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Birds of Ontario (Vol. 1)

Birds of Ontario (Vol. 1)

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Birds of Ontario (Vol. 1)

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Lançado em:
Jun 30, 1985


This extensive and long overdue work of reference covers all of the bird species, more than 400 of which have been recorded in the province of Ontario. Birds of Ontario contains an identification and description of all species, with 344 outstanding colour plates. Anyone with even a casual interest in birds will find the colour plates and informative text of considerable interest. This volume contains a list of all the birds identified in Ontario up to the end of 1983, with the common and scientific names given by the American Ornithologists’ Union 1983 Check-list as arranged in that work.

Lançado em:
Jun 30, 1985

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Birds of Ontario (Vol. 1) - J. Murray Speirs



James M. Richards


James M. Richards

Gavia stellata    (Pontoppidan)

This trim little loon with slender snooty upturned bill is not common anywhere in Ontario. It is essentially a bird of circumpolar tundra ponds, wintering normally on salt water along both coasts, but rarely straying inland. Such strays may occur anywhere in Ontario and have occurred at all seasons.

Adults in summer, with the red patch on the lower throat, light gray crown and face and side of the neck and the striped hind neck are unmistakable in good light. At a distance the slender uptilted bill is diagnostic at all seasons. In winter the white of the face tends to extend above the eye so that only the crown is dark, and the back is prominently white spotted. In poor lighting conditions this species may be confused with small individuals of the Common Loon and the Red-necked Grebe, both of which are more likely to be seen in most localities.

Gavia arctica    (Linnaeus)

This is another circumpolar breeder, wintering chiefly in Pacific waters and very rare in the interior and Atlantic waters. In Ontario it may be expected only along the Hudson Bay shores in summer: records in other parts of Ontario are very few and its status accidental. It tends to use larger ponds and lakes than the Red-throated Loon and nonbreeders are often found on salt water. (My best views of this black-throated diver were in some of the lakes of Sweden where it is fairly common.)

Adults in summer with their slender straight bill, pearly gray crown and back of neck, black throat bordered with black and white stripes and checkered back are quite easily separated from other loons (and grebes). The slender, straight bill is the best field mark in winter when adults differ from other loons in their blackish, unmarked back but young have scaly backs like Common Loons but tend to be more brown and less gray. Rednecked Grebes in winter plumage might be confused with winter plumaged Arctic Loons but usually show the knobby crest and somewhat dumpier body.


Gavia immer    (Brünnich)

This is the most important bird of Ontario’s lake country, its haunting cry the very symbol of our wilderness. Lakes must be lengthy enough to allow for the long take-off run required for flight but small enough that wave action does not flood the nest from which the incubating bird can slip directly into the water. Power boating on small lakes may also flood the lakeside nests and harass adults with young: this is probably the chief cause of the loss of our breeding population from southern Ontario lakes and the more populous lakes in the cottage country. Traditional hunting of the species has reduced the population in the vicinity of northern Indian communities.

The adults in summer, with their checkered back, white necklace, big black head with long pointed bill and long, slim silhouette in the water, are quite distinctive (see illustration). See Yellow-billed Loon and Arctic Loon for differences compared with these rare species. However the young and winter adults with their dark gray back and white underparts are sometimes confused with other loons, grebes and mergansers. In good seeing conditions the mergansers can be eliminated by their reddish heads and slim, hooked beaks and somewhat smaller size. Red-throated Loons have small, uptilted bills and when close can be seen to have a spotted rather than a scaly back pattern. Adult Arctic Loons have black, unpatterned backs while the young have brownish backs rather than gray. Red-necked Grebes have whiter cheeks and a hint of a knobby crest. In flight the loons stretch their necks downward and forward and tend to fly with their pointed bills partly open, frequently calling in early morning lake-to-lake flights on their breeding grounds and sometimes uttering their laughing call even in migration. The wailing or yodelling call and high-pitched screaming call so often heard on TV programs are usually uttered from the water. When their curiousity is aroused they often swim in close with occasional barking hah calls.


(not illustrated)


Victor Crich

Gavia adamsii    (Gray)

This is a bird of the barren lands of northern Canada and Siberia, usually migrating no farther south than Alaska, sometimes to British Columbia. In Ontario it is of hypothetical or accidental occurrence.

