Pets & Wildlife

Dan Turko’s Urban Birds Series

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Dan Turko has always loved nature. Having grown up in Manitoba, he developed an appreciation for the multitude of plants and animals living in the Boreal Forest at an early age. He has since photographed birds from Africa to Point Pelee, but some of his most surprising bird sightings happened here in Toronto—right on his doorstep.

Dan Turko

“The very morning after I got back from my first trip to Point Pelee, I noticed a “blue” type of bird.  I had never seen it before. It was my first sighting of an indigo bunting. ” said Turko, “A mating pair had stopped in my yard to gain energy as they were migrating north to breed. Suddenly, I realized that I was missing some of the most beautiful aspects of where I’d been living for some 20 years.”

House Finch

“Within the next year I had discovered a whole host of birds that live in the immediate area of my home or migrate through it,” said Turko, “One morning, I woke up and saw a large group of migrating birds flying over my home with a few warblers stopping in to feed.”

Black and White Warbler

Magnolia Warbler

Turko soon spotted some sought-after birds, including an American redstart and a Nashville Warbler, and almost felt as though he’d been cheating himself out of the animal and bird life that had been right in his backyard for 20 years.

The tropics may be famous for colourful birds, but Toronto can certainly hold its own.

“Our birds aren’t well known or easily spotted, especially those in the canopy of our tall oaks,” said Turko, “But many types of waterfowl and warblers are particularly colourful, especially in the spring. The wood duck is a cascade of colours and warblers range from yellow to cerulean.”

Wood Duck

Other notably vibrant birds include white or red-breasted nuthatches, the ruby-throated hummingbirds, cedar waxwings, and of course, northern cardinals. Even sparrows are beautiful if you take a moment to appreciate them.

Hairy Woodpecker

White-breasted Nuthatch

Ruby Throated Hummingbird – female

“I used to lump all the sparrows together before I realized their variety,” said Turko, “The most common sparrow, the European house sparrow, isn’t indigenous—but Toronto has some beautiful indigenous sparrows too, including the White-crowned, White-throated, and fox sparrows. Sparrows are great adapters, so there’s a lot of them in the downtown area.”

White Crowned Sparrow

After becoming aware of the variety of local birds, condo-dwellers might be tempted to set up feeders to attract them. However, balcony feeders have their risks.

“You have to keep in mind that there is a persistent problem in the downtown area. Migrating birds collide with high-rise windows, and window collisions are often fatal,” said Turko.

Some believe that balcony feeders can be used safely as long as one takes steps to “collision proof” their windows first, as recommended by the Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP), which has been working to document collisions and save birds during the fall and spring migrations.

According to Turko, birders are far from a dying breed especially given the increased discussion of environmental concerns in schools. The human impact on our ecology is an integral part of school science programs, which made millennials much more aware and interested in their environment and local wildlife.

Goldfinch

“It’s not hard to find a twentysomething-year-old counting and identifying warblers at the Evergreen Brick Works,” said Turko, “I would almost say birding is a new millennial fad.  And given that you might find yourself jumping over rocks in Toronto’s ravines or on the Niagara Escarpment, it’s often a challenging sport!”

Turko is fortunate to live on ravine land in Toronto, where he is continually reminded of the special beauty of local birds.  Having travelled extensively, he states North American songbirds are truly the world’s most melodious singers.

Northern Cardinal – female

“Every spring for the last 20 years, I have woken up to our songbirds singing,” said Turko, “During the spring migration their song is exceptional. Walking out at sunrise in a Toronto park in spring is like walking into nature’s symphony.”

Here are just a few popular birding spots right in the city,

Humber Bay Park

Colonel Sam Smith Park

Evergreen Brick Works

High Park

Toronto Islands

Tommy Thompson Parks

Dean Maher

Dean Maher is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The 416 Magazine.