BIRDS

Muskoka plays host to a wide variety of migrant and breeding birds. 293 species have been documented by specimens, photographs, audio and video recordings, multiple observers, and detailed written descriptions. In terms of occurrence,128 species are considered Accidental, Very Rare, or Rare. Five "winter finch" species are considered Irregular, 4 species are Historical, not having occurred for 100 years or more, and one species, the Passenger Pigeon, is Extinct, while the remaining 154 are considered Uncommon or Common.

Recent additions to the Checklist include Painted Bunting (2014), Lesser Black-backed Gull (2013), Nelson's Sparrow (2013), Band-tailed  Pigeon (2013 - below left, photo by Al Sinclair), and Marbled Godwit (2012 - below right, photo by Wilf Yusek). What will be the next bird added to the Muskoka list? Possibilities suggested by MFN members include Black Vulture, American Avocet, and Fish Crow.


A Checklist of the Birds of the District of Muskoka compiled by the MFN is available here.





BIG DAYS
On a good migration day in mid- to late-May it is possible to observe over 100 species in a 24 hour period in Muskoka. The top 5 "Big Day" records for Muskoka are:

127 species  25 May 1996 (Ron Tozer, Doug Tozer, Bill Crins, Dennis Barry, Margaret Carney)

125 species  22 May 1995 (Al Sinclair, Dan Burton, Lou Spence)

125 species  May 1989 (Bob Bowles, Sandy Sutherland, Pat Tafts)

125 species  June 1987 (Bob Bowles)

121 species  21 May 1994 (Al Sinclair, Dan Burton, Lou Spence)


REPORT YOUR SIGHTINGS
If you want to report your sightings to help document the occurrence and distribution of birds in Muskoka, or if you would like to find out what others are seeing, then head on over to the Muskoka Bird Board. This interactive posting board allows users to report and view sightings, as well as search archived sightings reports from 2000 onwards.


GET INVOLVED
MFN sponsors two annual one day bird counts, the mid-December Gravenhurst-Bracebridge Christmas Bird Count and the mid-May Baillie Birdathon, and happily welcomes new participants no matter your age or skill level. MFN members also participate in The Great Backyard Bird Count and Project Feederwatch. For complete details on these nature counts see our Counts page.

As well, MFN often conducts birding hikes in May. See our Outings page for uptodate information.


WHERE TO GO BIRDING
Muskoka has a number of great birding locations, but the premier "hotspot" is the Bracebridge Sewage Treatment Ponds (aka Lagoons). Yes, we mean "sewage". 218 species have been recorded from this one location, including  rarities such as American White Pelican, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Ruff, Golden Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, and Nelson's Sparrow. The "Lagoons" are the best place in Muskoka to find migrating shorebirds, such as Pectoral Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Solitary Sandpiper, Dunlin, Semipalmated and Black-bellied Plover, and Least and Semipalmated Sandpiper. As well, over 26 species of warblers have been recorded here.

Nearby Henry Marsh is another favourite spot. A number of rarer species have nested here, including Golden-winged Warbler, Least Bittern, and Sedge Wren.

Beausoleil Island in Georgian Bay is one of the easiest places in Ontario to observe nesting Prairie Warblers, and if you are lucky perhaps you will also find the rare Cerulean Warbler or catch sight of a passing Black Tern.

Axe Lake in north Muskoka is home to both Olive-sided and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers.

The Torrance Barrens near Bala provide ideal breeding habitat for Field Sparrows, Yellow-throated Vireos, and Eastern Towhees.

For more information and directions to these birding hotspots and over 40 other areas of significant natural interest in Muskoka, see our Hotspots page.


BIRDING RESOURCES
If you want to find out more about the life histories of birds, learn how to identify birds, listen to bird songs and calls, track the migration of hawks and hummingbirds, or find out what rarities are being seen elsewhere in Ontario, MFN recommends the following print and web-based resources.


Print Resources

The Sibley Guide to Birds

National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America

Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America

The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America

The Crossley ID Guide

The Warbler Guide (Stephenson and Whittle)

A Cottager's Guide to the Birds of Muskoka and Parry Sound (Mills)

Birds of Algonquin Park (Tozer)

Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario, 2001-2005

Websites

Muskoka Bird Board

Simcoe Nature Board

Ontario Bird News

ebird Canada

Bird Studies Canada

All About Birds

Journey North

Hawk Count


Muskoka Field Naturalists
HOTSPOTS

BIRDS

BUTTERFLIES

MOTHS

DRAGONFLIES/
DAMSELFLIES


OTHER INSECTS

SPIDERS

REPTILES

AMPHIBIANS

MAMMALS

FISH

PLANTS

TREES

FERNS

FUNGI



NORTH MEETS SOUTH
Given its unique position at the southern edge of the Canadian Shield, Muskoka's avifauna includes a number of sought after birds with a distinctly southern flavour that reach the northern limit of their range here, such as Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Red-headed Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Northern Mockingbird, Carolina Wren, Black Tern, and Cerulean Warbler.

At the same time, Muskoka has recorded a number of Boreal forest specialists who reach the southern limit of their range here, such as Spruce Grouse, Gray Jay, Black-backed Woodpecker, American Three-toed Woodpecker, and Boreal Chickadee.

Muskoka is also a great place to see species that sometimes leave their wintering grounds in Canada's far north in search of food supplies farther south. These irruptive species include a number of "winter finches", such as Common and Hoary Redpoll, Pine Siskin, Pine Grosbeak, and White-winged and Red Crossbill, as well as several owl species, such as Snowy Owl, Boreal Owl, Northern Hawk Owl, and Great Gray Owl.




BREEDING BIRDS
167 species have been confirmed breeding, with another 18 species being possible or probable breeders. Detailed information on Muskoka's breeding birds was collected by many MFN members who participated in the two Ontario breeding bird atlas projects. MFN founding members Bob Bowles and Al Sinclair both acted as volunteer Regional Coordinators for the 1981-1985 and 2001-2005 atlas projects, respectively. For the purpose of the project, Ontario was divided into 47 regions, Muskoka being Atlas Region 18. Each region was further divided into 10-km squares and volunteer atlassers undertook to survey their assigned squares several times each breeding season (late May to early July) in each of the four years of the projects, and recorded breeding evidence for as many species as possible within each square.

The results of these two atlas projects were published in book form, and the species accounts in the second atlas included colour photographs, information on distribution and population status, breeding biology, and abundance. The second atlas also enjoyed the added benefit of comparing the distribution and occurrence of breeding species to the data collected in the first atlas project, thus providing valuable insights into changes in distribution and occurrence.

The data sets for both atlases can be viewed at the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario website. Mark your calendars for the next atlas project, which should begin in 2021!!

POPULATION CHANGES
Muskoka's bird populations have changed over time. Northern Cardinals were once considered a rare occurrence, but are now uncommon year round residents. Christmas Bird Count data have shown sharp decreases in House Finch and House Sparrow numbers, and significant increases in Mourning Dove and Wild Turkey populations. Global climate change may be causing the range of some species to shift north, such as Gray Jay and Brewer's Blackbird. Other species' populations are changing in rsponse to land use changes. Breeding bird atlas data have shown that as abandoned agricultural land reverts to forest and as forests mature, grassland and field birds, such as Bobolinks, and semi-open canopy specialists, such as Eastern Whip-poor-wills, are displaced. Breeding bird atlas data also indicate sharp declines in Muskoka's aerial insectivore species, such as swallows and swifts. These declines may be related to climate change, the use of insecticides in the environment, or reduced insect prey availability.