Toronto's birds become unlikely social media stars

Photographs of the birds have been a surprising hit on the site Reddit.

Photographs of city's bird species posted to Reddit

Alan, the Mourning Dove. A better caption for this bird photo appears on Reddit. (Anthony Famularo)

There are days when Anthony Famularo walks more than 20 kilometres of rugged terrain without even realizing it. That's because he's focused on finding birds.

He spotted 106 birds in Toronto in 2014. That "really isn't that many," he says. So for 2015, he wanted to redouble his efforts. His goal was not only to spot 221 species of birds in the city — the most viewed by any one person, he says — but also to share his progress on social media. 

His photographs of the birds have been a surprising hit on the site Reddit.

Black-Capped Chickadee in High Park. (Anthony Famularo)

"I didn't think that Reddit would care, at all," he says. "In fact, I fully expected every post to be instantly downvoted to zero and otherwise ignored. But I just fancied the idea of a public record of some sort."

His bird photos thus far have consistently been at the top of the site, receiving appreciative upvotes and comments, along with a spattering of downvotes and negative comments that have always had a presence on the Toronto page.

His photographs only started catching attention, however, when he began writing captions for the birds. "My captions have become a part of the attraction," he admits.

A Dark-Eyed Junco, spotted in Morningside Ravine. (Anthony Famularo)

It started with a caption for a mourning dove spotted in Swansea. Famularo wrote: "Location: Swansea. Name: Alan. Mourning: The loss of his one true love, Janet, who left him for that asshole Ron at the '08 Seed & Grit Fan Expo in Arnprior. Food: Way too many fermented berries. Eyes: The deep black of true sadness."

He spotted a total of 18 birds in Toronto in January. And these birds have now been spotted by thousands on Reddit.

A Red-Tailed Hawk, spotted in Toronto. (Anthony Famularo)

But the 46-year-old lifelong Toronto resident is not photographing just any winged creatures. He wants to see the 221 species within the boundaries of the city. They have to be Toronto birds.

"Somebody on Reddit sent me a pic of a bird his friend had seen in a parking lot on the north side of Steeles. It turned out to be a rare-ish species of non-native partridge," he says. "But if I'd seen it there, it wouldn't count for me, because Steeles is Toronto's northern border.

An immature male Red-Breasted Merganser, on Lake Ontario. (Anthony Famularo)

"Now, if I were to have nabbed one, carried it across the street, and set it free, it would count."

His ultimate goal is to connect Torontonians to their surroundings through the birds.

"Far too many people see human civilization as somehow separate from nature," he says. "That idea is so wrong that it gives me headaches sometimes."

An American Tree Sparrow, spotted in Humber Bay Park East. (Anthony Famularo)