Best places for bird watching in Ontario
Bird watching doesn’t require bank-breaking gear, just a pair of binoculars, a decent zoom on your camera and good quality bug spray.
Birders note the five key elements of bird identification as:
- shade (or colour)
- sweep (migration patterns)
There are 495 species of birds to spot in Ontario and close to 300 species that breed here.
Peak seasons for number and variety are during the spring and fall migrations as songbirds, shorebirds, waterfowl and birds of prey choose select sites for temporary pit stops en route to and from their nesting destinations.
Here are several hotspots for budding ornithologists and birders in Ontario.
The unique location, climate and topography of Ontario’s southernmost region serves as the perfect staging site for a variety of bird species during migration seasons.
Excellent birding spots and events include:
- Canada’s Southcoast Birding Trail identifies a network of birding hubs, observatories and events with a handy downloadable map.
- Over 300 species migrate through Point Pelee National Park. Join fellow bird observers during the annual Festival of Birds in May.
- The annual Springsong: A Celebration of Birds and Birding also takes place in May at the Pelee Island Heritage Centre. This event is attended by notable authors and ecologists, including Margaret Atwood, Lawrence Hill and David Suzuki in the past.
- The Festival of Flight is held in May each year at Rondeau Provincial Park, Ontario’s second oldest provincial park.
- World Migratory Bird Day (May 13, 2023) is observed at Long Point Bird Observatory on the shores of Lake Erie in Norfolk County.
- Also located in Norfolk County, The Canadian Raptor Conservatory hosts incredible bird of prey events and workshops, great for bird enthusiasts and photographers.
- Catch The Shoreline Celebration each spring at Hillman Marsh Conservation, a nature preserve in Leamington.
- Established in 1904, the Jack Miner Migratory Bird Sanctuary in Kingsville is a great spot to get up close and even feed waterfowl.
Perth, Waterloo and Wellington
Bird watching is a year-round activity in and around Waterloo and along the Grand River.
- The Grand River watershed is a significant waterway that travels south from Dufferin County and empties into Lake Erie with several tributaries along the way. Birders are treated to great viewing opportunities at several hotspots including Luther Marsh Wildlife Management Area, Laurel Creek Conservation Area and Dryden Tract.
- March of the Swans is the annual tradition of releasing graceful white mute swans on the Avon River each April in the city of Stratford.
- From friendly chickadees to the majestic snowy owl, find the best winter birding destinations in Waterloo Region.
Kawarthas and Northumberland
The diverse landscapes of wetlands and woodlands, lakes and fields attract a variety of different species to this area.
- Nesting platforms throughout this region offer the chance for a rare sighting of majestic ospreys each spring. Keep safety in mind when located close to roads and highways.
- The Carden Alvar Provincial Park and Important Bird & Biodiversity Area (IBA) in Kawartha Lakes is a globally rare ecosystem that is home to over 200 species of birds (including some rare species) and over 400 species of plants. Book the guided Carden Alvar Nature Photography Experience in May or June.
- Located along Lake Ontario, Presqu’ile Provincial Park, another Important Bird and Biodiversity Area hosts the Warblers and Whimbrels Weekend and birders are treated to bird walks and sightings of smaller migrating warblers and shorebirds like whimbrels.
- Nestled between the Canadian Shield and limestone lowlands, Petroglyphs Provincial Park is another unique ecological area that also attracts birds in desperate need for a rest stop.
- Get more info on birding in Kawarthas Northumberland.
Bruce County and Ontario’s West Coast
Lake Huron’s shoreline sees a great deal of bird activity, especially during migrations seasons.
- During the two weekends following the Victoria Day long weekend in late May and early June, MacGregor Point Provincial Park is the home of the Huron Fringe Birding Festival. Keep a sharp eye out for black-crowned night herons and American egrets touching down on the Bruce Peninsula during guided hikes and bird identification workshops.
- Just north off the coast of Saugeen Shores, Chantry Island is a designated migratory bird sanctuary that welcomes cormorants, seagulls, egrets and of course, herons. Cruise from Southampton to the island to view the birds and tour the heritage lighthouse with the Marine Heritage Society.
Discover several key birding hotspots and experiences in Prince Edward County and stretching along the St. Lawrence River.
- The Spring Birding Festival in Prince Edward County takes place in mid-May. The County was designated as an IBA in 1998 and has continued to serve as a major staging point for migrating birds. Daily activities include guided walks and tours, bird banding demonstrations and workshops at the Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory.
- Just across the channel, the Bay of Quinte has 33 conservation areas that are key locations for birding. Set out with a Birds of the Bay checklist.
- Located within the Frontenac Arch Biosphere, east of Kingston, the wetlands and open waters in the Mac Johnson Wildlife Area are visited by majestic Trumpeter Swans, thanks to a 20 year conservation and restoration program.
- The Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary, part of the St. Lawrence Parks Commission, offers excellent opportunities to view waterfowl, raptors and other species from winding trails through forest, fields and wetlands.
Muskoka and Algonquin Park
Swaths of mixed forests and freshwater lakes and rivers through Muskoka and Algonquin Park provide the ideal habitat for a wide variety of migratory and breeding birds.
- Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario’s iconic park is a great destination to appreciate Canada’s national bird, the whiskey jack or Canada jay.
- Check out birding events and sightings from the Visitor Centre or connect with the Algonquin Wildlife Research Station.
- Muskoka Field Naturalists have compiled a comprehensive list of excellent birdwatching hotspots throughout the region.
Incredible bird watching opportunities exist in Ontario’s beautiful and rugged wilderness from Superior Country to Sunset Country in the northwest and from Algoma Country up to the remote saltwater shores of the Hudson Bay.
- The annual autumn salmon run up the Nipigon River, just north of Thunder Bay provides the ultimate opportunity for a photo safari to witness North American Bald Eagles on the hunt.
- The coastal shoreline of Sleeping Giant Provincial Park to the rich boreal forests in Algoma Country are home to a flurry of feathered inhabitants.
- Be awed by the bald eagles, osprey, herons, owls and woodpeckers and songbirds. There are a number of duck species and loons on St. Joseph Island.
- In Ontario’s northwest, Sunset Country is a birders’ playground.
- Pelicans, cranes, snowy owls and bald eagles have been spotted in and around the Sable Islands and Rainy River Provincial Parks and up to the shores along Lake of the Woods.
- If you make the long trek north to James Bay in the spring and fall, you may be rewarded with sightings of waterfowl, migrating shorebirds such as sandpipers or the red knot, as well as loons, pelicans, cranes, owls and eagles. Look for seals and beluga whales too. Pei lay sheesh kow is a designated IBA that covers Tidewater Provincial Park. Its name in Cree translates to “an area that abounds with birds”.
- East of Moosonee, the Hannah Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary lies within the Moose Cree First Nation homelands and offers refuge to ducks, sandpipers, gulls, snow geese and other waterbirds.
Learn more about bird watching and birding activities in Ontario as well as research and conservation efforts through the Ontario Field Ornithologists.
Last updated: October 16, 2023