Thu. Dec 7th, 2023
A winter birding challenge

Today’s post is from Justin Peter, who was a natural heritage education specialist at Algonquin Provincial Park from 2006 to 2013. Now a professional trip planner, Justin is an avid local and global explorer, searching for birds everywhere the places where you venture.

It’s tempting to say that winter is not the best time to birdwatch in our Ontario parks. Many species have migrated south. We hesitate to venture out into the cold weather.

But the quieter (and leafless) atmosphere of our parks during winter presents an excellent and unique challenge to our sense of environmental awareness.

Are you up for the challenge? Here is a selection of birds (and bird signs) to look for this winter:

Staggering grouse

Ontario has three species of grouse. During the summer, you would normally find these chicken-like birds foraging on the ground. In winter, however, it is common to find grouse in the treetops. Its ability to feed and balance even among the thinnest branches belies its rotund appearance!

He capercaillie is the most cosmopolitan species of capercaillie, and you are There’s an especially good chance of finding one (or even several of them) in a forest with a good number of mature white birch or aspen trees.. Grouse will feed high on catkins (unopened flowers) or buds on trees, undeterred by your presence.

The problem: it’s possible to miss them entirely because they can be so quiet!

ruffed grouseCapercaillie can escape detection as they forage high in the canopy. Photo: Deb Carter

If you want a chance to see them, it’s a good idea to visit from time to time. look for while walking through appropriate habitat.

A sure way to tell if the grouse are even in the area is to look for their tracks in the snow below. Keep your eyes wide open for three toes pointing forward, each print a couple of inches long.

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grouse tracks

In areas with large spruce or pine trees, keep an eye out for the equally quiet grouse. feeding on tree needles in the treetops.

A rather unique nest

Winter is a good time to detect and study bird nests, and The red-eyed vireo’s used nest may be the most recognizable of all!

Red-eyed Vireo nest Red-eyed vireo nests are some of the easiest nests to spot and identify in a winter hardwood forest. Photo: Seabrooke Leckie

The tightly woven nest measures approximately 2 inches wide by 2 inches deep and is usually suspended in a “Y”-shaped horizontal fork of a young tree, sometimes as high as three feet from the ground. The nest usually has several strips of white birch bark or similar pale material sewn to the outside of the cup.

red-eyed vireo

you They often find the nest immediately next to a trail or at the edge of a forest. A similarly constructed nest found in a conifer may belong to the red-eyed vireo’s cousin, the blue-headed vireo.

But don’t wait around for the nest makers to return. Red-eyed vireos are long gone and spend the winter months in South America.

The loud and showy woodpecker

With its striking red crest, the size of a crow woodpecker It is easily the most spectacular and distinctive species of woodpecker in Ontario. Mated pairs defend territories year-round in mature hardwood and mixed forests.


Although their territories are large, they often reveal their presence at great distances due to their Animated and powerful advertising call: yak-yak-yak-yak-yak-yak-yak. They call more frequently as spring approaches and may be more audible later in the day.

Even if you don’t hear one, Woodpeckers betray their presence by the telltale rectangular feeding cavities. that drilled live or dead trees infested with carpenter ants. Some of these cavities can be a couple of meters long!

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Woodpecker cavitiesWoodpeckers create deep rectangular cavities to access the wood-boring insects inside. Photo: Justin Peter

Fresh chips in the snow below will tell you that the work is recent. A bird may return to a tree several times, so even if you don’t see one in a recently bored tree during your visit, you may see it later in the same location.

The woodpecker is quite trusting and will be able to allow you to observe it from a few meters away. If you see one at work and have doubts about its ability to approach quietly and smoothly, enjoy the view of wood chips flying from where you are.

He browncapped titmouse

Almost everyone knows the black-capped titmouse, the trusting little bird that often approaches us to beg and utter the clear, familiar chick-a-dee-dee-dee call.

But have you ever heard or seen the brown cap version?

Is he boreal titthe more solitary cousin of the black-capped titmouse.

boreal titPhoto: Justin Peter

Following quite closely spruce-dominated habitatsIt’s not one you’re likely to see in more southern parks, but it’s a possible sighting in and north of Algonquin Provincial Park. The northern tit emits a distinctive nasal tseek-a-day-day call That may be the first way to detect its presence.

If you are in a spruce-dominated forest and come across a flock of black-capped tits, it is worth watching each bird in case there is a silent boreal tit among them. Getting a good view of one can be a challenge, but you will enjoy the lovely and varied brown and gray tones of this modest bird.

Are you ready for the Winter Bird Challenge?

Oh really Consider using binoculars suitable for bird watching. with a magnification of 8×42. Worn with a special, inexpensive binocular harness, their “bins” are a great addition to a ski or snowshoe trip or hike.