Ottawa·Cool with Cold

Winter's for the birds, so get out there and enjoy them

For PhD student Peter Soroye, the winter months are the best time to take up birdwatching, and you don't have to stray to far from your front door.

Birder Peter Soroye explains why now's the perfect time of year to take up the hobby

Learn why now is the time to take up birdwatching

1 year ago
Duration 1:51
As part of our 'Cool with Cold' series, urban bird enthusiast Peter Soroye argues winter is the best time to scan the skies, and shares tips for how to do it.

Winter is a difficult time for many, particularly during a pandemic. Cool with Cold is a CBC Ottawa series highlighting people who've found creative ways to embrace the season, safely.

Click here to meet a family bringing Mongolian knucklebone backa woman teaching her kids to make a candy that's best enjoyed below freezing, or a father teaching his son a traditional Inuit winter game.

Outfitted with binoculars, a camera and a heavy coat, PhD student Peter Soroye is ready for a day full of winter birding. 

"Birdwatching in the winter is actually one of my favourite times to do it," said Soroye, a birder since 2016.

For one thing, with less foliage in the way, birds are easier to spot. And winter's a good time for beginners to hone their knowledge of more common varieties before some of the more unusual ones return in spring.

Get to know your winter birds and you'll be ready for new arrivals come spring, recommends Peter Soroye. (Francis Ferland/CBC)


You don't have to go far from Ottawa's city centre to find a wide array of avian neighbours. 

Soroye especially likes to bird along the Rideau River, which offers a diverse habitat of water, forest and fields. (He's shared some of his other favourite spots in the map above.)

Recently, Soroye spotted waterfowl and woodpeckers, as well as sparrows and hawks. But his favourite bird to photograph in the cold is the chickadee.

"Chickadees are really inquisitive and really photogenic. They aren't like some of the shyer birds that fly away when they see you."

Soroye has spotted plenty of interesting birds on this path by the Rideau River, not far from Ottawa's busy urban centre. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

'A reset' in tense times

For Soroye, birdwatching has become more than just a pleasant hobby: it's now an essential means of combating stress during the pandemic.

"I'm inside the same four walls all day for work, so when I get to step outside into nature, it's like a reset," he said.

Soroye captured this vibrant image of a cardinal in winter. (Submitted by Peter Soroye)
'Chickadees are really inquisitive and really photogenic. They aren’t like some of the shyer birds that fly away when they see you,' said Soroye. (Submitted by Peter Soroye)

He also enjoys catching glimpses of other creatures during his outings.

"You'll start to see raccoons, or if you go out early at dawn, you might see a beaver or muskrat on the other side of the river. For me, that makes the whole experience really fulfilling and satisfying," said Soroye. 

Less foliage means more photo ops, especially of friendlier varieties like chickadees. (Francis Ferland/CBC )

For those interested in taking up winter birding, Soroye recommends first downloading a birding app to help identify different species, then hitting the trails

"When spring comes around and you start to see yellow warblers and other springtime birds coming up from the south, you really start to appreciate how much the whole landscape changes around you," said Soroye.

Among Soroye's favourite species to capture on camera are birds of prey, like this Cooper's Hawk. (Submitted by Peter Soroye)

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