Bird watching is the fastest-growing hobby in the world. It’s one of the few activities people can do more of as they get older, it is inexpensive and available to everyone. There are many opportunities for you to try birding in Burlington.
The beauty of birding is that an amateur has just as good a chance at making that rare bird sighting as a professional. It is also a great way to get kids interested in nature. To get you started here are some great tips for beginners on birding in Burlington.
The western end of Lake Ontario (Cootes to Escarpment Park System) which includes Burlington, offers a variety of habitats enabling birders to see over 300 bird species. Check out the map of birding trails here
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Bald eagles, all but locally extinct in the 1980s, are now making a comeback. Several Bald Eagles have overwintered in Cootes Paradise at Royal Botanical Gardens in the last few years and have established nests on the north shore of Cootes Paradise west of the Marshwalk observation platform.
The west end of Lake Ontario is a perfect fall and spring stopover area for water birds including Loons, Tundra Swans and even the occasional Pelican. The presence of zebra mussels on the bottom of Lake Ontario provides an abundant supply of food for hundreds of thousands of Arctic ducks who winter over along our lakeshore. Trumpeter Swans, the largest waterfowl in North America had vanished from Ontario in 1886. With the help of volunteers, 200 swan flocks have been brought back to south-central Ontario and the shores of LaSalle Park in Burlington to winter over, arriving in November and returning in April to their nesting grounds in the north.
Burlington is home to species that only recently have become established in Ontario including Carolina Wren, Northern Mockingbird, and Red-bellied Woodpecker. Screech Owls and Great Horned Owls are quite common, although rarely seen.
Bird feeders attract many small birds that are easy prey for Coopers Hawks and Sharp Shinned Hawks which are found all year round in Burlington. Several bird species have become so numerous they present a problem for humans by damaging habitats. For example, Double Crested Cormorants nest in colonies on trees close to water however, their waste is poisonous to the trees. Similarly, the Canada Goose has become a pest, fouling many parks and beaches.
Waterfront – To see Waterbirds and Gulls in all seasons, follow the shoreline starting at the RBG/Cootes Paradise and stopping at Woodland Cemetery, RBG, LaSalle Park Marina, the Canal/Lift Bridge, Spencer Smith Park, Sioux Lookout, Paletta Lakefront Park, Burloak Park and continue on into Oakville, stopping at Bronte and Oakville Harbours.
Escarpment – Great locations for Raptors including Turkey Vultures. Stop at Mount Nemo, Rattlesnake Point, Kelso Conservation Areas and Kerncliff Park.
Bruce Trail – Hiking the Bruce Trail offers many opportunities to see forest and farmland birds. In spring and summer watch for migrating Raptors and Vultures. The cliffs create updrafts which these birds use to gain height to speed their migration. The Bruce Trail follows the Niagara Escarpment and is your connection to some of the best birding experiences in the Burlington area, travelling through Crawford Lake, Hilton Falls, Kelso, Mount Nemo, Rattlesnake Point Conservation Areas, Kerncliff Park and the Royal Botanical Gardens.
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Prime Birding Locations
|Bronte Creek Provincial Park||Birds seen in the park include Northern Mockingbird, Eastern Meadowlark, Bobolink, Red-tailed Hawk, several kinds of Sparrows, as well as the occasional Pileated Woodpecker, Baltimore Oriole, Turkey Vulture and both Long-eared and Short-eared Owl. Birds of particular interest include Eastern Bluebird and Northern Shrike.||PAID ADMISSION|
|Crawford Lake Conservation Area||Look for Belted Kingfishers from the boardwalk around Crawford Lake and various species of woodpeckers, warblers and thrushes in the woodlands. The Nassagaweya Canyon Lookout is a great place to look for Turkey Vultures. 19 km of forest and cliff edge trails, a nature/activity centre and a boardwalk that surrounds a rare meromictic lake.||PAID ADMISSION|
|Hilton Falls Conservation Area||Hand-feeding the chickadees at the waterfall in winter is an enjoyable experience. Excellent location for spring warblers and other woodland species. 16 km of hiking trails on the Niagara Escarpment with a spectacular waterfall and beaver meadows.||PAID ADMISSION|
|Kelso Conservation Area||Good site for woodland birds and migratory birds of prey. 16 km of cliff edge and forest trails with connections to Bruce Trail.||PAID ADMISSION|
|Kerncliff Park||Sora and Scarlet Tanager can be found in spring and summer, it’s also great for amphibians such as frogs, toads and snakes. Part of the Bruce Trail, originally the site of a quarry and has been rehabilitated with 1.4 km of trails partially through wetlands and forest.||FREE|
|LaSalle Park/Marina||Favourite wintering location for Great Scaup, Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead and Common Merganser. Also look for Redheads, Canvasbacks, Trumpeters and Mute Swans, Mallards and American Coots and other waterfowl. Nestled on the north shore of Burlington Bay on the waterfront trail in this protected harbour, a great place to check for wintering Bald Eagles.||FREE|
