windermere Basin in Hamilton are great places to look for them. They often flock with other diving ducks away from shore, so see if you can ID the various ducks we’ve covered recently!
 
The world of sparrows can seem daunting, with so many brown, streaky ones that seem similar. With practice, you can tell them apart quite easily. The Song Sparrow is the most common one you’ll see (other than the ubiquitous, non-native House Sparrow).
Its song is a familiar sound of summer — three pumps, followed by a trill and variety of notes. Close your eyes and listen…can you picture a summer field? They have brown streaks on the head and breast, and often a dark blotch in the centre of the breast.
Over 30 species of sandpipers and other shorebirds visit Burlington/Hamilton each year. Most stop here only a few days on spring/fall migration between the arctic and the southern U.S., or as far as Central and South America. 
 
The Spotted Sandpiper is one of the few that stays around through summer. Watch for it on rocky shorelines, often bobbing its tail up and down. (Link below for video!)
 
Breeding males have a spotted belly, but a more reliable field mark (whether male, female, or juvenile) is a white ‘comma’ shape on the shoulder. Otherwise, you may be looking at a migrating shorebird.
 
Fall migration is upon us (mid-August – November). See what you can spot along the shore!
 
Tip: LaSalle Park, Burloak Waterfront Park, and Cootes Paradise are good spots to look.
This striking blue/green bird is a treat to watch as they gently flutter and dart over your head, gleaning insects from the air.
 
Another cavity nester, Tree Swallows are best seen in spring where several nest boxes have been installed in close proximity to each other. The best location is Windermere Basin Park off Eastport Dr. in Hamilton, where the MOE set up 2 nest box colony sites for research years ago (100 boxes total). (NOTE: Windermere Basin is known to have Dog Ticks in grassy areas. Practice good tick safety by tucking your pant legs into your socks, and do a tick check when you get back.)
 
You might also spot Tree Swallows while walking the Hendrie Valley trails at the Royal Botanical Gardens or near other wetlands or fields.
 
Cool fact: Tree Swallows go bananas for white feathers; if they see a white feather on the ground, they’ll often swoop down and take it back to line their nest!
We do miss the “Meet the Trumpeter Swans” Family Day events formerly held at LaSalle Park, by our friends at the . But, you can still check out these amazing birds on your own until late March, before they migrate north to Central Ontario. These largest swans in the world were extirpated from Ontario in the 1800s, but were re-introduced in what is an amazing conservation success story, with now over 2000 birds. 100-200 of those over-winter at LaSalle Park each year.
 
Enjoy the swans, but please do not feed them or any other waterfowl; it is illegal in Burlington (and Hamilton), and can possibly harm them. Only licensed OTSRG members may feed them as part of the tagging process. Also, keep dogs on leash and well back. Even if your dog is well-behaved, dogs can scare the swans, causing them to fly suddenly and collide, injuring their very large wings.
 
 
When migrating, Turkey Vultures, and other birds of prey, will skirt around Lake Ontario, through Burlington and Hamilton, avoiding crossing the open Lake, and utilizing thermal updrafts to glide. They form “kettles” of many birds soaring in a circle, before peeling off and continuing on their way.
 
Turkey Vultures are true scavengers, feeding on dead animals and only very rarely go after living prey. They are easily identified by their large size, with wings held up in a V-shape, often teetering from side to side.
 
Have you ever seen a different looking bird flocking with the Chickadees? Perhaps it was a White-breasted Nuthatch. It’s not uncommon to see them competing for seeds with Chickadees at a feeder. They live in our area year-round. Their cousin, the Red-breasted Nuthatch, usually dwells farther north, but this winter is special, so keep an eye out for them in our area as well.

This striking sparrow mostly breeds farther north, and is most often seen locally during spring and fall migration. Its song is considered the ‘unofficial anthem’ of Algonquin Provincial Park, since it is frequently heard by park visitors as it sings its “Oh, sweet Canada, Canada” song.

Look for a crisply outlined white throat patch, yellow ‘eyebrows’, and a striped head (black & white, black & tan, or brown & tan).

In fall, you may see many of them foraging on the ground along a trail, such as at Hendrie Valley or LaSalle Park. If you hear something hopping along the forest floor, don’t assume it’s just another squirrel or chipmunk. It might be a White-throated Sparrow!

Listen & view here.

Have you noticed this diving duck out on the water in winter? The male White-winged Scoter is dark black, with a distinctive white ‘comma’ behind the eye, and an orange-tipped bill. The female is brown with 2 smudgy, white patches on either side of the eye. Both often have a white streak visible on their sides when on the water, due to their white wings.
 
They breed in Western Canada, from Manitoba up through the Yukon, and winter on the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean coasts. Many also winter on Lake Ontario, with numbers increasing in recent decades with the Zebra Mussel invasion—an abundant food source. With binoculars, you can see them from many of our waterfront parks, in flocks of 10, 30, 50 or more!
 

This warbler is fairly common locally during spring and fall migration, and they are one of the last warblers to migrate in the fall.

They are quite striking, with a bright yellow patch on the rump (just above tail) and on each side. Breeding males in spring have a black mask (don’t confuse it with the similar Magnolia Warbler though, which has a yellow breast rather than white). Their colours are more subdued in the fall, but the yellow rump and yellow side patches are still reliable ID marks.

The Yellow Warbler is a great one for beginner birders. They are quite common locally from May through August. Their bright, all-yellow look is distinctive, along with the red streaking on the breast of males.
 
Hotspots to see them are Hendrie Valley (RBG), LaSalle Park, and Windermere Basin Park (Hamilton), often preferring willows and wet thicket areas. They are very vocal – listen for their song which loosely resembles, “Sweet, sweet, sweet…I’m so sweet!”

 Thank you to Dave, for all his valuable contributions to this fun and engaging initiative as we discover more about our local feathered friends.
 

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