Adults in breeding plumage (which have not yet been reported from Ontario) differ from the Common Loon in somewhat larger size with a relatively long, uptilted ivorycoloured bill and with larger, more rectangular white checkers on the back and with more purple and less green in the head gloss. Immatures and adults in winter plumage differ chiefly in bill shape and upward head tilt. Both have much white in the bill in winter but the upper part of the bill in the Common Loon is generally dark but still whitish in this species. The culmen in this species is essentially straight, but curved down toward the tip in the Common Loon. The mandible (lower part of the bill) in this species has a chisel-shaped profile instead of tapering gradually to a point as in the Common Loon. Shape and carriage of the head in this species more resembles that of the much smaller Red-throated Loon.

Podilymbus podiceps    (Linnaeus)

While most of the other grebes favour open water this little fellow seems to prefer weed-choked ponds and occurs in such places throughout most of North and South America. The nest is a pile of water plants and may be floating or attached to the bottom. Unless flushed unexpectedly the eggs are covered when the adult leaves the nest so that the nest looks like any other pile of weeds. The young frequently ride on the parent’s back (as indeed do the young of other waterfowl).

This is a brown bird, about the size of a small duck, with a bill shaped like that of a hen (not sharp-pointed like other grebes). In breeding dress it has a black throat (whitish in winter) and the blueish bill has a black band midway to the tip (hence pied-billed). Coots and gallinules also have similar shaped bills but these birds are dark blue to dark gray in colour, not brownish. The loud kow’kow’kow—kow-ugh-ugh-kow-ugh call is distinctive.


Victor Crich

Podiceps auritus    (Linnaeus)

This small grebe is mainly a prairie breeder wintering on both coasts but sometimes does breed in Ontario, especially in the west, and is fairly common in migration. A few have wintered in southern Ontario. They are more apt to occur on small lakes and ponds than the Red-necked Grebe but also are found on the Great Lakes.

In breeding dress the black head, with fiery red eyes and jaunty golden horns running back from the eyes to the angle where crown and nape come together, is quite distinctive. The somewhat similar Eared Grebe is a prairie bird, exceedingly rare in Ontario waters and differs from the Horned Grebe in having a black neck (not red), a more diffused patch of orange extending well below the eye and a more slender upturned bill. In winter plumage it may be distinguished from the Red-necked Grebe by its much smaller size (smaller than most of the winter ducks) and from the Eared Grebe by its much whiter cheeks and front of the neck (which tend to be gray in the Eared Grebe). Again the bill shape is distinctive.


Victor Crich

Podiceps grisegena    (Boddaert)

This big grebe has been a bird of surprises, unpredictable and delightful. Sometimes years have gone by when I saw none, then for a few years hundreds have gathered off the Pickering shore in migration. For a few years some accepted floating shallow boxes anchored behind the breakwater at Burlington as nesting sites but when we began to take them for granted they moved elsewhere and we found them nesting up near Cochrane, or one summer found young on South Bay on Manitoulin. Most of my early records were of winter birds along the Toronto waterfront but recently it has been a very rare bird in winter. Essentially a prairie breeder, wintering on both Atlantic and Pacific waters, in Ontario this is a fringe benefit.

The long, stiffly upright neck and pointed beak and tailless appearance proclaim this as a grebe. In winter it looks like a big edition of the Horned Grebe but has a relatively long, yellowish bill (dark in the Horned Grebe): both are dark above, light below with whitish cheeks and hint of a crest: the cheeks of the Horned Grebe are whiter: in the Red-necked the front of the cheek may be gray while the back extends as a whitish crescent behind the gray and in young of the year the cheeks are all gray. Red-throated Loons and female mergansers are superficially similar but both are more elongate and the bill shapes are very different, uptilted in the loon and hooked in the mergansers which also have reddish heads. Adult Red-necked Grebes present no problem with their reddish brown necks and white cheeks (Horned Grebes also have reddish necks but have black cheeks and yellowish horns.) In migratory flocks you may hear the characteristic raspy chattering whinny.


Victor Crich


Victor Crich

Podiceps nigricollis    Brehm

This is a bird of prairie and intermontane lakes, very rare east of Manitoba with only a few stragglers in Ontario.

