Wed. Nov 29th, 2023
How to be an ethical bird watcher

It’s officially spring, which means birds are returning to our parks, and bird watchers won’t be left behind!

As bird watching becomes more popular and with the start of the third Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas, we expect this to be a great year for the activity.

Whether this is your first birding season or your 91st, we know you want to act in a manner that is respectful and protective of the park’s feathered inhabitants.

If you and your binoculars venture into a park this season, read on for our top tips for ethical birdwatching.

Learn from a professional

David Bree is an expert birder with the Ontario Parks Discovery Team.

Here, he explains what the Breeding Bird Atlas is, why Ontario Parks supports the initiative, and his advice for birders:

Avoid using recorded bird songs.

Most bird species use songs to establish territory and attract mates. Birders following scientific protocols, such as marsh bird surveys, often use pre-recorded songs to confirm the presence of secretive species.

Small yellow, white and black bird on branch in springMagnolia Warbler

Unfortunately, playing recorded songs can stress the birds around you. They are forced to take time to feed their young and defend their nests to determine the degree of threat you pose.

As David mentions in the video above, overuse of recordings can even affect a bird’s survival.

If you do not have permission from the park superintendent, do not play recordings of songs in the parks.

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Give the birds their space

If you approach a bird to get a better look, be sure to leave enough space for the bird to feel safe. Like their fellow hikers and bird watchers, animals need their personal space.

This is especially true if they protect their young. If the bird seems alarmed or is making a display of broken wings, you have gotten too close and should back away.

Bird on the ground.Ground-nesting birds, like this Killdeer, will feign a broken wing to lure you (a potential predator) away from the vulnerable eggs if you venture too close. This is a stressful situation for bird parents.

Never go near a bird’s nest during the breeding season.

Binoculars, telescopes, and telephoto camera lenses are tools that can give you great views of wildlife without causing stress to the animals or putting them in danger.

Never use bait

We know it’s tempting to coax birds outdoors with seeds and other treats, but baits can habituate animals to human presence, “rewarding” an animal for abnormal behavior.

Habituation It occurs when an animal is exposed to a stimulus so many times that it loses sensitivity or stops seeing the stimulus as a threat.

Bird in a nest in a tree.American redstart

We understand that you’re dying for that perfect photo, but keep the food in your pocket. It’s not worth risking the bird’s life.

Bait should never be used in provincial parks and its use could result in a fine.

Follow the path

It may be tempting to follow an elusive song or glimpse a tail feather in the undergrowth, but there are many reasons why we ask our visitors to use the park’s trails rather than go off the beaten path.

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Woman looking through binoculars on a trail.

Invasive species can hitchhike on your shoes, so following the trail ensures that Garlic Mustard and other invaders don’t spread to sensitive habitats.

Venturing off the trail also threatens ground-nesting birds and risks trampling or destroying plants and small animals.

See you on the trails!

Bird watching is a fun and versatile hobby and, when done thoughtfully, can benefit both humans and wildlife.

If you haven’t already, consider signing up to volunteer for the third Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas.

You can also help us better understand the park’s biodiversity by reporting your sightings on or