Birds of the GTA

Sunday, April 26, 2020

After hiking weekly for many years, and blogging about it for the past 6 years we have been shut down for over a month now due to the global pandemic.  With no current hikes to present, we are now looking to find other material for blogs.  For our fourth COVID-Blog we’ve collected some of the bird pictures we’ve taken along the way.  A few have appeared in our previous posts, some have been used on our Facebook page as cover or profile photos and a couple may not have been published before.  Savour a taste of the nature that is waiting for us when we’re able to get out and enjoy it.

The Baltimore Oriole is the state bird of Maryland and is named after the colours of the coat-of-arms for Lord Baltimore, who was the first proprietor of the Province of Maryland.


Yellow Warbler males have reddish-brown markings on their breast and can grow to be around 12 centimetres in length.

Yellow Warbler

Pileated Woodpeckers are the largest species of woodpecker that is native to Ontario.  Both the male and female have a bright red crest that sweeps off the back of the head.  The male is distinguished by the red stripe on the cheek, as seen on the specimen below.  Their main food is the carpenter ant and they dig large square holes in trees to look for them.  The mated pair stay in their territory all year long and tend to nest in the largest tree in the area.  For this reason they are prone to being killed in lightning strikes.


Great Egret are known to breed in colonies with their nests at least 10 feet in the air and as high as 40 feet.  Their main diet is fish and frogs which they spear with their sharp bill.


Another shot of an Egret, this one standing on a tree in G. Ross Lord Park looking into the Don River.


Male Cardinals are at their brightest red in the spring when mating season is underway.  Their courtship includes feeding the female seeds that he collects.  This is captured in the cover photo for this collection.  After the eggs are laid the male will use his bright colours to capture the attention of potential threats.  He will then proceed to lead them away from the nest, at his own expense if need be.


Female Cardinals are paler in colour and therefore can hide themselves easier than the males.  They will sit on the eggs for 11-13 days until they hatch.  During this time the male will bring them their food.  Cardinals remain in pairs year round and the two are seldom far apart.  They have different calls which allows you to hear them as they sing to each other.

female cardinal

Like the Cardinal, the American Goldfinch is sexually dimorphic, meaning that the male and female look different in more ways than just their reproductive organs.  The male also undergoes a complete molt in which its olive coloured feathers are changed for bright yellow for mating season.



Downey Woodpeckers are the smallest of the common woodpeckers in Ontario.  Except for size, they look almost identical to the larger, and unrelated, Hairy Woodpecker.  The male has a red crest on his head that the female lacks.


In recent years there have been an increasing number of Swans who choose to spend the winter along the shores of Lake Ontario.  This one was sitting on the fresh snow and was comical as it struggled to take flight.


Canada Geese may grace our $100 dollar bill but in general they are pretty dirty birds that some people rather dislike.  However, who could dislike their cute little goslings when they are a few days old.


Great Blue Heron are one of the more common of the large fishing birds.  We see them all summer long.  This picture became the background for the Hiking the GTA business card.

Heron 1

Herons have been known to gather sticks for nesting purposes but this one was just picking them up and throwing them off the grass.


This Red-Tailed Hawk was seen at Downsview Park where it is common to see several hawks in a single visit.  For some reason this one didn’t seem alarmed that I was slowly approaching and taking pictures.  It let me get quite close before taking to flight.

hawk 1

This Red-Tailed Hawk went into the trees near me and snatched a black squirrel off a branch.  It killed the squirrel quickly so that it couldn’t struggle and escape but this was also merciful.  It then spent several minutes making sure it wasn’t going to be challenged for dinner.

hawk and squirrel

Snowy Owls spend their summers north of the Arctic Circle hunting lemmings.  Each bird can consume up to 1600 lemmings per year.  It is normal for a few Snowy Owls to be seen in Southern Ontario each winter.  This one was seen near the Adamson Estate.

Snowy Owl

Belted Kingfishers dive at speeds of up to 25 kilometres per hour and can catch fish that are two feet under water.  They can often be heard before they are seen and have a very distinctive chatter.


Juvenile Green Heron will usually hunt from shore rather than wading like most members of the heron family.


Juvenile Black-Crowned Night Heron are brown in colour with spots on their wings and backs.  They will change colour as they mature to have the distinctive black crown and back with the rest of the body being white.


Common Merganser feed on a diet that is primarily made up of fish.  They have serrated edges to their bills which give rise to their other name which is “Sawbills”.


The Wood Duck is one of the most remarkably coloured members of the duck family.  The male has ornate feathers on almost all of their upper body.  Only the chest lacks a pattern.  They are found primarily in wooded ponds where they nest in hollow trees.  Their feet have little claws which makes them the only duck that can cling to bark and branches.

wood duck

Just like the juvenile Canada Geese we looked at earlier, Mallard Ducklings are also very cute.  Mom jumped of the dock into Lake Aquitaine and one by one the little ones followed her.  While she was quite graceful, they each plopped into the water.

mallard ducklings

One of the most common waterfront birds is the “seagull” which is a term loosely applied to several different Gull species and often includes Terns as well.  In general these birds are unremarkable, but sometimes you just catch them at the right moment.


Killdeer have a diet of worms and insects and migrate as far south as Mexico.  They get their name from the sound of their call rather than the number of deer that they kill.  Which is none.


Hummingbirds are the smallest bird that migrates and the only bird that can fly backwards.  Even though they live off of the nectar from flowers they have no sense of smell.  With a weight under two grams they have the ability to dive at speeds approaching 80 km/hr.


American Robins don’t fly south to escape the cold, they move around to seek food.  Most of them will stay in the area where the temperature is warm enough that they can still get bugs and worms.  The ones who stay behind switch their diet to berries and seeds.  This picture shows a robin with a berry in its mouth.

Robin eating

Leucism causes an animal to lose part of its pigmentation.  This Leucistic Robin was seen two years in a row in the same area.


Obviously, the trail and parks are full of birds and avid birdwatchers will collect dozens of species on their “Life-List” of sightings.  We hope to be able to add to ours soon.

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1 thought on “Birds of the GTA

  1. Chris Crofton

    I always enjoy reading your posts – haven’t been able to get to a lot of your sites and some I have. I’m lucky enough to live right by a ravine system which allows me nature daily even in these pandemic times but I wanted to thank you for the bird diversion this morning.
    Great break!


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