The Eared Grebe is about the size of a Horned Grebe, or slightly smaller. In breeding plumage the head, neck and much of the breast is black, except for the patch of tawny plumes radiating back from the eye both above and below it. The black crest is usually raised, giving the head a triangular outline. (In the Horned Grebe only the head is black, with the neck and breast brown and the yellow crest above the eye, not below it.) The beak of the Eared Grebe is relatively broad, but not as deep as in the Horned Grebe, and appears slightly upturned toward the tip. In winter plumage the cheeks are gray, not white as in the Horned Grebe, and the same is true of the foreneck.

Aechmophorus occidentalis    (Lawrence)

This is the swan of the grebe world, with long graceful neck and noble bearing. In Ontario it is a rare straggler, breeding chiefly in the prairies and intermontane lakes and wintering along the Pacific coast.

A large grebe with long, slender neck. The white face and foreneck contrasts strikingly with the black crown and black stripe down the back of the neck. The bill is more slender than that of the Red-necked Grebe and often appears slightly upturned. The fiery red eye is most striking when the bird is close.


Fulmarus glacialis    (Linnaeus)

This is a bird of the open oceans, usually coming to shore only to breed. Very rare in Ontario.

In flight it looks superficially like a gull with a white head, grey back and yellow bill, but the manner of flight and details of build are very different. It usually flies with wing stiffly outstretched, taking advantage of updrafts off waves to glide for long periods, then flapping rapidly when it runs out of uplift and settling on the water to wait for a breeze in calm weather. Its bill is short and stout with conspicuous tubes on top near the base. Dark phase birds have dark head and neck: these are white in light phase birds: both show a white flash in the wing between the bend and the tip.


Pterodroma hasitata    (Kuhl)

This is a bird of Guadeloupe and other islands of the West Indies, just a storm waif in Ontario.

This is a large long-winged petrel with distinctive dark-bordered white underwings, with elongated triangular white rump patch and pure white belly. It has a pale nape and collar, white face and black cap.


Puffinus therminieri    Lesson

This is typically a bird of tropical seas, breeding rarely north to Bermuda, accidental in Ontario.

This is a small, rich brown shearwater with white underparts and a white spot above the eye, rather fluttering flight.


Oceanites oceanicus    (Kuhl)

This Antarctic breeder is sometimes common off the Atlantic coast of U.S. in our summer. In Ontario it is accidental.

This is a swallow-sized blackish-brown tube-nosed marine bird with white rump and yellow webs on its long, dangling legs. It tends to flutter along the sea surface, with toes sometimes dipping in the water.


George K. Peck


(not illustrated)

Oceanodroma leucorhoa    (Vieillot)

This is a bird of the Atlantic (and Pacific) Oceans, coming to shore at night to its breeding burrows in offshore islands. In Ontario they are storm waifs.

Seen in flight off the Newfoundland coast, they reminded me of nighthawks in size and manner of flight, with frequent turns and glides, here low over the ocean waves. The general colour is very dark brown, almost black, with contrasting lighter wing coverts and forked tail. At close range the white rump with dark median stripe is a good field mark.

Oceanodroma castro    (Harcourt)

This was an accidental in Ontario: it is normally a bird of the tropical eastern Atlantic.

This is a dark brown bird similar to the more common Leach’s Storm-Petrel, but with white rump patch complete both above and below the tail and a more shallowly forked tail. The white rump feathers are tipped with black but do not have a dark median line as in the Leach’s.


Victor Crich

Sula bassanus    (Linnaeus)

This is a bird of the Atlantic coast and Gulf of St. Lawrence. In Ontario a few immatures have appeared briefly.

These are large birds. In the immature plumage they are brownish with white speckling, long pointed wings and long pointed beak. The white adults, with cream-coloured heads and black wing tips, have not yet appeared in Ontario but are a great tourist attraction at Bonaventure Is. on the Gaspé coast and at Cape St. Mary’s in Newfoundland.


Victor Crich


Victor Crich

Pelecanus erythrorhynchos    Gmelin

There is a good breeding colony at Lake of the Woods where some may be found feeding around the shores or soaring in majestic flight in its vicinity. Elsewhere in Ontario it is a rare visitor.

