Ottawa has a rich and varied birding community with a long history dating from the middle of the 19th century. Amateurs and professionals — from Percy Taverner and Earl Godfrey through to today’s feeder and Safe Wings volunteers — have done everything from founding national institutions to having fun at an Audubon Christmas Bird Count. Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club members are an integral part of this history.
Before you go…
Please read the Code of Conduct for birders, birdwatchers and photographers.
Where do I go?
Now that you are set to head off, the question is where to go. Ottawa has plenty of varied habitats that make for good birding all year round. You might want to visit all of them or try to discover favourite spots of your own. This will give you a good start: Where to Go Birding
An easy starting point would be locations where the OFNC Birds Committee maintains winter feeding stations. These can be found at Dewberry Trail, Mer Bleue, Fletcher Wildlife Garden, Pine Grove on Davidson Road, Jack Pine Trail on Moodie Drive, and the Canadian Museum of Nature on Pink Road (CMN). The CMN feeders are a joint effort of the museum, Le Club des Ornithologues de l’Outaouais (COO), and the OFNC.
In the past, funds to purchase seed for these feeders were raised through an annual Seedathon. This was a “Big Day” event held in the fall when keen OFNC birders would try to find as many species of birds as possible within a 24-hour period. Donations of a lump sum or an amount corresponding to the number of species found were sought. Over time, this was found to be no longer an effective way to raise funds. While the OFNC general budget provides some support, donations for seed purchases are welcome and can be made at Wild Bird Seed Membership and Donations.
What might I see?
Perhaps you want to have an idea of what birds of note are being seen in the area. The OFNC publishes a weekly birding report that you might check regularly. You are also encouraged to report birds that you have seen at sightings[at]ofnc.ca.
Another source of what birds are being or could be seen can be found on eBird. eBird is a real-time, online checklist program. It has revolutionized the way that the birding community reports and accesses information about birds. Launched in 2002 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, eBird provides rich data sources for basic information on bird abundance and distribution at a variety of spatial and temporal scales. When using this tool, please be aware of Reporting Sensitive Species on eBird.
Why not do a year list?
In 1977, a series of articles in Trail & Landscape described a strategy to see 200 bird species within the OFNC study area in a single year. Although some things described in those articles remain the same, much has changed. The resources available now have revolutionized birding. Also, some once favoured areas no longer exist or are now rarely visited. Other new areas have become important hot spots. Some species have declined, and others are now more common.
Thanks to Greg Zbitnew this is an update/rewrite of that series. The articles also appeared in Trail and Landscape but are consolidated here to help in achieving the 250 species target.
Trying to see many bird species as possible in a single year in a specific area is quite a popular sport among birders. Although sometimes it can be a bit of work, it is actually quite a fun project. Aside from motivating you to get outside on a regular basis, it can be quite educational as you make efforts to identify more challenging species and learn about different areas to visit. If you can find a friend or group of friends to go out with, you can turn it into a friendly “competition” and a pleasant social event as well, and it is well known that you try harder if you have to keep up with someone else.
The challenge has been changed from “200” to “250” only to emphasize what is possible for an experienced birder with a lot of time available. The articles are really intended to describe a strategy to MAXIMIZE the number of species you can observe in a year in the most efficient way. The exact total is not as important as is knowing how to do better than you might have thought, without spending more time. This strategy puts you where the birds are and at the right time.
Here are the links to take you to these great articles. These articles coupled with Where to Go Birding will be some valuable tools out in the field. Good Birding!
An online seasonal checklist is can be located at Seasonal Checklist 2005.
For field notes a Birder’s Checklist for the Ottawa-Gatineau District compiled by the Bird Records Subcommittee of the Birds Committee, contains a list of all the species of birds that have been found within 50 km of Parliament Hill up to December 1, 2015. There are five columns for however birders choose to record their observations (e.g. daily, yearly, by location), and two pages for additional notes. A map inside the handy pocket-sized booklet shows the boundaries of the OFNC study area. Hard copy pocket card versions (3.75″ x 7.75″ 16 panels) of the checklist are listed for sale (see ordering information and mailing costs)
Historical checklists are also available.
Reference documents of interest
Two documents have been provided for information and reference concerning birds in the 50 K circle of the Ottawa-Gatineau district. The documents were prepared by Dave Britton on his own initiative having drawn upon a number of data sources. He has graciously agreed to share his work with the OFNC. The information has not been officially reviewed and the OFNC does not take responsibility for the accuracy, content, completeness, or reliability of the information contained in these documents. Nonetheless, the Birds Committee is of the opinion that the documents contain information that would be of interest to both novice birders and those who have birded for a number of years.
The Annotated Checklist of Birds of the Ottawa-Gatineau District provides information up to July 13, 2015. It covers information relating to all species counts, names, status, text or annotations describing the sightings and includes noteworthy records such as first record, late and early records, unusual summer or winter records and noteworthy high counts.
Rare Bird Detailed Records covering the OFNC Study area ( 50 Km radius of the Peace Tower, Ottawa) last updated on October 31, 2020 is available at Ottawa Annotated Checklist of Rare Birds Due to the widespread use of eBird and the near certainty that any rarity is documented there, updates have relied almost exclusively on the eBird database.
I saw a bird. What was it?
You can get help identifying birds you’ve seen by contacting identifications[at]ofnc.ca.
Bird Records Subcommittee
The general purpose of the Bird Records Subcommittee (BRSC) is to provide a pool of technical expertise for OFNC members. The BRSC maintains a database that documents rare bird occurrences and serves as an educational resource for the club. Meetings are open to all members of the OFNC.
Any documentation of an unusual sighting is retained permanently in the subcommittee files. The subcommittee meets two or three times a year to review these submissions, which are in turn used to produce our checklists.
