By Andrés Jiménez, Ontario Urban Program Coordinator, Bird Studies Canada
Did you know that Toronto – the fourth largest city in North America – is also one of Ontario’s best bird hotspots? Each year during bird migration, the city becomes a mega bird-highway much busier, healthier, and more colourful than the 401. Join us in celebrating birds in the city at the Toronto Bird Celebration from May 11-25, 2019 (for celebrations happening in other locations this May, scroll to the bottom of the post).
For people in Toronto, as in other parts of Canada, migration signals the changing seasons. It is a natural spectacle that calls our attention away from our computers and busy lives to rediscover that we can read nature. Every fall, the city slowly becomes quieter. In winter, the calls are gone with the birds leaving behind a cold silence. In the spring, the birds return and with them, our feeling of awe. Through the months, the sights and sounds of the birds convey messages about the world around us. They are our nature connection in the city.
As a newcomer to Canada, I read birds and nature in different ways. For many people like me in Toronto, birds represent home. I cannot think of a more powerful way to connect with my home country than birds. You see, when I see a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, a Baltimore Oriole, or a Canada Warbler, I see a piece of my homeland within Canada. Back at home, I would read nature, too. When I would see Baltimore Orioles in our mango tree on the backyard, I would say: “Christmas is here, and so is the summer.” Now, the very same birds represent something else. And that Baltimore Oriole in Toronto might be the very same bird that dazzled me on my mango tree. Isn’t that amazing? I could see the same bird in Canada that I saw in Costa Rica!
Now imagine the journey of another bird – the Canada Warbler. Its journey takes it from South America to Canada’s boreal forest. On the way, it will pass through fields, forest patches, and gigantic cities – maybe Toronto. Along these routes, or “flyways,” birds will need rich, nurturing environments that help them complete their journey. For us to continue to enjoy the return of the birds, the messages, and benefits they bring, we will have to make our cities bird oases. Over 390 species and several million individual birds depend on Toronto’s wetlands, parks, ravines, human-built structures, and gardens annually.
The first step towards Toronto becoming a bird oasis is to connect with and love birds. This is why, for the last three years, Bird Studies Canada and 13 other partners have worked together to present the Toronto Bird Celebration. During May, more than 50 million wild birds will return from their long winter journeys. Everyone is invited to celebrate that ‘Birds are Everywhere’ with events happening across the Greater Toronto Area. From festivals to paddleboarding, bird walks to gardening workshops, there are activities for all ages and backgrounds happening during the celebration.
Bird walk during the 2018 Toronto Bird Celebration
Photo: Stacey Lee Kerr
Why does Toronto need a bird celebration? Around the world, cities are being recognized for their important role in sustaining ecosystems. It is quite straightforward – urban biodiversity is critical to city people’s health and wellbeing. With most Canadians living in cities, it is crucial that we increase the public’s understanding and appreciation of urban nature, for the benefit of both humans and wildlife.
The spring prelude has begun. Red-winged Blackbirds have descended across the GTA’s wetlands and gardens, the first Golden-crowned Kinglets are getting birdwatchers excited, and the Red-necked Grebes are singing love songs and dancing in the waterfront. The grand act is yet to come, and you will see it on a stage as big as Toronto. A full list of events is available at torontobirdcelebration.ca. The Toronto Bird Celebration events are mostly free, and are open to all. So if you live in the city, come join thousands of Torontonians in celebrating the birds in your own neighbourhood!
Not in Toronto?
You can celebrate birds at other events across Canada this May. Check out the events map for World Migratory Bird Day (May 11th) in Canada and the website for Vancouver Bird Week (May 11-17).