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, Canada's skies are filled with the sights and sounds of billions of birds arriving home from their southern wintering grounds.

Each population takes a unique migration path depending on where it is coming from and going to, but these many paths can be grouped into four major migration pathways (flyways) in the Americas.

  • Pacific
  • Central
  • Mississippi
  • Atlantic

From the Canadian Arctic to South America, 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 species that are more widespread arrive in Canada via multiple migration routes. 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 habitat for nesting.





Learn how to identify a few species from each flyway with these identification cards: Pacific flyway, central flyway, Mississippi flyway and Atlantic flyway.

What are the dangers of artificial light at night and how you can help birds that migrate at night?

Learn more about threats to birds and how you can support birds in your backyard.

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

Pacific flyway

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.

Western sandpiper (Photo by Stuart Clarke)
Western sandpiper

Large flocks of these birds congregate in the Fraser River Delta in BC during spring and fall migration, with half a million counted in one day.

Golden eagle (Photo by NCC)
Golden eagle

From February to November, golden eagles can be spotted during migration or breeding season on many of NCC's properties. They are present year-round in some parts of southwestern Canada.



Central flyway

Sandhill cranes (Photo by Steve Ogle)
Sandhill crane

From March to November, sandhill cranes can be spotted across Canada’s grasslands, wetlands and meadows, including on NCC properties from Quebec to British Columbia.

Thick-billed longspur (Photo by Alan MacKeigan)
Thick-billed longspur

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

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

From April to September, this endangered species can be seen on several NCC properties in Saskatchewan.

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 many of NCC's grassland properties in Alberta, Saskatchewan and western Manitoba.




Mississippi flyway

From April to October, or year-round along the coasts and occasionally in southern Canada, great blue herons nest in every province except Newfoundland and Labrador. NCC properties across Canada provide stopover and nesting habitat for this species.

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. It is one of two warbler species in North America that nests 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 its wintering grounds in South America — one of the world’s longest migrations (20,000 kilometres round-trip) of any North American songbird. It can be spotted across Canada on many NCC properties with grasslands.


Atlantic flyway

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

From May to September, this sparrow-sized bird, with 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 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.


Supporter Spotlight

Small Acts of Conservation - Take the challenge and enter to WIN