An example of historic documentation maintained by the BRSC is the Shrike Database that contains 103,466 bird sightings submitted by club members January 1, 1981 through May 31, 1986.
Bird Study Group
The Birds Committee organizes talks and workshops on topics of interest to birders. Sometimes we cover bird identification matters, other times bird biology or bird-related projects. The sessions do not follow a set schedule, but take place whenever we get one organized. Most have taken the form of indoor, evening talks led by local people with a particular expertise; they are normally held at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden on a week night. The group has also held several successful “Talk & Walks” on seasonally appropriate subjects (e.g., fall waterfowl) on weekend mornings.
Any club member with an interest in birds might find a bird study group session to be of interest. There is no cost to attend, and really nothing to join. Anyone interested in receiving notice of upcoming bird study group sessions should send a note saying so, together with their email address, to the Bird Study Group at birdstudy[at]ofnc.ca. We will add you to the e-mail notification list.
Audubon Christmas Bird Count
The Birds Committee organizes the Ottawa contribution to the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count.
This North-America wide birding tradition started in 1900 and the OFNC has participated continuously since 1920. In recent years the OFNC partnered with the Club des ornithologues de l’Outaouais in this effort. The Ottawa-Gatineau Count usually takes place in mid-December and involves teams of volunteers who spend most of the day outdoors tallying species and numbers of birds within a 7.5 mile (12 km) radius of the Peace Tower. Other volunteers contribute by noting the birds that come to their backyard feeders on the day of the count.
There are a number of nearby counts that touch on the OFNC 50 km. study area.
Ottawa-Gatineau Christmas Bird Count 2020
The 102nd Ottawa-Gatineau CBC was held December 20. Temperatures ranged from -4 to 0 degrees, with persistent snow and then drizzle over much of the count circle.
164 field observers plus 35 feeder watchers found 76 species. Highlights included one each of Field Sparrow, Cackling Goose, Double-crested Cormorant, and Short-eared Owl; a record 4 Red-bellied Woodpeckers; and 10 Hoary Redpolls, including one hornemanni. Record highs were also set for Wood Duck (11), Wild Turkey (274), White-breasted Nuthatch (632), Bohemian Waxwing (5,136), and Northern Cardinal (741); and 8 Barred Owl tied a record high.
American Crow was easily the most abundant species with a roost estimated at 20,000. Good numbers were recorded for Common Raven (144), Red-breasted Nuthatch (165), Hermit Thrush (5), Cedar Waxwing (223), and Common Redpoll (1,966). Other winter finches recorded included Evening Grosbeak (106), Pine Grosbeak (115), White-winged Crossbill (40), and Pine Siskin (28).
The Ottawa-Gatineau Christmas Bird Count is a joint effort of the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club (OFNC) and the Club des ornithologues de l’Outaouais (COO). My thanks to the participants, the sector leaders, and especially my co-compiler, Daniel Toussaint of the COO.
For a detailed report of all the species found during this count, please visit 2020 Christmas Bird Count
Results of past Ottawa- Gatineau Christmas Bird Counts can be found at Historical results of Christmas Bird Counts.
100th Ottawa-Gatineau Christmas Bird Count
The 100th Ottawa-Gatineau Christmas Bird Count took place on Sunday, December 16, 2018, It is a joint initiative of the Ottawa Field Naturalists’ Club and the Club des Ornithologues de l’Outaouais (COO). The count includes all areas within a 12.1 km. (7.5 miles) radius of the Peace Town and is divided into six sectors. Three in Ontario and 3 in Quebec. It was the 40th Anniversary for COO. The counting concluded with an informative presentation on the history and highlights of the count over the past 99 years.
145 field observers in 73 parties, plus 33 feeder watchers found 75 species and counted 26, 056 individual birds. The full report is available at 100th Ottawa-Gatineau Christmas Bird Count.
The Third Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas begins in 2021.
The goal of the Atlas is to map the distribution and relative abundance of Ontario’s approximately 300 species of breeding birds – from as far south as Middle Island in Lake Erie, to Hudson Bay in the north. The data collected over five years provides essential information for researchers, scientists, government officials and conservation professionals. It will guide environmental policies and conservation strategies for years to come. Data collection for the two previous Ontario atlasses ran from 1981-1985 and 2001-2005, followed by the publication of books summarizing the results. The two previous projects were enormous (and successful!). But we’re hoping Atlas-3 will be the best one yet – providing an unprecedented understanding of the status, distribution and abundance of the province’s birds and a huge database of information that can be used for bird conservation purposes well into the future.
For more information, see Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario. Members of the OFNC were active participants in the past atlasing efforts. For reports on the Ottawa area atlasing see historical Ottawa atlasing reports.
The Atlas is an incredibly ambitious endeavor and is only possible with the support of keen volunteers across Ontario. The Regional Coordinator for the Ottawa Atlas Region is seeking support in recruiting volunteers who would be interested in participating in this edition of the Atlas within the six counties – including parts of Renfrew, Lanark, Prscott-Russell, Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry, and Leeds and Grenville counties, as well as all of Ottawa-Carleton – that make up the Ottawa Region.
All individuals who are interested in participating are invited to complete a short questionnaire available at: https://forms.gle/6FuZohkLnLLMSv7i8. In addition to establishing a local database of participants, the questionnaire will help gauge interest, skill and level of commitment to identify and assign “principal atlassers” for each 10km x 10km atlas square.
Peregrine Falcon Watch
The OFNC Falcon Watch started in 1997 when Ottawa’s first nest of Peregrine Falcons was discovered on the former Citadel Inn at Lyon and Albert streets. For the next decade, our local falcons succeeded in raising many chicks to adulthood. The Peregrines have chosen other nesting sites which are safer for the chicks. The story is important and details can be found at Chronology of the Ottawa Falcon Watch