Winging it: A short guide to birdwatching in Toronto
Spotting birds that call the city home is a great way to get outdoors and stay in tune with nature
By Kelsey Adams
Apr 8, 2021
Birdwatching is a contemplative yet engaging way to get back into nature. With migratory birds coming home after the long winter, spring brings the thrill of seeing a new species to check off on your list, discover new trails and spend time with friends and family in a safe environment. Plus, you don’t need to be a seasoned birder to get out there and spot woodpeckers, loons, wood ducks or hummingbirds.
There are the tried-and-true spots renowned for birdwatching in Toronto, like Tommy Thompson Park, but there are also lesser known woods and parks great for spying the almost 400 species of birds that live in the Greater Toronto Area. Here are five places to visit – plus local groups to join.
Colonel Samuel Smith Park
This park near Kipling and Lakeshore West is a wooded habitat by the water, making it optimal for birding and fishing. Boasting more than 200 bird species, artists and photographers are often drawn to the park to capture the wildlife. Bird enthusiasts often lead free walks and talks to teach others about the variety of birds, which include tree swallows, egrets, yellow warblers, red-necked grebes and grey catbirds.
If you want to see red-tailed hawks, Downsview is the place to be. You can get up close without scaring them and see their metre-long wingspan in action. Other recent sightings at the North York park include turkey vultures, common grackles, red-winged blackbirds, sparrows, mockingbirds, cormorants and cardinals.
The wood ducks in High Park are flouncing their best feathers right now. It’s courting season, so their green, purple, blue and red feathers have an extra vibrant sheen. The west end park has been home to more than 260 species of birds over the years, including rare and exotic ones. You’re most likely to see water birds like swans, geese and mallards in the ponds or hawks and other birds of prey at Hawk Hill in the centre of the park.
To see woodpeckers and nuthatches, you need to find old trees. Head to this wood in Etobicoke, near the Humber River. The path is paved but you still feel whisked away to a fairy-tale wonderland in the thick canopy of trees in the summer. The rhythmic pecking of the woodpeckers and nuthatches and the songs of robins, blackbirds and song sparrows fill the air. In the river you can spot plenty of mallards and geese.
Tommy Thompson Park
This park on the Leslie Street Spit has wildflower meadows, cottonwood forests, coastal marshes and cobble beaches, making it the perfect habitat for 316 species of birds, rotating throughout the seasons. You might catch a glimpse of a great blue heron as it glides over the water in the marshlands or hear the calls of a black-capped chickadee or an American robin before you see them camouflaged in the trees. Try and spot a northern harrier before they disappear for the summer and come back in the fall. The park is also home to the largest cormorant colony in North America. The path stretches for five kilometres so you’ll often see runners, bikers and people strolling alongside the birdwatchers.
Birding with a group
Join one of these Toronto birdwatching groups to make bird watching a collective experience.
Brown Girl Outdoor World
This collective run by Demiesha Dennis is all about creating adventures to build a community of Black women, Indigenous women and women of colour reclaiming access to outdoor spaces. They run everything from back-country hikes, surfing trips and ice fishing expeditions but have plans for spring birdwatching walks in May, June and the fall.
Founded in New York in 2016, Feminist Bird Club has chapters across the United States, in the Netherlands and Toronto. They work to make birding inclusive for everyone, especially those who previously found it inaccessible. One of their principles is that conservation and environmental justice work must be aligned with feminist and anti-racist movements. They post about upcoming walks on Instagram.
The Toronto chapter of this birdwatching group founded in London, UK also aims to reclaim the outdoors for Black, Indigenous and people of colour. Their walks use nature as a background to foster connection and support. Discussions about art, fashion, music and culture are as likely as chats about the species of birds that live in Toronto’s marshlands. They’re planning more walks, excursions outside of the city and a community brunch.
One of the oldest birding groups in the city, the TOC was founded in 1934. They’re a club for “serious birders,” but always welcome beginner and intermediate birders on their walks. They’re very involved in conservation efforts and monitoring bird populations around the city. Outings are currently on hiatus but they plan to make an announcement on May 15 about future walks.
Kelsey Adams is an arts and culture journalist born and raised in Toronto. Before covering food, life and culture for NOW Magazine, she wrote about music, art and film for several publications, including the Globe and Mail, The FADER, Complex CA and Canadian Art.