|Mount Nemo Conservation Area||Good site for watching turkey vultures and other birds of prey. 5 km of cliff edge and forest trails with interpretive lookout and connections to Bruce Trail. Great vistas and views of the surrounding countryside.||PAID ADMISSION|
|Mountsberg Conservation Area||Has a raptor centre with presentations and exhibits on birds of prey. Shorebirds and waterfowl can be seen on the reservoir during spring and fall. Wood Ducks and other wetland birds are also present. 16 km of forest and lakeshore trails with excellent wildlife viewing. Nature/activity centre and boat launch.||PAID ADMISSION|
|Paletta Lakefront Park||Good location to see waterbirds and spring migrants such as warblers. Carolina Wrens also are frequently found here. Historic mansion with 14-acre parkland and trail system along the lake and through woodland along the creek.||FREE|
|Rattlesnake Point Conservation Area||Conservation Halton – Five lookouts with great viewing opportunities for migratory birds of prey. 10 km of cliff edge and forest with hiking/nature trails with connections to Bruce Trail and Crawford Lake.||PAID ADMISSION|
|Royal Botanical Gardens||Owls, Ospreys, Bald Eagles, shorebirds, waterfowl, spring and fall migrants, the RBG has them all! Black-capped Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Downy Woodpeckers will often feed from your hand. With over 260 hectares of woods and 30 hectares of wetlands, the RBG is a prime area for birds with many trails and observation points to view a variety of waterfowl, and migratory and nesting birds. Report any unusual bird sightings to the Nature Centre.||PAID ADMISSION|
|Sioux Lookout||Wintering and migrant ducks. Small parkette off Lakeshore Rd with sweeping views of the lake.||FREE|
|Burlington Lakeshore||Includes Beachway Park (including canal & lift bridge), Spencer Smith Park, Sioux Lookout, Paletta Lakefront Park, and Burloak Park. The entire shoreline provides good birding opportunities throughout the depths of winter. Look for Long-tailed Duck, Greater and Lesser Scaup, White-winged Scoter and Common Goldeneye by the thousands. Red-necked Grebes often are seen in early summer and Mallard and Canada Goose at any time.||FREE|
|The Waterfront – Beachway Park & Burlington Canal||Ducks, grebes, geese, swans and loons all use Lake Ontario, some are year-round residents, and others stop over on migration. Peregrine Falcons can be seen at the lift bridge. Northern Mockingbirds have established territories along the Beach Strip from Burlington to Hamilton. Park stretches over several km. of white beach with a seasonal snack bar, outdoor showers, playground and walking trails.||FREE|
|The Waterfront –Spencer Smith Park||A good place for wintering ducks, Mute and Trumpeter Swans, and Red-necked Grebes in early summer. Connects with Beachway Park for 3 km of waterfront trails. Discovery Landing features The Observatory a nice warm, dry place for bird and weather watching that is also a banquet facility. Visit Spencer’s restaurant or the Bite snack bar for a bite to eat. The Rotary Centennial Pond is used for skating in winter and model boats in summer. Great views of the Lake and Skyway Bridge.||FREE- PAID PARKING|
|Woodland Cemetery (west end of Aldershot)||One of the best birding sites in the area. You can see large flocks of Tundra Swans in spring and fall and migrating birds include Blue Jays, American Robins, Cedar Waxwings, Eastern Bluebirds, various finches and lots of warblers from September-October. Ospreys are frequently seen through late summer and fall fishing along the edges of Burlington Bay. Bald Eagles often can be seen during winter months.||FREE|
Did you know that:
- You should keep your distance from birds and nests as many species will abandon their nest if disturbed while sitting on eggs.
- That if you talk softly, or better yet not at all, more bird noise will be heard. If birds are hiding they have a good reason for doing so. They may be scared, hurt or even sitting in a nest. Don’t flush birds out for a better view or chase flightless waterfowl during the moulting season. Heavy use of recordings by birdwatchers can substantially reduce breeding success.
Be a respectful birder:
- Keep to paths and roadways and never cross growing crops. Leave all gates exactly as you found them and do not damage fences.
- Don’t drop cigarette butts or other litter. What you bring in you must take out.
- Stay off private land unless you have permission to be there.
- Many birds can be photographed safely from a distance by using a telephoto lens (400 mm or more) or spotting scope.
- If the birds become jittery, you’re too close. Retreat immediately. Avoid using flash around owls.
- Binoculars (7-10 magnification), telescope, camera, bird checklist and field guide (Local birders use Peterson Guide to Birds of Eastern North America, National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America or Sibley Guide to Birds of Eastern North America).
- Wear proper footwear and dress for the weather. Burlington has a number of stores that can fit you with the attire. Check out the shopping section.