This small complex of wetlands, riparian thickets, flood
plain forest, river shoreline and open areas provides an
excellent mix of habitat for a wide variety of bird species.
As of September 2006, 131 species of birds have been
recorded for this area. Please report any sightings not on
this list to (613) 728-6953.
The primary habitat here, is the
large provincially significant wetland which is best viewed
by canoe. However, if you prefer to stay on dry land, a good
vantage point from which to look over the marsh occurs just
after you cross the causeway to the island. From here you
should be able to see a number of waterfowl, herons, the
rare black terns, and if you listen carefully, hear the
singing of marsh wrens from the cat-tail thickets.
The main trail from the parking
lot skirts the Ottawa River and takes you past backwaters,
open scrubby areas, and floodplain forest with the
regionally rare hackberry stand and thicket of the rare
bladdernut shrub. It is along this trail that many of the
birds on the island can be found. Other small tracks lead
away from the island's only road at various points and all
are worth exploring.
species remain year round, not just on Petrie Island but
throughout the region. These birds are called 'resident
species' because they do not migrate out of our area.
Familiar birds such as the black-capped chickadee and
the cardinal are two such resident species. Others
include rock dove, downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, crow,
white-breasted nuthatch and house sparrow.
March you should see male red-winged blackbirds in
the marshes and grackles and cowbirds along the forest
edge. The female blackbirds follow much later, leaving the
male to lay claim to a patch of the marsh where they'll
build their nest. One of the earliest swallows to reach our
area is the tree swallow, often arriving at the beginning of
By mid-month migration is heating up and many birds
have returned to the area. However, May is the month
when most of the neotropical migrants (birds that overwinter
in Latin America and come north to breed) arrive.
Neotropical migrants include warblers, vireos, many
thrushes, and orioles. Sixteen species of warblers have been
observed to date on the island, but only a few remain to
nest. High up in the canopies of the trees you might see the
richly coloured magnolia warblers, while the ground-dwelling
ovenbird, a thrush-like warbler can be heard calling from
the woods. Near water look and listen for the northern
waterthrush, another inconspicuous warbler.
gulls have returned in force and you might spot the
black-headed Bonaparte's gull along the river. Watch for
woodcock in the woods at the end of the main trail. They can
be hard to find, but patience will reward you. Great blue
herons are familiar to most people, and there are always one
or two patrolling the sloughs and marshes. We don't know for
sure if they breed on the island, although it is more likely
that they nest elsewhere and fish for food in the island's
This is a busy
season for birds. In just a few short months they must set up
territory, find a mate, build a nest, lay eggs, and raise their
young. Many of the birds we see in this region are really birds
of the new-world tropics, coming north for only one purpose: to
find safe nesting sites. Look for cavity-nesting great-crested
flycatchers on the woodland edge, and eastern kingbirds in the
open areas. Also watch for nesting yellow warbler, common
yellowthroat warbler, and black-and-white warbler. American
redstart probably nests here too, but we haven't yet found
Many people are surpised to learn that the colourful
little wood duck is a cavity nester, readily using the large
nest boxes you'll see scattered here and there in trees near
the water's edge. A high-pitched twittering sound overhead
indicates the presence of chimney swifts. These birds are
from swallows by their very distinctive
stiff-winged flight. By mid-July keep an eye out for returning
shorebirds. Many have left their northern nesting grounds and
are already beginning the great trek south. Scan the mudflats
and shoreline for sanderling, least sandpiper, lesser yellowlegs
and dunlin as well as other species.
There hasn't been a systematic
breeding bird survey carried out on the island yet, but the
years 2001-2005 will see the
Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas project carried out across
the province, including Petrie, so we hope to have more nesting
information as the project progresses. You can help by recording
any nesting information you find and reporting it to us at
As days shorten and nights cool, you'll
notice an increase in activity amongst birds. Feeling the urge
for warmer climates they begin feeding heavily to build up the
fat reserves that will allow long periods of non-stop flight.
When they do find suitable stopover points such as Petrie
Island, they may remain for a few hours or a few days to rest
and fuel up again. Warblers again visit the island, many
sporting their dull fall plumage. The swallows that are so
visible in late summer are gone by early fall. Like
eaters they must leave before their food supply vanishes. Watch
for white-throated and white-crowned sparrows searching
the leaf litter on the forest floor for food. Out on the river
you should see various grebes, loons, and some of the diving
ducks such as bufflehead, lesser scaup and ring-necked duck.
chill grips our region, the last lingering migrants retreat
southward, to be replaced by winter visitors such as American
tree sparrows and snow buntings which join the hardy resident
species. Scan the trees for owls, one winter a rare visitor to
this area, a great gray owl was observed.
finches and evening grosbeaks can be found. We expect to see
other winter finches such as redpolls so keep your eyes open and
report any sightings to us. As long as water remains open you
should see some water birds out on the river and there is
always room for a surprise In the early winter of 1998 a mute
swan was observed just off the eastern end of the island.
photographer Jim Robertson has assembled a slideshow of the
birds and birdcalls of Petrie.