It’s here! Spring, at long last! With longer days and shorter nights, that cozy spring sunshine beams sweeter than Easter chocolate and does wonders for the soul.
All around us, green spaces – forests, parks, and your own backyard – are all waking up. With each passing day, the sights and sounds of this new season are returning: a migration, both figuratively and literally.
Birds are the ambassadors of April, and Mississauga has a front-row seat to the show. This region is a primary “flyway” (think invisible highways in the sky) for feathered creatures passing through on their journey to return home. For some, the trip is completed here, while for others it is a mere pit stop for rest, food, and to wait out less-than-ideal weather before continuing north to nesting grounds in Canada’s boreal forest and the Arctic.
A notable presence, the over 50 million birds that return home during their annual spring migration
Leading the flock are waterfowl by the thousands, including ducks, geese, swans, and cranes. These are the largest migratory birds and their arrival signals the new season. For many “birders” however, the true harbinger of springtime is the arrival of the Red-Winged Blackbird. The males are out the gate and arrive early, so they can scout and claim a prime spot for a nest, while also doing everything they can to get noticed. These very vocal birds will sit high on a perch and belt out their signature “conk-la-ree” call.
Joining them are the American Robins, Killdeer, Common Grackles, and, later this month, the Warblers. Warblers are amazing, colourful little songbirds that fly thousands of kilometres to feast on Ontario mosquitoes, all while weighing no more than a quarter!
Birds not only help control insect populations, but they also help with plant pollination and offer seed dispersal services that benefit forestry and agriculture.
John Stewart, a retired reporter and editor at The Mississauga News who regularly posts bird and nature photos on his Twitter account, says birding is good for the body and spirit.
He notes that COVID has made birders out of many people who involuntarily started spending a lot more observation time in their backyards and local parks.
“The mental health benefits of spending more time outdoors, which birders have always intuitively recognized, are now being backed up by academic research,” he says.
“But the real pleasure is that it’s different every time and you never know what you will see. Twice-a-year, during migration, your backyard or local park is a window into a world of fresh wonders,” he says.
“We’ve seen everything from King Rails to Summer Tanagers to Evening Grosbeaks in our yard. There’s nothing like introducing your kids or grandkids to the bright world of flitty, super-colourful warblers just by looking at the Mountain Ash tree in your backyard every spring.
Lake Ontario offers a chance to see a wide variety of waterfowl all winter long. “And there’s nothing like catching a glimpse of an American Bald Eagle flying over the Credit River, which I’ve seen.”
There are over 350 species of birds that call Ontario home. For those that are returning, they arrive exhausted and hungry. Imagine if you took flight and flapped your wings from a warm tropical retreat as far away as the southern tip of South America!
Here are a few ways that you and your family can help welcome April’s ambassadors:
- Keep a clean birdbath. Birds will love it for the dual purpose of drinking as well as yes, bathing!
- Consider marking large windows with decals or sun catchers to prevent bird strikes.
- Plant small native trees and shrubs, especially fruit-bearing species, like dogwood, serviceberry, and sumac. This provides berries and encourages native insects to flourish, offering a further source of food for birds.
Feathered-Friend Family Fun: Play Bird Detective
Spring is a great time to engage kids to discover nature by becoming a bird detective. Screen time gives lots of stimulation, but it’s mostly visual. Explore a green space as a family and encourage kids to close their eyes and focus on what they can hear first. From there, the bird detectives can start searching for and recording various other clues like size, colour, and eventually, the type of birds that they hear.
Rattray Marsh | 660 Bexhill Road
The marsh is one of the largest remaining wetlands on the west end of Lake Ontario.
It is a veritable bird haven featuring dozens of species, including land birds, shorebirds and waterfowl. There are frequent sightings of Mute Swans and Green Herons, Red-Necked Grebes and Red-Winged Blackbirds.
Lakeside Park | 2268 Lakeshore Road West
A wide variety of migrating Warblers, Flycatchers, Thrushes and other small birds are typically found here for a quick stop over as they work their way north to their breeding territories.
The Riverwood Conservancy | 4300 Riverwood Park Lane
The park has many incredible birds fly through on migration, while some stay to raise their young. For example, Cuckoos have been seen in the spring and Indigo Buntings nest here yearly. Whimbrels and Barn Swallows appear as well, to name just a few.
By Anwar Knight
Anwar Knight is an award-winning broadcaster, whose genuine and warm engaging personality has made him a favourite with audiences nationwide. With an insatiable curiosity, Anwar connects and inspires real-world action through storytelling. He is a passionate steward of nature and is working to propel efforts to preserve our earth.