Birdwatching in the Downtown

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Story and images by Nancy Ellis
Many people can spot the odd bird in their backyard hunting for food or being methodically watched by the house cat, but what’s the best way to attract birds to downtown Oshawa?
Lois Gillette, president of Durham Region Field Naturalists (DRFN), says to buy birdseed, sunflower seeds or a seed mixture to put out in the backyard. She suggests having it in a bird feeder and throwing some around on the ground. Suet is also not bad according to Gillette.  “Different kinds can be purchased from Home Hardware, Canadian Tire, or stores like that,” she said. There are also types available at Bulk Barn. These seeds will bring around blue jays, cardinals, house finches, dark-eyed juncos, hawks, morning doves, goldfinches and chickadees.

Seed mixture is great for attracting birds to backyards.

Do birds only want to eat seeds? “In the springtime you’ll get some birds that like fruit, like the oriole, that migrates,” Gillette said. They will eat oranges and suet or even bananas.

Seeing birds downtown is a sure sign of the nicer weather. “The cardinals are beginning to sing,” Gillette said. “The testosterone levels in male cardinals is increasing with the increasing light (of spring) and that makes them sing.” The males are trying to attract a mate with all of that singing.
If you want to attract the red-tail hawk, try attracting other birds first. Hawks like to eat little birds, so once the chickadees, and goldfinches have found a spot in the downtown area, you could see a hawk sitting up top a nearby building, Gillette said. As well, she added, hawks like to hunt starlings because they fly in a straight line.
Gillette also advises turning out lights to help birds too. The Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) has presented at DRFN meetings and is a non-profit organization focused on bringing awareness to the fact that city lights can trick birds to fly into reflective windows causing countless fatalities. FLAP strongly encourages people in downtown areas to go easy on the artificial lights.
Tools of the trade: books to help recognize birds and oranges to attract orioles.

Living in the city shouldn’t stop the birds from flocking to homes and neighbourhoods but not having birdseed or an attraction for birds on-hand may lower the chances of an encounter. If you’re looking for a group to bird watch with instead of staying at home, DRFN is accepting new members.
The group was founded in 1955 and meets the last Monday of every month except for June to August and December.  The meetings are held at the Oshawa Civic Centre. DRFN have different presentations, bird trips and events going on to keep local interest alive. Visit their website for more information.
Another way to keep things local is hiking in Durham. The Durham Outdoors Club has “local night hikes, after supper in the summer,” said hiking event co-ordinator Kelly Hewitt. “The club does local hiking not specific to bird watching, but while hiking you will definitely see some birds,” she said. The group hikes are about six to 10 kms and range from local to nearby forested areas, including the Ganaraska Forest and Long Sault Conservation Area. The club also takes walk-a-rounds downtown, planned trips and focuses both on urban and outdoor activities.
For more information about the club visit their website.


  1. When I originally commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get several e-mails with the same comment. Is there any way you can remove me from that service? Cheers!

    • Hi Jordan, I’m not sure about that. I’m going to try cutting off the comments to see if that helps since this story is more than a year old now.

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