While most of our Great Blue Herons migrate south each winter, some will stay in London and across Southwestern Ontario. As long as there is some open water, the birds that do overwinter here can find food. Photo by Paul Nicholson.
The sight and sound of migrating geese every fall and spring is iconic. Even youngsters learn to associate the sight of V-shaped flocks of Canada Geese in flight with the change of seasons. So why do we also see lots of Canada Geese in London in every month of the year? Why don’t all of the Canada Geese migrate?
There are in fact some species that do not migrate at all. The Northern Cardinal, London’s official bird, is one of these species. Cardinals live their whole lives in the same geographic area, dealing with both our wintery temperatures and our summers’ heat spikes. The bright red plumage of the male Cardinal against a snowy tableau is an especially welcome sight on a January day. Cardinals are able to adapt their diet seasonally and they can find appropriate shelter.
Downy Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and Pileated Woodpeckers are other birds that do not migrate. We can enjoy sightings of these birds in every month of the year. Interestingly, the range of the Red-bellied Woodpecker continues to slowly grow to the north.
The Black-capped Chickadee and our nuthatches are yet other birds that don’t migrate. Londoners who have backyard bird feeders know this well.
Great Horned Owls do not migrate. Our Wild Turkeys, American Goldfinches and Mute Swans also stay put.
There are several bird species that have adapted particularly well to our urban environments. These birds are synanthropes. Many such as House Sparrows, European Starlings, House Finches, Mourning Doves, and Rock Pigeons do not migrate. They too are able to find food and shelter here all year.
Most but not all of our American Robins do fly south to the US for the winter. This creates an illusion for some Londoners that all Robins have left. For many folks, the sight of an American Robin seems like a sure sign that spring is around the corner. Some do tough it out here however, finding enough berries and other wild foods to survive. If the weather turns terrible for a prolonged period, the Robins that did hang back in Middlesex County might then fly a relatively short distance south below the Great Lakes. These are know as facultative migrants.
The Canada Goose is one of the species with much of the population that migrates and some of the population that stays put here for the winter season. There are quite a few others. While we do witness large flocks of Blue Jays, and American Crows migrating, quite a few of these birds will spend the winters here. There are significant risks associated with long migrations, and it seems that some birds intuitively process those risks against the risks of toughing it out in Canada.
While we don’t see great migrating flocks of Bald Eagles, Kestrels, Red-tailed Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks, Horned Larks, Great Blue Herons, Ring-billed and Herring Gulls, or Belted Kingfishers, these are other birds that do migrate in significant numbers each spring and fall. At the same time however, some of them do opt to stay in Middlesex County for the winter. Eastern Bluebirds, Mallards, Hooded Mergansers, and Wood Ducks are others.
It's not likely that London birders will see warblers, vireos, or swallows in their local patch in January or February, but we are fortunate that we can still reasonably hope to see some beautiful and familiar bird species year-round.