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Cape Breton Highlands National Park of Canada

Birds: Fine Feathered Friends

A bright orange and black male American redstart sits on a branch.
The American redstart is a colourful warbler that lives in the Acadian Forest Region.
© Cape Breton Highlands National Park / G. B. Croft

No matter what time of year you're here, you're sure to be in for a treat when it comes to birds. Around 200 species of birds have been observed in or near Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Only about half of these species are known to breed here. The other 100 or so species of birds use the park as a stopover area during their annual migrations in the spring and fall.

A few species of birds which were introduced to North America, such as the European starling and the house sparrow, have spread to Cape Breton.

Coastal Birds - Living by the Sea
: An adult double-crested cormorant feeds its young.
Coastal birds like these double- crested cormorants nest on the rocks and cliffs of northern Cape Breton.
© Cape Breton Highlands National Park / D. Boersma

Along the park's coast, herring and great black-backed gulls, black guillemots and great and double-crested cormorants nest on rock pillars, ledges and headlands during the summer. Interestingly, the eggs of cliff-dwelling seabirds are often quite pointed so that if the adult nudges them, they roll in a circle and won't roll off the cliffs. Come winter, a number of sea ducks, including the common eider, common goldeneye, scoter and red-breasted merganser float on the grey seas in large groups called rafts. Common murres also winter along the coast. A few shorebirds pass through the area during the spring and fall migrations but northern Cape Breton is not a significant flyway. A few species such as the spotted sandpiper breed here. The common loon winters along the coast but in the summer months it moves inland to the lakes.

Forest Birds - Hangin' in the Woods
A spruce grouse sits in a tree.
The spruce grouse lives in the Boreal Forest Region.
© Cape Breton Highlands National Park / S. Homer

Inland, in the mixed forest of the Acadian Forest Region, common birds include the red-eyed vireo, American robin, Swainson's thrush, blue jay, least flycatcher, black-capped chickadee, purple finch, rose-breasted grosbeak, white-throated sparrow and 18 species of warblers such as the ovenbird, American redstart and northern waterthrush. Higher up the mountains in the boreal forest, you might come across the hermit thrush, ruby-crowned kinglet, boreal chickadee, solitary vireo, gray jay, black-backed woodpecker, blackpoll warbler, magnolia warbler and spruce grouse. The common raven is one of the most conspicuous park residents.

The boreal highlands and Taiga Forest Region are home to the rare Bicknell's thrush and the greater yellowlegs which is found here near the southern limit of its breeding range.

Hawks, Owls and Eagles - Ever Watchful
A juvenile red-tailed hawk perches in the top of a tree, looking for prey animals.
This juvenile red-tailed hawk, like many raptors, has fantastic eyesight with which to spot rodents, rabbits and other small prey animals which they eat.
© Cape Breton Highlands National Park / B. Fisher

Predatory birds such as hawks, owls and the bald eagle can be regularly seen and heard in the park. Bald eagles are more common in Cape Breton than anywhere else in northeastern Canada. Eagle nests can be found along several coastal areas in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Other predatory birds, or raptors, found within the park include the American kestrel, red-tailed hawk, sharp-shinned hawk, northern harrier, barred owl and great horned owl.