• Eva Thorpe

What's That Bird?

Try spotting these 5 common migratory birds this summer while outside that are among Eva's favourites!

Migratory birds travel north in the spring and return south in the fall. Some birds don't migrate though, instead choosing to stay in one location all year round. It all depends on the bird's range, the areas where it can be found at any given point in time. For example, the American Robin can be found all year in some of Canada, whereas the Common Grackle only comes to parts of the country to breed.

Both the robin and the grackle can be considered migratory birds, but have fairly short migrations. Other birds have long-distance migrations, including four of the five birds, we'll explore below. The fifth is a short-distance migratory bird. Regardless, all are relatively common and you may spot one throughout the summer.

1. Baltimore Oriole

A male Baltimore Oriole in Point Pelee National Park, May 2019. Photo: Eva Thorpe.

You may first think of the baseball team when you read Baltimore Oriole, but it is also this songbird's name. The bird, however, is not named for the city but rather for the colours of George Calvert’s, Lord Baltimore, family colours, orange and black.

Male Baltimore Orioles are easier to spot than females and immatures (a bird that is not yet an adult and has different plumage), due to this contrasting colour combination. Females and immatures are yellowy-orange and grey. In terms of size, they are slightly smaller than a robin.

These birds enjoy fruit, insects and nectar and if you're out-and-about you may be able to spot one high up in forested areas. If you'd rather stay at home, you can attract them to your area by putting out orange slices and sugar water. (Sugar water is 1/4 cup sugar per cup of water, and can be placed out in an oriole feeder).

2. Gray Catbird

A Gray Catbird in Point Pelee National Park, May 2019. Photo: Eva Thorpe.

Yes, catbirds do exist! These birds' calls sound like a cat's mew, hence their name. They are mostly grey, have a black cap and tail, and are about the size of a robin.

These songbirds are hard to spot as they move around dense vegetation, but males sing from the tops of shrubs and trees. They are related to mockingbirds and thrushes, and so their song comprises of repeated notes from other birds’ songs. (To listen to it, click here.) Given that the catbird in the above photo is in a fairly exposed location, it's likely a male.

Like Baltimore Orioles, catbirds can be seen in your area. You can encourage them by planting fruit-bearing trees like dogwood, winterberry and serviceberry.

3. Rose-breasted Grosbeak

A male Rose-breasted Grosbeak in Point Pelee National Park, May 2019. Photo: Eva Thorpe.

Like Baltimore Orioles, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are sexually dimorphic, meaning that males and females vary in appearance. Male Rose-breasted Grosbeaks tend to be the more colourful birds, like the one above, whereas females and immatures are brown with white eyebrows and white and brown streaks on their chests. Side-by-side photos of a male and a female can be found here. They have large triangular bills handy for eating seeds, fruit and insects, and are smaller than a robin but bulkier.

You can spot these birds in forested areas, but they also frequently visit feeders where they will happily eat sunflower seeds.

4. Yellow Warbler

A yellow warbler singing in Hillman Marsh Conservation Area, May 2019. Photo: Eva Thorpe.

Warblers are perhaps some of the most common migratory birds to come to Canada during the summer. They are gorgeous, small songbirds who have an array of colours and songs.

Yellow Warblers are one of the more typical species you can spot during the summer. As their name suggests, they are a bright yellow with black streaks on their wings. Males have brown stripes on their chests and are brighter than immatures and females.

They flit quickly between shrubs and small trees searching for insects and caterpillars. Like the Gray Catbird, they too will sing their songs from the treetops, or in exposed areas, like the one shown above.

Unlike the previous birds, warblers don't come to bird feeders as their diet consists mainly of insects. However, if you have a large backyard or live in a neighbourhood with lots of small trees and a stream, you may be able to spot one.

5. Chipping Sparrow

A Chipping Sparrow in Royal Botanical Gardens' Hendrie Valley Sanctuary in Burlington, ON, May 2019. Photo: Eva Thorpe.

Chipping Sparrows, the short-distance migratory bird in this list, are small songbirds who only come to Canada to breed. They have grey, brown and black-streaked backs with a rusty cap, a grey chest and black lines next to the middle of their eye. They are slightly larger than most warblers.

You can spot them hopping about on the ground, flitting between bushes and singing from the tops of small shrubs and trees.

These sparrows will eat just about any type of seed so if you're keen to have some come to your area, having bird feeders filled with seeds will likely entice them. They also sing a beautiful song which you can listen to here.

Hopefully, you will be able to see and recognize these birds in your backyard, neighbourhood, or while you're out-and-about. Birds are fascinating animals who can connect you to nature through activities like birdwatching. They also can be key indicator species for their ecosystems, signalling changes occurring throughout. Their migration happens in the spring and fall and may encourage you to take note of how nature changes throughout the seasons.

Most of the information about the featured birds is based on the birds' profiles on All About Birds by Cornell University's Lab of Ornithology, a reliable and well-respected resource by birdwatchers globally. If you are interested in identifying birds while you're observing your natural surroundings, Merlin Birds is a great app that lets you identify and explore birds in your area. It is available through the App Store and the Play Store.

Bird watching doesn't require much equipment, mostly binoculars and/or a camera, so it's already pretty eco-friendly. Bird books and apps are handy for identifying the bird while watching for them. If you don't already have a bird feeder, consider making your own (we'll have a post about this soon!) or buying one. Of course, buy bird seed too to fill them! You can also put out some fruit, no feeder required, and make sugar water at home, for which you’ll need a specific feeder. Happy birding!

Eva is an environmental sustainability, French and journalism student at University of King's College/Dalhousie University in Halifax. Currently, she is working as a summer research assistant in agriculture in Ontario. Eva loves trail running, hiking, photography and spending time in nature with her dog. She is slowly becoming a birdwatcher and is learning how to live more sustainably on the planet.


Baltimore Oriole:

Gray Catbird:

Rose-breasted Grosbeak:

Yellow Warbler:

Chipping Sparrow:

Sugar Water:

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