Semipalmated sandpiper, Johnson's Mills, NB (Photo by NCC)

Semipalmated sandpiper, Johnson's Mills, NB (Photo by NCC)

On the flyway to home: Get to know Canada's migratory birds

Conservation Volunteers get a peek at migrating golden eagles (Photo by NCC)

Conservation Volunteers get a peek at migrating golden eagles (Photo by NCC)

Each spring, skies across Canada are filled with the sights and sounds of millions of birds arriving home from their southern wintering grounds. The four major migration pathways (flyways) in the Americas include:

  • Pacific
  • Central
  • Mississippi
  • Atlantic

From the Canadian Arctic to southern Mexico, these sky-high pathways span the continents and follow prominent natural features, such as coastlines, mountain ranges and river valleys. Some bird species only travel along one flyway, while others (species that are more widespread) arrive in Canada via multiple routes during migration. The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) protects habitat for more than 300 migratory bird species, ensuring they have areas to rest and feed as well as suitable habitat for nesting.

Get your printable copy of the NCC migratory bird map and species description.

Learn about some of these returning bird species and where you may be able to spot them.

Pacific flyway

Olive-sided flycatcher (Photo by R. Hocken)
Olive-sided flycatcher

From April to August, this flycatcher, found mostly along forest edges and openings near wetlands, can be seen in every province and territory except Nunavut.

Golden eagle (Photo by NCC)
Golden eagle

From February to August, the golden eagle, the largest bird of prey in Canada, can be spotted throughout many of NCC's properties. They are present year-round in some parts of Canada.

Lewis's woodpecker (Photo by iStock)
Lewis's woodpecker

From May to September, this endangered woodpecker can be found in BC's southern interior region.



Central flyway

Whooping crane (Photo from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services/Flickr)
Whooping crane

From April to September, this endangered species can be observed on several NCC properties in Saskatchewan during their migration.

Sprague's pipit, Shoe Lake West, SK (Photo by Stephen Davis)
Sprague's pipit

From April to August, this brownish-streaked, sparrow-sized bird can be found on all of NCC's grassland natural areas in Alberta, and some properties in Saskatchewan.

McCown's longspur (Photo by Alan MacKeigan)
McCown's longspur

From April to September, this ground-foraging songbird can be seen in dry, open prairies with short grass. NCC properties across Canada's prairies provide stopover and nesting habitat for this species.



Atlantic flyway

Bicknell's thrush (Photo by Serge Beaudette)
Bicknell's thrush

From May to September, this sparrow-sized bird that has one of the most limited breeding and wintering ranges in North America can be found on the summits of Green and White mountains in the Appalachians in Quebec, and in areas of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

Piping plover at Johnston's pond, Nova Scotia (Photo by Andrea Drake)
Piping plover

From late April to August, this endangered shorebird can be seen dotting the sand and pebble beaches and saline wetlands. NCC properties in Atlantic Canada and the prairies provide stopover and nesting habitat for this species.

Semipalmated sandpiper (Photo by Denis Doucet)
Semipalmated sandpiper

From May to September, semipalmated sandpipers migrate through Canada and the eastern United States, from the Canadian Arctic and the Hudson Bay lowlands, to make their 10,000-kilometre flight to their wintering grounds along the coasts of South America.


Mississippi flyway

Prothonotary warbler (Photo by Bill Hubick)
Prothonotary warbler

From April to September, this endangered, flashy yellow warbler can be found in southwestern Ontario, including on NCC's Backus Woods property. They are one of two warbler species in North America that nest in small tree cavities.

Bobolink (Photo by Bill Hubick)

From May to September, this medium-sized songbird migrates from southern Canada and northern U.S. to their wintering grounds in southern South America — one of the world’s longest migrations (20,000 kilometres) of any North American songbird. They can be spotted across Canada on many NCC properties with grasslands.

Great blue heron at Cranberry Marsh, ON (Photo by Lorne)
Great blue heron
From April to October, or year-round along the British Columbia coast and occasionally in southern Canada, the great blue heron nests in every province except Newfoundland and Labrador. NCC properties across Canada provide stopover and nesting habitat for this species.


Supporter Spotlight

Atlantic puffins (Photo by Bill Caulfield-Browne)