Making the Most of Spring Migration: Birding 101

For nature lovers, Spring Migration is one of the most exciting times of the year. The barren tree tops begin to come to life with swelling buds and the sounds of its winged friends, hopping from limb to limb.

Migration marks the beginning of the breeding season, which in turn means that the birds are dawning their finest feathers and singing their prettiest songs in hopes to attract a mate. If you’re not looking, you’ll miss it entirely. But if you are looking, birds in colours of indigo, scarlet red, bright yellow, olive green are waiting to be discovered and are arriving in South Eastern Ontario by the thousands each day!

Since there isn’t much else to do when in lockdown, why not try birding?

Here’s some tips to get you started:

Invest in or borrow a pair of binoculars. You don’t need the best gear, but having a set of lenses will help you get a clearer view of the species you’re looking at. If buying a pair isn’t an option, ask your friends and family. Chances are, someone has a pair sitting around. 

Know your local hotspots. eBird online is a great tool that allows birders to track local sightings. Zoom in on your favourite local park or Conservation Area to see what’s been spotted recently. Knowing ranges and what birds are spotted in the area also helps in identifying specific species. In the Bay of Quinte region, check out for a local, weekly published bird report.

Get a good field guide or ID app. My personal favourite is the “Peterson Field Guide of Eastern and Central North America” and the Merlin bird ID app. For younger kids, take a look at books like “The Little Book of Backyard Bird Songs” by Andrea Pinnington and Caz Buckingham. Study the birds that you are hoping to see and make note of behavioural things like tail bobbing and fluttering/flitting around and physical aspects like: wing bars, breast patterns and eye rings (or in the case of the Blue headed Vireo, a pair of spectacles). 

Take a listen. Quite often the sound of the bird will lead up to its location and help to pin point the species. Walk slowly and learn the songs of the birds your looking for. For example: the Yellow Warbler sings a song that resembles “Sweet Sweet (Sweet), Shredded Wheat”, while the White Throated Sparrow sings “Oh Sweet Canada, Canada, Canada”. Most birding apps contain short audio clips of the songs and calls. 

Plan ahead. Do you research on weather patterns and wind directions. If it’s a miserable cold day, chances are the birds much like ourselves, may be hunkered down. Rising early will also help increase your chances of seeing species. 

Be respectful. It can be tempting to walk off trail to get a closer look at a bird you want to check off your list but staying where you belong ensures you give the birds the space they need to feel safe, especially in nesting season. It also prevents the local flora and fauna from getting trampled underfoot. Respect private property and pay attention to the rules of the area your birding in. 

Enjoy and don’t stress it! Birding sometimes can be frustrating, especially when just learning. Start with the easy species, like Goldfinches, Blue Jays and Cardinals. Make a list of EVERY species you see in your outing (don’t forget that Seagull you saw in the McDonalds parking lot when you grabbed your early morning coffee) and you might be surprised at how quickly the list adds up. Use a checklist such as this to help keep a list of your ID’d species. The biggest thrill is checking a “lifer” off of your list!

Happy birding! 

If you do head out to do some birding, please share your sightings with me!