The great fall migration

The_great_fall_migration

by Tim Tiner

Long before the autumn equinox occurs and the leaves begin changing colour, fall migration is well underway among Ontario’s birds. In fact, the first restless, Arctic-nesting shorebirds usually pass south through Ontario in the latter half of June. Unlike the northward race to nesting grounds in spring, the parade of return migrants is much more drawn out, stretching into December. Though a large portion of avian travellers have drab plumage in the autumn and no longer sing their distinctive mating song, many birders consider the season a challenging opportunity to hone their identification skills.

Fall migrants fan out across much of Ontario, but certain choice spots, particularly along lakeshores, tend to attract or funnel the greatest numbers and diversity. The chart below provides a sampling of when and where to see many common species from September onward. The dates are approximate, based on averages, and most birds may be present in smaller numbers for weeks or even months before and after the peak times given. The timing can also be affected by weather, and the presence of shorebirds depends on changing water levels in many locations.

For a more complete listing of the fall migration in Ontario, visit the ON Nature section of Ontario Nature’s website, www.ontarionature.org.

LOOK FOR: Ruby-throated hummingbird, cedar waxwing, osprey
Where
: Holiday Beach, Hawk Cliff, Point Pelee, Long Point, Prince Edward Point
Migration peak
: Early to mid September
Best Viewing Time: PM

LOOK FOR: Mourning dove, belted kingfisher, gray catbird, brown thrasher, black-throated green warbler, house wren
Where: Prince Edward Point, Presqu’ile, Cabot Head, Long Point, Rondeau, Point Pelee
Migration peak: Early to mid September
Best Viewing Time: AM

LOOK FOR: Black-bellied plover, sanderling, Hudsonian godwit, greater yellowlegs, American golden-plover
Where: Presqu’ile, Amherst Island, Oliphant, Rock Point, Toronto, Hamilton, Long Point, Rondeau, Point Pelee
Migration peak: Early to late September
Best Viewing Time: All day

LOOK FOR: Long-billed dowitcher, common snipe, American woodcock, dunlin, pectoral sandpiper juveniles
Where: Presqu’ile, Toronto, Hamilton, Oliphant, Rock Point, Long Point, Point Pelee
Migration peak: Late September to late October
Best Viewing Time: All day

LOOK FOR: Golden-crowned kinglet, white-throated sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, dark-eyed junco, chipping sparrow, field sparrow, vesper sparrow, swamp sparrow, purple finch, American pipit, brown-headed cowbird
Where: Prince Edward Point, Amherst Island, Presqu’ile, Cabot Head, Long Point, Rondeau, Point Pelee
Migration peak: Early to mid October
Best Viewing Time: AM

LOOK FOR: Turkey vulture, Cooper’s hawk, eastern bluebird, American goldfinch
Where: Hawk Cliff, Holiday Beach, Long Point, Prince Edward Point
Migration peak: Early to mid October
Best Viewing Time: PM

LOOK FOR: Swainson’s thrush, common yellowthroat, black-throated blue warbler, blackpoll warbler, pine warbler, Connecticut warbler, marsh wren, Philadelphia vireo, black-billed cuckoo, wood thrush, redstart, ovenbird, black-and-white warbler, magnolia warbler, Cape May warbler, bay-breasted warbler, Wilson’s warbler, red-headed woodpecker
Where: Prince Edward Point, Presqu’ile, Cabot Head, Long Point, Rondeau, Point Pelee
Migration peak: Early to late September
Best Viewing Time: AM

LOOK FOR: American kestrel, northern harrier
Where: Hawk Cliff, Holiday Beach, Toronto, Cranberry Marsh, Prince Edward Point
Migration peak: Early September to early October
Best Viewing Time: AM

LOOK FOR: Great blue heron, blue-winged teal, wood duck, gadwall
Where: Lake St. Clair, Rondeau, Long Point, Toronto, Cranberry Marsh, Prince Edward Point, Matchedash Bay
Migration peak: Mid September to early October
Best Viewing Time: All day

LOOK FOR: Sharp-shinned hawk, blue jay, bald eagle, merlin, peregrine falcon
Where: Hawk Cliff, Holiday Beach, Long Point, Toronto, Cranberry Marsh, Prince Edward Point
Migration peak: Mid September to early October
Best Viewing Time: PM

LOOK FOR: American robin, song sparrow, common grackle, eastern meadowlark
Where: Prince Edward Point, Amherst Island, Presqu’ile, Cabot Head, Long Point, Point Pelee
Migration peak: Mid October
Best Viewing Time: AM