This is a very large bird, white with black wing tips, with a long hooked beak and large pouch in the throat region.

Pelecanus occidentalis    Linnaeus

This is a familiar bird to those who winter along subtropical shores but it is very rare in Ontario.

A very large brownish bird with long hooked beak and prominent throat pouch.


Victor Crich


Victor Crich

Phalacrocorax carbo    (Linnaeus)

This cosmopolitan species is quite rare in Ontario but may be overlooked because the similar Double-crested Cormorant is much more likely to be found here during the warmer months. In winter this is the common species on the Atlantic coast and wintering cormorants in Ontario should be carefully examined with this in mind.

In spring this species often shows white flank patches and white feathers on the throat behind the gular pouch and may show some white on the back of the crown and nape: the Double-crested lacks these white feathers. In winter the young often have a white belly (the light area in young of the Double-crested is less extensive and higher on the breast). This is a larger bird and has a relatively stouter bill than the Double-crested.

Phalacrocorax auritus    (Lesson)

In Ontario I have seen these birds perched on pound net poles off Pelee, perched on piles in the Dundas Marsh, swimming with typical uptilted beak in the North Channel off Thessalon and drying their outstretched wings on rocky islets at various other localities. Because of supposed competition with fishermen, it is not a common bird in Ontario. I believe that their persecution is short-sighted, as the guano from such birds is the natural fertilizer that initiates the food chain upon which fishes ultimately depend.

The only species with which this big, black waterbird might be confused are the closely related Great Cormorant and the Anhinga, both very rare in Ontario (see the accounts of these species for distinctions).


Victor Crich

Anhinga anhinga    (Linnaeus)

This is normally a bird of the cypress swamps of southern U.S.A. There are just two old specimen records for Ontario.

Superficially it resembles the cormorants, but differs in having a sharp pointed (not hooked) beak, a relatively long tail and much white in the plumage of the back. In the water it often swims with most of the body submerged so that only the snake-like long neck and beak show above the surface. In flight they frequently soar high in the air, looking like black crosses silhouetted against the sky.


(not illustrated)


Victor Crich

Fregata magnificens    Mathews

This tropical pirate was an accidental visitor to Ontario.

This big, but lightly built bird, with its W-shaped wings and deeply forked tail might only be confused with the equally rare Swallow-tailed Kite. The kite has a wingspread of only about 4 ft. while this frigate-bird has a 7 to 8 ft. wingspread. The kite differs in having white under wing coverts, dark in the frigate-bird. Adult male frigate-birds are all black, females have a white breast and young have both white breast and head (in which they most resemble the kite).

Botaurus lentiginosus    (Rackett)

Saunders and Dale (1933: 170) wrote: their well-known pumping is a characteristic sound from marsh and bog and indeed most observations are based on this plum puddin sound. Early in spring when cover is scarce they may be seen around marsh edges with beak pointed skyward, looking in silhouette like a broken stump or snag. In summer you may flush one from a roadside puddle and note its two-toned wings as it flaps away—taffy brown at the base with slaty, dark tips. Young nightherons are superficially similar in flight but have more uniformly coloured wings, with white spots (if you are close enough to see them).


Victor Crich


Victor Crich

Ixobrychus exilis    (Gmelin)

It is always a red letter day when I chance across one of these secretive little denizens of cattail marshes, usually as it flies across an opening, only to drop down into cover on the other side and promptly disappear.

This tiny rich brown bittern is not likely to be confused with any other bird if seen at all well. The call:coo-coo-coo-coo— should alert observers to watch for it in the cattails.

Ardea herodias    Linnaeus

This is the most conspicuous large wader in Ontario waters, waiting patiently at the edge of marshes for an unwary fish or frog to come its way, or flapping ponderously to its nest high in a treetop heronry in some secluded woodlot often miles from the feeding marsh. After the nesting season, herons spread out in all directions and this species may be joined by some of its smaller relatives that have bred south of the border.

This big, blue-gray bird stands about 4 ft. high. It is often called a crane but cranes fly with the head outstretched, not folded back so that the neck forms an S-curve as in the case of herons. Adult cranes have a bare red patch on the forehead

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