Bird watching is a great outdoor family activity. Lots of fresh air, something that all ages can enjoy, and starting out, it doesn’t matter if you know the difference between a robin and a blue jay. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you’ll become an expert.
Birdwatching doesn’t need to be expensive. Eyes and ears, coupled with quiet and patience, are all that is needed to get started. Many parks will have free guides or interpretive signs so you can even start without a field guide.
Several birdwatching resources are mentioned throughout this post, and at the end, I’ve given links to three Ontario birding organizations. You should also try your library for local groups.
Table of Contents
Birding with kids
If you’re already a parent, these suggestions will be obvious.
- Break it up into shorter periods.
- Bring snacks and drinks. Lots of snacks for the kids and maybe seeds for the birds.
- Come prepared with a backup plan (rain or boredom can both happen).
- If the kids want to play, run, shout, or just chill, that’s OK. Birds should be there another day, and some of the best sightings can happen when having a quiet picnic at the end of the day.
If you need a little help getting started birding for children, try the resources at Birds Canada.
Beginners Bird Watching Kit
Ears and eyes.
Match your ears and eyes with patience, and keep quiet. It’s amazing what people miss in their headlong dash to take photos and complete the trail.
Binoculars, monoculars, and spotting scope.
Binoculars, monoculars, and spotting scopes are all useful for getting a good look at that elusive bird. At a stretch, I’ve also used the zoom feature on my camera.
Use what you have. There’s plenty of time to upgrade later.
Choose a good field guide that covers your local area. If it’s available, one that’s laminated is a good idea.
If you can get one, a weatherproof birder’s journal is useful for recording sightings. Alternatively, look to the eBird Mobile app I mention later in the article. Just get a weatherproof cover for your phone.
Free Birding Smartphone Apps for Kids & Families
These two apps should be available free for both Android and iOS users. One requires you to register.
I have my own favorite, but I’d suggest trying them all to figure out which one you find the easiest to use.
Merlin Bird ID
In just five questions or using a photo, Merlin helps you identify your bird sighting. The app includes an algorithm that combines your photo, location, and date to help identify the bird you’re viewing. The app also lets you listen to bird songs and has packs for different regions.
Audubon Bird Guide
You need to create an account, but once you’ve signed up, you have access to a detailed field guide with over 800 species, more than 3,000 images, and recordings of bird songs. This app is fairly easy to use and focuses on North American bird species. If you like to share your experiences, then this app gives you plenty of opportunities to interact with other Audubon users.
Bird Life List
It’s never too soon to start your own bird life list in a bird-watching journal. Your bird life list will build into a record of all of your bird sightings. Traditionally the list is kept in a journal but using your smartphone. Try to get into the habit of recording the bird species, the date, the location, and any notes you want to add. Over the years, this will build into a valuable record and may even help to support bird study research. Visit Birds Canada to take part in bird studies through Birds Canada.
The eBird Mobile app is an easy paperless way to start logging your bird sightings. The pluses are the ability to record exact locations using your phone’s GPS and the option to share your bird sighting records. Available for both Android and iOS it’s free but does require that you sign up for an account with eBird. eBird is part of a science project organized by The CornellLab of Ornithology.
Birders and Twitchers
In time you’ll hear people talk about Birders and Twitchers. Most people start off as Birders, and can be as simple as enjoying a walk in the woods listening to bird songs. The big danger is that your birds life list becomes your overriding passion. This is when you become a Twitcher and will travel long distances to add a new bird sighting to your list.
When is the best time to go birdwatching in Ontario?
As soon as the lake and river ice starts to melt, you’ll probably start to hear and see an increase in bird activity. Birds are moving to their summer areas and beginning to nest. This is probably the best time to see and hear a lot of bird activity.
SAFETY: take great care around river banks and lake edges. Banks can be slippery, stay of the ice and remember the water is incredibly cold. Always let people know where you plan to be and let them know when you’re back safe.
