Birds At Risk

By Ron Pittaway

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada has released its November, 2003 update of the Canadian Species at Risk list. Ron Pittaway has summarized the status of birds in Ontario from this report and added his own comments. COSEWIC comprises wildlife members from each province and territory and other experts. COSEWIC receives full administrative and financial support from the Canadian Wildlife Service, which is part of Environment Canada.


Below I summarize the status of birds in Ontario. I've also included some (not all) birds that are not designated for Ontario, but which come to Ontario from designated provinces/territories. COSEWIC lists are in alphabetical order, not checklist order. When examing the list categories, notice that many grassland birds are doing poorly and that hawks, eagles and owls generally are doing well.

A. Extinct CategoryTop

Passenger Pigeon

B. Extirpated CategoryTop

Greater Prairie Chicken

Piping Plover
Photo: Frank and Sandra Horvath

C. Endangered CategoryTop

Northern Bobwhite

As southern Ontario was settled, the bobwhite increased and spread northward. Now bobwhites are disappearing from Ontario because of intensive agriculture, fewer weedy and shrubby areas, and probably because of fewer grass fires which renew habitat.

Eskimo Curlew

No confirmed records anywhere since the 1960s, almost certainly extinct.

Acadian Flycatcher

Recent surveys of creek ravines indicate that Acadians are more common than previously believed.

Barn Owl (eastern population)

It has virtually disappeared because of intensive agriculture, annual plowing of fields (fewer large weedy fields with voles) and a switch to closed metal barns.

Piping Plover

It's doubtful (except at Long Point) that Piping Plovers will ever recover much on Lakes Ontario, Erie and Huron, unless human use of sand beaches is restricted.

King Rail

Most remaining birds are in marshes where water levels are managed. It's disappearing elsewhere because once productive marshes have become old and stagnant, having filled in with organic matter and dense cattails. A good example is Point Pelee's once fabulous marsh. Recent low water levels and drought also have dried out some marshes.

“Eastern” Loggerhead Shrike (subspecies migrans)

A gradual decline started more than 50 years ago caused by (1) the disappearance of rough cattle pastures with scattered shrubs and (2) the enormous increase in roads and motor vehicles resulting in collisions with this low flying shrike, mainly on migration. Winter habitat may be a factor, but there's no information about how winter habitat affects migrants from the north. There is no evidence that contaminants are causing the decline of Ontario shrikes.

Henslow's Sparrow

Decline is mysterious. Probably declining for two reasons: (1) Much more intensive agriculture and (2) an almost complete lack of fires needed to renew its grassland habitat. Fires were more frequent in Ontario grasslands in the past.

Kirtland's Warbler

Doing well in Michigan; some may spread to Ontario, but lack of ideal Jack Pine habitat would be major limiting factor.

Prothonotary Warbler

It is hoped that a nest box program in wooded swamps will cause an increase. Recent low water levels and drought having a negative impact.

Barn Owl
Photo: Frank and Sandra Horvath

Loggerhead Shrike
Photo: Jean Iron

Henslow's Sparrow
Photo: Barry Cherriere

D. Threatened CategoryTop

Least Bittern

Status uplisted to Threatened in November 2001. Disappearing mainly because many once productive marshes are stagnating with dense cattails. Good numbers still occur in a few marshes where water levels are managed to renew an interspersion of open water and vegetation types, such as at Tiny Marsh in Simcoe County.

“Anatum” Peregrine Falcon

This presumably includes stocked birds, but not the “Tundra” Peregrine Falcon population, which is the more common form seen in Ontario. The introduced Peregrine breeding population is doing so well that it should qualify soon for down listing.

Hooded Warbler

The Hooded is now increasing and spreading northward.

Least Bittern
Photo: Rob Misek

E. Special Concern CategoryTop

“Eastern” Yellow-breasted Chat

Very small population in southwestern Ontario such as at Point Pelee.

Harlequin Duck (eastern population)

No designation in Ontario, but most (99%) of the birds seen in Ontario likely originate from the eastern breeding population. Closest breeders are in Quebec on the southeast side of Hudson Bay.

“Tundra” Peregrine Falcon

A regular migrant, but not listed for Ontario, probably because it does not breed here.

Barrow's Goldeneye (eastern population)

A regular winter visitor in small numbers, but no designation for Ontario; yet most (99%) of Ontario birds likely come from the eastern breeding population centred in Quebec.

Red-shouldered Hawk

You'll often hear birders say that RSHs are endangered in Ontario, but it isn't even listed as threatened, so please correct them.

Short-eared Owl

Some decline in recent years, probably because of intensive agriculture and fewer weedy fields.

Yellow Rail

Status uplisted to Special Concern in November 2001. There is concern about habitat loss especially on the wintering grounds, but it is still heard frequently in sedge/grass marshes on the breeding grounds along James and Hudson Bays.

Bicknell's Thrush

Not designated for Ontario, but there are several recent specimens (tower kills) of migrants from the Kingston area. It is probably a regular migrant in eastern Ontario.

Cerulean Warbler

There is a good population in rich hardwoods on the south edge of Canadian Shield north of Kingston.

Louisiana Waterthrush

There may be more than once believed.

Red-headed Woodpecker

Declining because of fewer old woodlots with dead trees near weedy fields, competition with starlings, and collisions with cars.

Harlequin Duck
Photo: Bernie Monette

F. Not at Risk CategoryTop

Eastern Bluebird, Double-crested Cormorant, “Greater” Sandhill Crane (subspecies tabida), Bald Eagle, Golden Eagle, Northern Goshawk, Red-necked Grebe, Gyrfalcon, Northern Harrier, Cooper's Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Common Loon, Merlin, Boreal Owl, Great Gray Owl, Northern Hawk Owl, Snowy Owl, American White Pelican, Eastern Screech-Owl, Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow, Trumpeter Swan, Black Tern (much reduced numbers in Ontario and should be listed in the Special Concern Category for the province; Black Terns do well in marshes where water levels are managed for a 50:50 interspersion of open water and vegetation types), Caspian Tern, Common Tern, Prairie Warbler, Sedge Wren.

G. Data Deficient CategoryTop

Forster's Tern

Further InformationTop

Complete COSEWIC list of Canadian birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, lepidopterans, molluscs, vascular plants, mosses, and lichens is here.

The Recovery teams for Ontario's Endangered Species request that you report the following species as soon as you see them to 1-866-833-8888: Loggerhead Shrike, Prothonotary Warbler, Acadian Flycatcher, Hooded Warbler, King Rail, and Barn Owl. Leave a message and they will return your call.

Forster's Tern
Photo: Barry Cherriere