Boreal Birds

Over 300 species, totalling billions of birds rely on Canada’s boreal forest as breeding grounds.

January 4, 2019 | | Notes from the Wild

Winter brings more than snow and cold from the north. Occasionally it also brings us beautiful northern birds. The vast sweep of boreal forest spanning Canada from coast to coast is home to sublime birds we seldom see in southern Ontario. These include pine grosbeaks, evening grosbeaks and bohemian waxwings. All three have arrived in Headwaters this winter.

What do Boreal Birds Eat?

These songbirds are perfectly comfortable in frigid temperatures. If they have enough seeds and berries to eat, they stay in the snowy north. But when northern crops of conifer seeds and mountain ash berries are in short supply – as they are this winter – the south beckons.

Pine grosbeak feeding on crab apples near Luther Marsh pine grosbeak messy eater Evening grosbeaks feeding on sunflower seeds northeast of Shelburne Bohemian waxwings on crab apple near Luther Marsh bohemian waxwing feeding on crab apples
Evening grosbeaks feeding on sunflower seeds northeast of Shelburne. Photo by Fiona Reid.

Bohemian waxwings are slightly larger than their cedar waxwing cousins that are common residents of our hills. Both species of waxwing are truly elegant, and both are dedicated frugivores – fruit eaters. Here in the south, crab apples are a favoured winter food of the bohemians.

Pine grosbeaks sometimes forage with bohemian waxwings on crab apple trees but while the waxwings consume the flesh of the apples, the grosbeaks spit out the pulp and swallow the seeds within.

Golden-hued evening grosbeaks are visually stunning creatures. Like their pine grosbeak kin, they wield impressive beaks that crack seeds with ease. Manitoba maple samaras are choice winter food. So are sunflower seeds. Flocks of evening grosbeaks are notorious for emptying bird feeders in short order.

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  • The evening grosbeaks visiting southern Ontario this winter might hail from Temiskaming or Algonquin Park and the pine grosbeaks from the James Bay coast or northern Quebec. And astonishingly, the bohemian waxwings may have travelled all the way from northern Manitoba or even the North West Territories.

    Hardy, resourceful – and hungry, these lovely birds fly hundreds, even thousands of kilometres for a good meal.

    Learn more about Canada's boreal forest and birds:

    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".

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