Rouge National Urban Park is birding hotspot in the Greater Toronto Area, with 247 migratory bird and resident bird species having been observed in the park. Here are just a few of the bird species you may come across while enjoying a day out in the park.
The colourful cedar waxwing feeds mainly on fruits such as dogwood, serviceberry, cedar and juniper, though they also eat insects in the summer. Cedar waxwings often form large flocks and can be found in open forests, urban parkland, farms, orchards and other areas with fruiting trees and shrubs.
These small finches are often found in open meadows and fields. American goldfinches are strict vegetarians, feeding almost exclusively on seeds. During the summer breeding season, males are bright yellow with a black cap and black wings with white markings, while females are duller yellow with dark wings. In the winter, both males and females molt to drab brown or yellow-brown colour. In the spring and summer, listen for the male goldfinch’s distinctive “po-ta-to-chip” call.
Listen for the rattling call of the belted kingfisher along the Little Rouge River. These birds live near rivers, ponds and lakes and feed mainly on fish, which they hunt by diving into the water from an overhead perch. They nest in burrows that they excavate in muddy banks. These stocky birds are steel blue above and white underneath with a shaggy crested head. Males have a single blue band across their breast, while females have both a blue band and a reddish-brown band. The belted kingfisher featured on the back of the Canadian $5 bill from 1986 to 2002.
The northern harrier is a type of hawk commonly found in open grasslands, marshes and fields. Males are grey on top and whitish below, with dark wingtips and black bands on the tail. Females are brown on top and whitish with brown streaks on their belly. Both males and females have a distinct white rump patch that is visible while they are in flight. They have owl-like faces with stiff feathers that direct sound towards their ears, helping them to locate the small mammals, reptiles, amphibians and birds that they prey on. They often fly very low to the ground while hunting, a behaviour that distinguishes them from other hawk species.
Savannah sparrows are small streaky brown and white songbirds with a yellow band in front of their eyes. They live in grasslands with low vegetation, such as meadows, pastures and farm fields. Savannah sparrows build their nests on the ground among grasses or low shrubs. They are becoming rarer in this area due to the expansion of urban areas, which has reduced the amount of suitable habitat for them.
Bobolink and Eastern Meadowlark
The bobolink and eastern meadowlark are grassland species that nest on the ground in meadows, pastures and hayfields. They are both classified as threatened under the federal Species at Risk Act due to a decline in numbers caused by development and habitat fragmentation. Bobolinks migrate long distances every year from their northern breeding grounds to their wintering grounds in southern South America. Male bobolinks are black with a white back and a yellow patch on the head, while females are tan and brown. Eastern meadowlarks are short-distance migrants, with local populations overwintering in the southern United States. Both males and females are brown with black streaks on top with a bright yellow belly and throat and a black “V” across the chest.
American Crow and Common Raven
These all-black birds are both members of the Corvidae (crow) family and are among the most intelligent bird species on the planet. Ravens are significantly larger than crows and have a thicker bill, stronger legs, shaggy feathers around their neck and a longer, more pointed tail. In flight, crows tend to flap methodically, while ravens will glide and soar. These two species can also be differentiated by their calls – the crow’s call is a loud, harsh caw compared to the raven’s deeper, throaty call. Ravens have only recently been spotted in the Greater Toronto Area after a long absence following European settlement. The protection of natural parkland is likely helping ravens expand their range southward.
Eastern Screech Owl
This small owl can be difficult to spot due to its great camouflage, but it can be identified by its trilling or whinnying call. The eastern screech owl has a large head with pointed ear tufts and yellow eyes. They can be grey, red-brown (rufous), or a brownish intermediate colour between grey and red. Birds of all colours have complex patterns of bands, spots and streaks that provide excellent camouflage against tree bark. Eastern screech owls nest in tree cavities and feed on small animals such as rodents, rabbits, birds, frogs and insects.
Look for these small songbirds in thickets and forest edges along the Woodland Trail. Male yellow warblers are bright yellow with chestnut streaks on their breast and belly, while females are slightly duller yellow and do not have streaks. Yellow warblers eat mainly insects and forage for their food along the branches of shrubs and small trees. Listen for the male’s distinct “sweet-sweet-sweet-I'm so sweet” mnemonic in the spring and summer.