Migration is over, and birds will have settled into their summer feeding and raising their young. One of the great sights of summer is watching activities around Osprey nests. Just remember, it’s not just birds that are busy during summer; people are also out and about in large numbers. Change your bird-watching activities. Early morning before the crowds get moving or perhaps take a longer hike to get away from as many people as possible. In the end, patience and quiet are often rewarded.
After spring, the fall season is often the next best time to view birds. Summer visitors begin their migration south. Needing to stock up on food, you’ll see lots of feeding activity and often larger flocks gathering together.
Don’t dismiss winter as a birdwatching opportunity. Birds are often finding it difficult to find food, and they can lose some of their natural fear. In some areas, Chickadees, Tree Creepers, and woodpeckers will even take seeds from your hand.
Many of the larger birds, geese, swans, and even Bald Eagles, become easier to spot.
Five Ontario Provincial Parks for a family birdwatching trip.
Visiting in the Spring or Fall during migration season, you’ll experience one of the largest migration staging areas in North America. With more than 300 species of waterfowl and songbirds migrating through here each spring and fall, there’s an excellent chance of adding to your personal bird list.
Even a summer visit will be rewarding as there are more than 80 species of birds recorded as nesting in this park.
You should also check out the Long Point Birding Trail, which includes 43 of the best birding locations in Norfolk County.
Made up of old-growth Carolinian forest along with extensive coastal wetland Rondeau Provincial Park is located on the north shore of Lake Erie. This is a world-class destination for birders (and twitchers). Over 300 bird species have been recorded, and more than 130 of these have been recorded as nesting in the park.
During spring and fall, you can watch the migration of thousands of birds, and in Rondeau Bay, watch thousands of ducks and Tundra Swans.
During spring, you can join other birders from across North America at the “Festival of Flight.” There should be plenty of help for the inexperienced birdwatcher.
Located along the shore of Lake Huron, this park is open all year. It offers an ecologically diverse seven kilometers of lake shoreline that includes silver maple swamps, marshes, ponds, fens, and bogs.
MacGregor PP is an important part of spring and fall migration. The park boasts a bird list of over 200 species that include the Black-crowned Night Heron and the American Egret.
During the summer, there are park interpreters available for guided walks, an opportunity to pick the brains of local experts.
Don’t forget winter. Check out the Visitor Centre, where you can see and hand-feed chickadees and nuthatches.
Usually, during May and June, you can enjoy the Huron Fringe Birding Festival.
Presqu’ie PP is located on the north shore of Lake Ontario and includes sandy shorelines, woodland, swamps, marshes, and meadows. All this combines to produce an important fall and spring migration hotspot. Over 330 bird species have been recorded, and many of these nest in the park. The park is open all year so that you can view waterfowl migration in March, and later, in May, there are many shorebirds and warblers.
During the summer, the park offers interpretive sessions and a nature center that is open daily.
During the fall, you might also be lucky enough to experience the migration of Monarch butterflies.
Often called Ontario’s “deep south” provincial park as it’s on the same latitude as Northern California. It’s located only a short distance from Point Pelee National Park, an internationally renowned location for spring and fall bird migration.
Wheatley is no “poor relation” but consists of a tangle of creeks and Carolinian forest.
Each year you can take part in the Norm Chesterfield Bird Hike. usually held annually around Mother’s Day to commemorate a local birding legend. This is a great opportunity to learn from more experienced birders.
Other Ontario Provincial Parks for Birders.
I’ve listed below a few other provincial parks that are worth considering, especially if they are close to your home. Please be aware that non-operating parks may not have easy access and are unlikely to have even basic washroom facilities.
James N. Allan Provincial Park (non-operating)
The Carden Alvar Provincial Park (non-operating)
Ontario Parks Birding Festivals
Many Ontario provincial parks hold annual birding festivals, usually during spring or fall. The following is a list of parks that may have events. Check their website for confirmation or view our events calendar.
Rondeau Provincial Park
Presqu’ile Provincial Park
Pinery Provincial Park
MacGregor Point Provincial Park
Frontenac Provincial Park
Murphys Point Provincial Park
Wheatley Provincial Park
Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park