Man and woman bird watching
Bird watchers in Georgian Bay Islands National Park

Whether you are a Sunday birdwatcher or a seasoned birder, you cannot overlook Canada's national parks. Some of them are truly magnificent and are certainly worth a detour. Here is an overview of what they have in store for you. And once on site, you will find bird guides and information sheets to help you in your search.

1. Point Pelee National Park – Important Bird Area (IBA)

Yellow-breasted chat on a branch
Yellow-breasted chat

In addition to being one of Canada's smallest national parks, Point Pelee is the park with the greatest number of recorded bird species. More than 390 species of birds have been reported in the Point Pelee Birding Area, from warblers to sandpipers and from ducks to diurnal (day flying) raptors.

During the two great migration periods, in spring and fall, more than 200 neo-tropical migrant species stop here. Starting in March, the park's bird population swells with the return of waterfowl and one can, at this time, also observe swans, dabbling ducks, grebes, loons and diving ducks. At the end of April, it's the songbirds' turn to alight with the majority moving through the park during the first three weeks of May. Then in June, as summer approaches, the flycatchers and shorebirds arrive. For those who love birds of prey, September is their period of greatest diversity. Waterfowl, particularly geese, return in great numbers in November and well into December.

In May, as part of the Festival of Birds, activities such as Birder Breakfast and Lunch and Learn sessions, and daily Birding Hikes follow one another over more than two weeks! During this period, beginners and passionate birders alike will have access to specially marked trails to maximize their chances for seeing birds. On a good in May, it's possible to see 100 species during a visit. It's no wonder that the park is the choice meeting place for bird watchers–and birds–in North America!

2. Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and Haida Heritage Site

Tufted puffin swimming in the water
Tufted puffin

The islands of Gwaii Haanas are a veritable paradise for bird watchers. Some 1.5 million seabirds nest along the 4,700 km coastline of Haida Gwaii. About half of these birds meet up at Gwaii Haanas.

Since the islands are situated on the Pacific Flyway migration route, dozens of bird species stop here in spring and fall. The coastline and forest provide shelter, a nesting place and food sources of prime importance to a varied range of seabirds.

Birds that can be seen include the rhinoceros auklet, ancient murelet, tufted puffin, horned puffin, Cassin's auklet, pigeon guillemot, Leach's storm-petrel and fork-tailed storm-petrel, as well as the common murre, American black oystercatcher, pelagic cormorant, bald eagle and peregrine falcon (pealei subspecies) that also nest along the coasts.

3. Fundy National Park

Two bald eagles on a branch
Bald eagles

Fundy National Park lets you discover the marine coastal environment of the Bay of Fundy and the Caledonia Highlands plateau with its deep river valleys. These two environmental systems are subdivided into ecosystems that shelter more than 260 bird species from the most common to the most rare.

A great number of migratory birds are among them. During the spring migration, up to 15 types of warblers can be observed (Cape May, yellowed-rumped, black-throated green and black-throated blue warblers). Other common species in the park include the pileated woodpecker, junco, white-winged crossbill, great blue heron, cormorant, semi-palmated sandpiper, semi-palmated plover and ruffed grouse. The majestic peregrine falcon, which has been successfully reintroduced, can be found along the park's cliffs.

In December, the park takes part in the Christmas bird count and visitors who don't mind the cold can join the ornithologists who search the park up and down, backwards and forward.

4. Georgian Bay Islands National Park

Prairie warbler on a branch
Prairie warbler

Georgian Bay Islands National Park hosts a great diversity of breeding bird species, particularly the songbirds which nest on Beausoleil Island, the largest of the park's 63 islands

The park straddles the transition zone between the Great Lakes–St. Lawrence Lowlands region and the Boreal Shield. The lower half of Beausoleil Island is covered by a rich deciduous forest that shelters southern birds such as the wood thrush, scarlet tanager and black-throated blue warbler. The Boreal and Canadian Shield ecosystem on the north side of the island attracts northern species such as the magnolia warbler, Canada warbler and winter wren.

In spring and fall, migrating birds that travel the length of the east coast of the Georgian Bay cross the park island by island. The migration is very dynamic and surprising every day! You could by chance come upon mixed flocks of warblers, vireos, kinglets, thrashers and sparrows during your hike on the trails of Beausoleil Island.

5. Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve

Group of Atlantic puffins on a cliff
Atlantic puffins

Above the 50th parallel, brushing against the North Shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, about 30 limestone islands and over a thousand granite islands and islets are laid out in a string of rare beauty. Some 200 bird species are found here. Nearly 45 of them nest in the Mingan Archipelago, including 13 seabird species and several passerine species inhabiting the boreal forest. The park reserve is also an important migratory stopover for shorebirds, including the endangered red knot rufa.

