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 around Ottawa.
The OFNC’s Birds Committee also manages winter feeding stations at Dewberry Trail on Dolman Ridge, Mer Bleue, Fletcher Wildlife Garden, Pine Grove Trail on Davidson Road, Jack Pine Trail on Moodie Drive , and the Canadian Museum of Nature feeder location on Pink Road. The CMN feeders are a joint effort of the museum, Le Club des Ornithologues de l’Outaouais (COO), and the OFNC.
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 email@example.com.
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.
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 of the checklist are listed for sale. Please refer to the order page at Checklist.
Historical checklists are also available.
I saw a bird. What was it?
You can get help identifying birds you’ve seen by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org
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. Contact the BRSC.
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.
You’ve found a rare bird!! Now what?
If you saw a rare bird, you are encouraged to submit a rare bird report. The instructions for submitting such a report can be found at Reporting a rare bird.
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. 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 we have partnered with the Club des ornithologues de l’Outaouais in this effort. The 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.
The 99th Ottawa-Gatineau Christmas Bird Count was held on December 17, 2017 with 133 field observers and 28 feeder watchers finding 61 species. Further details can be found at Results of the 2017 Christmas Bird Count.
100th Ottawa Christmas Bird Count
The 100th Ottawa-Gatineau Christmas Bird Count took place on Sunday, December 15. 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. Preliminary results suggest that approximately 38,600 individual birds of 75 species were found. Weather was very conducive to birding this year so stay tuned for the final tally results of this exciting year.
This “Big Day” event is held annually in early fall to raise funds for purchasing seeds for the bird feeders maintained by OFNC volunteers (see below). Birds Committee members seek sponsors who donate a fixed amount or offer to pay on a per-species basis. Keen OFNC birders then try to find as many species of birds as possible within a 24-hour period.The record is 134 species set in 2006 by Chris Lewis, Bob Bracken and Bernie Ladouceur.
In 2017 a new approach was taken where OFNC members were invited to go birding on a specific date and submit their results to a common eBird account.
For the results of past events check out historical Seedathon results.
Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas
The Birds Committee supported the collection of data for the second Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas (OBBA) project, which ended in 2005. Like the first, this atlas focused on mapping the distribution of all breeding species in Ontario, but with more emphasis this time on collecting abundance information. For more information, see Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario.
For reports on the Ottawa area atlasing see historical Ottawa atlasing reports.
Peregrine Falcon Watch
by Chris Traynor
I’ve been asked numerous times over the last few years about the status of the OFNC Falcon Watch, so perhaps it is time for an update.
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.
In 2009, two chicks managed to fledge but this would be the last year that any eggs from this nest site hatched. Annual nest checks showed that the pair was producing eggs but none of them were hatching. Many of us suspected that toxins in the environment were causing problems with the eggs. There also appeared to be some evidence that local pigeons were being poisoned. As pigeons are a common prey item for peregrines, it seemed logical to conclude that this was another possible cause of the falcon’s inability to hatch a good egg.
To complicate matters for us, several years ago the Falcon Watch lost its roof access to adjacent buildings to monitor the nest, making it difficult to check on the falcons. However, peregrines are quite noisy around the nest, especially when they have chicks, so we’re quite confident that they have not had a successful nesting without our knowing about it.
In 2012, after another unsuccessful nest attempt downtown, it was discovered that another pair of peregrines was nesting on the Taxation Data Centre building on Heron Road. This was exciting news! There was speculation at the time that the pair may have also nested in the previous year, but details were sketchy. Since the downtown watch was now more or less defunct, we decided to switch our limited volunteer time to the Data Centre pair. In 2012, the falcons, now named Rowena and Ivanhoe, fledged two birds and, in 2013, one. A good bounce-back year in 2014 saw them raise three more chicks. Since they’ve been at the Heron Road nest site for at least six years and they’ve raised a dozen chicks without any of them needing rescue, we came to the conclusion that our rescue efforts, which had been vital downtown, were not needed at this location. This particular location has the advantage of being rather isolated in terms of other nearby buildings, so when a young falcon takes its first flight it has few options other than to turn around and try and land on the same building it took off from. This would appear to be an easier task than negotiating the tunnels of glass towers downtown where there were too many options available. The first flights of many a young falcon ended in tragedy when they could not tell a glass facade from the sky.
Happily, the Heron Road location seems to be ideally suited for peregrine nesting. It has a nest ledge that is sheltered from extreme weather and long, wide ledges for testing out the wings before first flight. Those of us who still go to observe the young birds have seen some remarkable first flights, and we look forward to many more. I would encourage OFNC members to go and visit this site anytime to watch these amazing birds.