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 caretakers 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 maintains feeding stations. A year round feeder is maintained at Fletcher Wildlife Garden . In the winter a second feeder is added. Winter feeding stations (December 1 to March 31) can be found at Dewberry Trail at Dolman Ridge, Pine Grove on Davidson Road NCC P19, 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. The derecho damaged or destroyed the Jack Pine locations but the replacement feeder can be found in OFNC Feeder in Stony Swamp at Beaver Trail
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!
Reference documents of interest
Two documents are 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 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.
Thanks to Greg Zbitnew, these documents will continually updated so the information is as current as possible.
The Ottawa Annotated Checklist -December 2023 provides the most current information. 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 December 31,2023 is available at Ottawa Annotated Checklist of Rare Birds Since there is widespread use of eBird and the near certainty that any rarity is documented there, updates have relied almost exclusively on the eBird database.
Comments and suggestions on these documents are welcome. They may be submitted to ofnc.wtgb[at]gmail.com
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 coordinated by Birds Canada.
Started in 1900, the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is North America’s longest-running Citizen Science project. People in more than 2000 locations throughout the Western Hemisphere participate in the CBC each year. For more information visit Audubon Christmas Bird Count and Bird Canada Christmas Bird Counts
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 also a number of nearby counts that touch on the OFNC 50 km. study area.
Ottawa-Gatineau Christmas Bird Count 2023
The 105th Ottawa-Gatineau CBC was held December 17, 2023. Temperatures ranged from minus 1.5 to plus 4.5 degrees Celsius, with cloudy skies throughout the day. Except for one cold snap, temperatures were mild leading up to the count; however, with the rivers being so open, water birds weren’t all forced into the count circle area as is the case in most years.
161 field observers plus 32 feeder watchers found 77 species and a record high 54,598 individual birds. Highlights included a first record for Western Tanager, a second record for Wood Thrush, and a fifth record for Red-shouldered Hawk. Other highlights included Cackling Goose, Green-winged Teal, 2 Harlequin Ducks, 2 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Double-crested Cormorant, Northern Goshawk (this used not to be a highlight bird), Gray Catbird, Brown Thrasher, and 2 Red Crossbills.
As usual, the most abundant bird was American Crow producing a record-high roost count of 31,602. Thanks to Aaron Hywarren, Jamie Spence, and Marcel Gahbauer for their efforts counting crows.
Feeder birds beware because record highs were set for both Cooper’s Hawk (23) and Merlin (9). Record highs were also set for Bufflehead (20), Winter Wren (3), American Goldfinch (1,604), Dark-eyed Junco (980), and Norther Cardinal (829). Common Raven (160) fell just four short of a record. There were 11 Red-tailed Hawks observed but Rough-legged Hawk was completely absent for the second year in a row. Both waxwings and winter finches were in scarce supply.
There appears to a continuing trend of small numbers of certain species such as Northern Flicker, Winter Wren, and Hermit thrush attempting (often successfully) to overwinter. In the past, these were all very rare in the winter. Our Carolina Wren population is doing well too with six found on the count (one short of a record), and several others during the count period
Snowy Owl, Long-eared Owl, Short-eared Owl, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Red-winged Blackbird and Rusty Blackbird were observed during the count week but not on the count day itself.
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 CBC 2023
Results of past Ottawa- Gatineau Christmas Bird Counts can be found at Historical results of Christmas Bird Counts.
Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas
Learn More About It
Observing and reporting on breeding bird behaviour activity to the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas provides essential information for Canadian researchers, scientists, government officials and conservation professionals that will help guide environmental policies and conservation strategies across Ontario for years to come.
For more information on how to participate contact Aaron Hywarren the Ottawa Region Atlas Coordinator at Ottawa@birdsontario.org
Members of the OFNC were active participants in the past atlassing efforts. For reports on the Ottawa area atlassing see historical Ottawa atlasing reports.