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.
An easy starting pointwould 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.
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 the Birds of the Ottawa-Gatineau District at Ottawa Annotated Checklist -FINAL 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.
The Ottawa Rare Birds Catalogue of Occurrences at Ottawa Rare Birds covers the period up to July 18, 2013 and limits the species information to rare birds only.
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.
2019 Christmas Bird Count results are in
There are two Christmas Bird Counts within the responsibility of the OFNC. The Ottawa-Gatineau Christmas Bird Count took place on Sunday, December 15 followed by a compilation dinner at 479 Boulevard des Hautes-Plaines in Gatineau. The Dunrobin-Breckenridge Christmas Bird Count took place on Saturday, January 4, 2020. Individuals can participate in these counts as field observers or feeder watchers.
This year’s count was held Sunday, December 15. The day featured 30 kph winds (with gusts to 50 kph) and gradually dropping temperatures throughout the day. A total of 61 species were found by 139 field observers 26 feeder watchers. The species total was the third lowest in the last 30 years. There were no real highlights, with one spectacular exception: a Norther Fulmar that appeared mid-afternoon over and on the Ottawa River, below the Deschênes Rapids. The bird remained until dark but was not relocated the next day.
Other interesting sightings included three species of mimids, including 2 Northern Mockingbirds (rare residents here), Gray Catbird (5th record), and Brown Thrasher (8th record). American Crow was the most common bird on the count (14,000), and record highs were set for Wild Turkey (184) and Common Raven (140).
There were 163 Cedar Waxwing but no Bohemian Waxwings. Winter Finches (aside from the ever-present HOFIs and AMGOs) were almost completely absent with only one Purple Finch and two Evening Grosbeaks reported.
Woodpecker and White-breasted Nuthatch numbers continue to drop form their record highs set a few years ago, as the Emerald Ash Borer invasion seems to have run its course.
For a detailed report of all the species visit 2019 Christmas Bird Count Results
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
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.