Common eiders, terns, Atlantic puffins and razorbills form more than 40,000 seabird pairs who choose to make their home in this extraordinary landscape! The Mingan Archipelago hosts the largest colonies of Arctic terns in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the largest colonies of common terns in Quebec. It also hosts the most westerly colony of Atlantic puffins in its range. Several raptors also nest in the islands, including the bald eagle and osprey.

N.B. Two migratory bird sanctuaries are located within the park reserve: Betchouane and Watshishou.

6. Gulf Islands National Park Reserve

American black oystercatcher on the shoreline
American black oystercatcher
© N. Kroeker

Situated on the Pacific Flyway migration route that connects the tundra of Alaska and northern Canada with the tropical and sub-tropical areas of Central and South America, Gulf Islands National Park Reserve is a compulsory stop for birds and their observers.

The great diversity and richness of terrestrial and marine habitats found in the Gulf Islands attracts thousands of resident and migratory species. One can observe common nighthawks, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, western screech owls, western sandpipers, pigeon guillemot, ancient murrelet, marbled murrelet, tufted puffins, rhinoceros auklets, grouse, barred owls, kingfishers, snow geese, black oystercatchers, olive-sided flycatcher and more. In fact, more than 300 species spend time here!

Sidney Spit (Sidney Island) and Bennet Bay (Mayne Island) are two sites in GINPR that are particularly worth a visit for bird enthusiasts; both are designated internationally as Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) for their abundance and diversity of birds including rare and threatened species.

7. Terra Nova National Park

Greater yellowlegs on a rock
Greater yellowlegs

As its name indicates, Terra Nova National Park is situated in the Canadian island boreal forest of Eastern Newfoundland. Bird species living here usually inhabit the boreal forest. The park is also strongly influenced by the North Atlantic and birds are often blown there by storms that pound the coastline.

Birds present year round include boreal and black-capped chickadees, woodpeckers (hairy, downy, black-backed and Arctic three-toed), pine siskins, golden-crowned kinglets, juncos, pine grosbeaks, purple finches, white-winged crossbills and red crossbills, all of them forest-dwelling species. Other species arrive in early spring: the olive-sided flycatcher, white-throated sparrow and fox sparrow, yellow-rumped warbler and magnolia warbler.

Shorebirds such as the common and Arctic terns, greater and lesser yellowlegs, bald eagle, plover and all sorts of species of ducks and sandpipers can be observed in the park's two bird sanctuaries.

8. Forillon National Park

Group of cormorants on a cliff
Cormorants
© David Carrier

Forillon National Park stands out for the tremendous diversity of its landscapes, wildlife and plant life. On a peninsula barely 245 km² in area, the visitor encounters forests, marshes, lakes, rivers, cliffs and seashores, all habitats for numerous bird species. From forests swarming with life to spectacular cliffs, Forillon offers birding enthusiasts an astonishing concentration of forest birds, water birds and seabirds. A total of 253 bird species can be found here, including 132 breeding species.

Seven different nesting seabirds can be observed, including the razorbill, common murre, black guillemot, great black-backed gull, herring gull, double-crested cormorant and the biggest colony of black-legged kittiwakes in eastern Canada. Several raptor species can be encountered (American kestrel, Northern harrier, bald eagle, etc.), as well as ducks (teal, blue bill, American black duck, scoter, eider, harlequin duck, goldeneye, merganser, etc.) and forest birds (warbler, vireo, woodpecker, passerine, etc.)

9. Wood Buffalo National Park – UNESCO World Heritage Site

Family of whooping cranes
Whooping cranes
At Wood Buffalo National Park, everything is on a large scale. Covering 44,807 km², it is Canada's most vast national park. It encompasses a typical yet remarkable example of northern boreal plains in Canada, including the nesting area of the last migratory flock of whooping cranes in the world, and the Peace-Athabasca delta, one of the largest freshwater inland deltas in the world.

In spring and autumn, migratory water birds who use the four migration flyways of North America pass by this delta, meaning there are lots to see: the whooping crane, Tundra swan, snow goose, snow bunting, grebes (eared, horned, pied-billed and red-necked), many duck species, horned lark, American coot, Lapland longspur, Harris's sparrow, phalarope, plover, American avocet, etc. Every season offers one great discovery after another.

10. Waterton Lakes National Park

Rufous hummingbird in flight
Rufous hummingbird

A small portion of the Crown of the Continent, Waterton Lakes National Park lies on the narrowest point in the Rockies where prairie, mountains and lakes converge. This variety of habitats hosts over 255 bird species.

In May and June, you can watch warblers, hummingbirds, grouse and jays, as well as sandhill cranes, Clark's nutcrakers and pileated woodpeckers. In late fall, the Maskinonge and Waterton Lakes are key stopover points for migrating ducks, geese, swans, and mergansers.

For more than 100 years, bird enthusiasts have participated in annual spring and winter bird counts. Depending on the season, it's an opportunity for birders to comb the park on foot, by vehicle, or on skis or snowshoes, with their bird list in hand as they follow promising trails to see the rarest and most birds. They meet up at the end of the day to share their discoveries.