Male wood ducks are very showy, sporting a crested green head with white stripes, a black, red and white bill, chestnut breast, and tan sides. Females are grey-brown with a white eye patch and white-speckled breast. Wood ducks nest in tree cavities and artificial nest boxes near water. After hatching, ducklings may jump great heights from their nest to reach the ground and make their way to the water.
One of the most common birds in the park, the black-capped chickadee is a year-round resident of the Rouge Valley. Its distinctive call (chick-a-dee-dee-dee) and willingness to visit bird feeders makes the chickadee an easy species for new bird enthusiasts to learn. The forests along the Cedar Trail are a good spot to begin your search.
Look and listen for barred owls on evening walks near the southern end of the Orchard Trail. Barred owls have a distinctive “who cooks for you?” call. They roost in trees during the day and hunt small animals at night. Although they are nocturnal, they can occasionally be heard calling during the day as well. Barred owls have a rounded head with no ear tufts, dark brown eyes, and a yellow bill. They are mottled brown and white overall with a brown-streaked belly.
Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers
Although similar in appearance, Hairy woodpeckers are larger than downy woodpeckers and have a much longer bill. Downy and hairy woodpeckers feed mainly on insects and can often be spotted foraging along tree trunks and branches.
Baltimore and Orchard Orioles
These medium-sized songbirds can often be found at the northern end of the Orchard Trail, near the Beare Wetlands. Male Baltimore orioles are bright orange and black, while orchard orioles are black on top with a darker chestnut belly. Females of both species are a lighter yellow colour.
Scarlet Tanager and Ovenbird
These understory birds need large tracts of undisturbed forest habitat. In Rouge National Urban Park, the older forests of the Mast Trail provide a perfect environment for these species to thrive. Male scarlet tanagers are bright red with black wings and tail, while the females are greenish-yellow with greyish wings. They spend much of their time high in the forest canopy, making them difficult to spot. The ovenbird is a small olive-brown warbler with a spotted breast. It sings a loud song that sounds like “teacher-teacher-teacher.” The ovenbird builds its dome-shaped nest on the forest floor and the nest’s resemblance to an old-fashioned outdoor oven gives the bird its name.
Turkey Vulture and Red-tailed Hawk
Raptors such as the turkey vulture and red-tailed hawk can often be spotted soaring on thermal drafts over the Vista Trail lookout. Turkey vultures are dark brown with a bald red head and feed almost exclusively on dead animals. Red-tailed hawks are generally brown above with a pale splotched belly and a reddish tail and eat mainly small mammals.
Eastern Bluebird, Tree Swallow, and House Wren
The birdhouses you see along many park trails were installed to create nesting space for eastern bluebirds, but also attract other species such as the tree swallow and house wren. Male eastern bluebirds have a royal blue head and back and a rusty throat and breast, while females are more subdued with a grey head, and back and blue wings. Tree swallows have a blue-green iridescent head and back and a white belly. They feed on aerial insects and are highly acrobatic fliers. House wrens are small, plain brown birds but they are very active and sing a lively bubbling song.
The tall multi-compartment birdhouse at the north end of the Vista Trail is designed specifically for purple martins. These birds live in colonies and are almost entirely dependent on human-made structures for nesting habitat.
Great Egret and Great Blue Heron
These birds are both members of the heron family and can be found around wetland areas such as Rouge Marsh. They are large birds with long legs and necks and they feed on fish, amphibians, reptiles, small mammals, and insects. The great egret is white with a yellow-orange bill and black legs, while the great blue heron has blue-gray feathers with a black stripe over the eye.
Barn swallows are one of several species-at-risk found in Rouge National Urban Park. They nest under the boardwalk along the Rouge Marsh Trail and you can often see them swooping and soaring above the marsh as they feed on insects. Barn swallows can be identified by their steely blue back and wings and tan belly.
A colony of cliff swallows returns to Rouge Marsh every year to nest under the pedestrian bridge that crosses the Rouge River. They build their nests out of mouthfuls of mud from the river. Like other swallow species, cliff swallows are aerial insectivores, meaning they feed on insects that they catch while flying.
Mallard and American Black Duck
Several species of ducks can be found around Rouge Beach, including mallards and American black ducks. Male mallards are easily identifiable by their iridescent green heads and yellow bill, while female mallards have more subdued tan and brown feathers and an orange-brown bill. American black ducks are similar in appearance to female mallards, but have darker brown bodies and a yellow-green bill. Both of these species feed by tipping forwards in the water to eat aquatic plants and insects.