LOOK FOR: Red-winged blackbird, rusty blackbird, horned lark, black-capped chickadee, fox sparrow, Lapland longspur
Where: Presqu’ile, Prince Edward Point, Amherst Island, Long Point, Lake St. Clair
Migration peak: Mid to late October
Best Viewing Time: AM

LOOK FOR: Common loon, red-breasted merganser, horned grebe, white-winged scoter, black scoter, surf scoter
Where: Manitoulin Island, Cabot Head, Orillia, Presqu’ile, Kettle Point, Point Edward, Toronto, Hamilton, Niagara River, Long Point
Migration peak: Mid October to early November
Best Viewing Time: All day

LOOK FOR: Northern saw-whet owl, long-eared owl
Where: Amherst Island, Prince Edward Point, Toronto, Long Point, Point Pelee
Migration peak: Mid October to early November
Best Viewing Time: evening

LOOK FOR: American wigeon, northern pintail, lesser scaup, American coot
Where: Lake St. Clair, Rondeau, Long Point, Niagara River, Toronto, Prince Edward Point, Amherst Island
Migration peak: Mid October to early November
Best Viewing Time: All day

LOOK FOR: Sandhill crane
Where: Manitoulin Island, Cabot Head, Minesing Swamp, Long Point, Rondeau, Holiday Beach
Migration peak: Mid September to mid October
Best Viewing Time: All day

LOOK FOR: Yellow-bellied sapsucker, northern flicker, winter wren, ruby-crowned kinglet, blue-headed vireo, gray-cheeked thrush, Nashville warbler, palm warbler, northern parula, eastern towhee, Lincoln’s sparrow
Where: Presqu’ile, Prince Edward Point, Long Point, Rondeau, Point Pelee
Migration peak: Late September to early October
Best Viewing Time: AM

LOOK FOR: Yellow-rumped warbler, red-breasted nuthatch, brown creeper, eastern phoebe, hermit thrush, orange-crowned warbler, savannah sparrow
Where: Prince Edward Point, Presqu’ile, Cabot Head, Long Point, Rondeau, Point Pelee
Migration peak: Late September to mid October
Best Viewing Time: AM

LOOK FOR: Canada goose, mallard, green-winged teal
Where: Lake St. Clair, Long Point, Wildwood Reservoir, Pittock Reservoir, Prince Edward Point, Kingston, Lac Deschenes
Migration peak: Late September to late October
Best Viewing Time: All day

LOOK FOR: Red-tailed hawk, red-shouldered hawk, northern goshawk, golden eagle
Where: Holiday Beach, Hawk Cliff, Point Pelee, Toronto, Cranberry Marsh, Prince Edward Point
Migration peak: Mid October to mid November
Best Viewing Time: PM

LOOK FOR: Bonaparte’s gull, little gull
Where: Niagara River, Long Point, Rondeau, Kettle Point, Orillia, Prince Edward Point, Amherst Island
Migration peak: Late October to mid November
Best Viewing Time: All day

LOOK FOR: Redhead, canvasback, bufflehead, common goldeneye, greater scaup, American black duck, ring-necked duck, ruddy duck, common merganser, hooded merganser
Where: Lake St. Clair, Holiday Beach, Long Point, Wildwood Reservoir, Pittock Reservoir, Niagara River, Hamilton, Toronto, Presqu’ile, Amherst Island
Migration peak: Late October to late November
Best Viewing Time: All day

LOOK FOR: Thayer’s gull, lesser black-backed gull, black-headed gull, Franklin’s gull, black-legged kittiwake
Where: Niagara River
Migration peak: Late November to late December
Best Viewing Time: All day

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  1. […] season’s first yellow warbler confirmed that birders live for the months between March and June. Fall migration paled in comparison, but still held their attention. But come October, I assumed I’d have to find […]

  2. Carol Purslow Carol Purslow
    September 19, 2014    

    I have a question, rather than a comment. I have many goldfinches coming to my feeders for nyger seed. When should I stop feeding them or should I continue during the winter? I live in St. Catharines, which tends to have milder winters, but last year was very cold and very long. Thank you.

  3. November 18, 2014    

    Thank you for the question Carol. Sorry for the delay!
    Though goldfinches are wild birds, it is acceptable to continue feeding them throughout the winter. It is a joy to see goldfinches and other lovely birds in your backyard!

    ON Noah

  4. Carol Carol
    October 3, 2015    

    Thank you Noah. I did feed them and about 1/3 as many goldfinches over wintered and ate the nyger seed. The rest of the flock returned in the spring!

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