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5 birds that love Canadian winters


Photo by Stephen Ransom licensed CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

You might not think winter is a great time for spotting wildlife, but that's not the case. There are some types of birds that like to stick around in the colder months instead of migrating south to warmer climates. Here are a few winter-loving birds, and some tips to help you find them.

Harlequin Duck

a harlequin duck sitting on rocks

Where are they? Although they're around all year, during the winter you can find Harlequin Ducks in rough coastal waters where there are lots of rocks being hit by strong surf. So, if you live near the ocean on either the east or west coast, try heading out with a guardian on a slightly windy day.

What should I look for? The Harlequin Duck gets its name from its bright colours and white streaky markings. They have a white crescent in front of their eyes and a white patch near their ear. Their feathers are mostly a dark blue with reddish brown patches on the side and a dark brown belly. Their heads are crowned with a black stripe and chestnut stripes on either side.

Blue Jay

blue jay sitting on a bird feeder

Where are they? Despite their local reputation, Blue Jays aren’t just found in Toronto. They’re common across all of the eastern provinces, and can even often be found as far west as Saskatchewan! During the winter, they are also often seen in parts of British Columbia and Alberta.

What should I look for? Blue Jays are easy to identify, with their bright blue feathers. They’re also loud, so keep your ears open for the unique “JAY!” call they’re known for. They love bird feeders, so if you have one in your backyard you can probably spot one without even leaving the house!

Snowy Owl

very white snowy owl

Where are they? Snowy Owls like the Arctic tundra so they can be found year round in the most northern parts of Canada. They will come farther south in every province during the winter, where they like open areas like prairies and coastal plains that remind them of the tundra.

What should I look for? Male Snowy Owls are easy to identify, since they are usually completely white. If you see one with some black feathers, it’s either a female or a younger male. Unlike many other owl species, Snowy Owls are diurnal — this means that they hunt during both the night and the day. Their white feathers serve as a natural camouflage, so they can be tricky to spot. They like to hunt from a perch, so look for them on branches or other elevated positions.

Bald Eagle

bald eagle with wings spread

Where are they? The Bald Eagle might be America’s national bird, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find any in Canada! Bald Eagles can be found in the atlantic provinces, southern Quebec and Ontario, and parts of British Columbia year round. During the winter, they can also be found in the southern parts of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Bald Eagles like large bodies of open water, usually with some older trees near by. They use these trees to make their nests.

What should I look for? You can't miss that distinctive white head and bright yellow beak of the Bald Eagle. With a wingspan of just over two metres, they're easy to spot when they're soaring high in the sky. Look up — like the snowy owl, they like to hunt from a perch, so keep an eye out for them in places where they’d have a good view of the ground or water.

Like bald eagles? We have a great bald eagle trivia game you can try!

Northern Shrike

northern shrike bird on snowy branches

Photo credit: TheBirdersReport.com via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Where are they? Like many birds, the Northern Shrike migrates south for the winter. However, it’s normal habitat is the extreme north of Canada, so their migration takes them to the southern part of the country! During the winter they can be found all across Canada, and even farther south in the U.S.

What should I look for? They have grey feathers on the top of their heads and backs, with black markings on their eyes (like a mask!) and wings. Their necks and lower bodies are white. They like large open fields with a tree or pole from which they can see everything. This tough little bird eats other songbirds, rodents and insects, so look for them in areas that have these kinds of prey present.

Remember, if you’re going birdwatching, take a guardian! A winter bird walk can be a great way to get outside and spot some wildlife, even when it seems like there’s not much of it around!