Avian immigrants and bird-feeding

Bird feeding has been largely responsible for the expansion of cardinals and mourning doves into Ontario.

February 9, 2015 | | Notes from the Wild

Male Cardinal

Male Cardinal

I recently met a gentleman who has been an avid birder for most of his 90 plus years. When he was a young man in Toronto, a flash of red in the shrubbery was cause for great excitement. Cardinals were rare – so rare in fact, that birders would report sightings of them to the Royal Ontario Museum.

More than a century after colonizing Canada from the United States, cardinals are now common year-round residents in Toronto and throughout southern Ontario. They are still thrilling to behold.

Arriving with the cardinals in the early 20th century were mourning doves that quickly became abundant. Now they mob our bird feeders, gorging like gluttons at buffet restaurants.

Bird feeding has been largely responsible for the expansion of cardinals and mourning doves into Ontario, keeping these birds fueled in winter when natural food sources are scarce.

Among the more recent avian invaders to plunder our seeds and suet, are red-bellied woodpeckers. These striking birds have winged into Ontario with gusto, often demonstrating great loyalty to particular bird feeders.

During the Christmas Bird Count in December, Chris Punnett of the Upper Credit Naturalists led his group of birders to a feeder on Kennedy Road where he had seen a red-bellied woodpecker on the count in 2013. And there it was again, as if on cue! (Well, maybe “it” is a trifle presumptuous – maybe we were seeing a relative of 2013’s bird, or one of its twitter followers.)

Will other birds be lured northward by our feeders? One waiting in the wings, so to speak, is the tufted titmouse, a sprightly chickadee relative that has established beach-heads in Ontario on the Niagara Peninsula and in the extreme southwest. Their arrival here, should it happen, won’t provoke cardinal-like levels of excitement, but the bird-feeding fraternity would chirp with delight.

Female Cardinal Male Cardinal Mourning doves at the bird feeder buffet Red-bellied Woodpecker Tufted Titmouse
Mourning doves at the bird feeder buffet

About the Author More by Don Scallen

Don Scallen enjoys sharing his love of nature through his writing and presentations. Check out his blog "Notes from the Wild".



  1. Hi Rosaleen!
    Great to hear you’re getting the red-bellies in Alliston as well. Their expansion northward is truly an interesting phenomenon. Yes, feeding birds is not without its downside. Any congregations of birds (or other animals) will attract predators. Sometimes these are wild predators like hawks – and I certainly don’t begrudge these wonderful birds a meal in the wintertime. I’m less accepting of the depredations of domestic cats – well fed by their owners, but free to roam and kill wild creatures.

    Enjoy the returning migrants!
    Don Scallen

    Don Scallen from Canada on Mar 11, 2015 at 11:45 am | Reply

  2. Thanks for this Don.
    I really enjoy the visits of the red-bellied woodpecker to my feeder. I wondered about them as I hadn’t seen one before a couple of years ago.
    I have mourning doves that come sporadically in groups and often just hang out on my deck railing. The feeder doesn’t accommodate their size but they do eat the seeds that fall on the ground. One day recently, I happened to look out as a neighboring cat ran out from under my deck, grabbed a dove feeding on the ground and ran back under the deck. I worry sometimes about this dichotomy of feeding birds and have them be feed.
    It always feels special to have a visit from a cardinal. This year I have only seen one a couple of times. Last year, I had a male and female around for most of the winter.
    Birds bring a lot of pleasure to my life. I am pleased to have learned more about them here, and I look forward to meeting a tufted titmouse.

    Rosaleen Egan from Alliston, ON on Mar 10, 2015 at 1:56 pm | Reply

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