Why Point Pelee?
Location! Location! Location!
Point Pelee is part of a peninsula, located at the crossroads of two major migration routes, extending into the western basin of Lake Erie. It is one of the first points of land spring migrants reach in the pre-dawn hours when crossing Lake Erie at night. In fall, the shape of the park acts like a funnel for day-time migrants following shorelines south, concentrating them at the Tip.
Most famous for spring and fall migration, Point Pelee’s diverse habitats provide shelter for more than 390 recorded species of birds. From warblers to sandpipers and from ducks to hawks, there is something for everyone throughout the year.
- Birds in breeding plumage, lots of song
- Short and concentrated (March-June)
- Meeting of weather fronts can cause fallouts
- Trees leaf out later, due to the cooling effect of Lake Erie
The first influx in March coincides with the return of waterfowl. The marsh and flooded fields north of the park are the perfect place to find swans and puddle ducks, while the lake provides excellent views of grebes, loons and diving ducks.
By the end of April, songbirds have started to move into the area. They tend to move through the park quickly, with their sights set on reaching breeding grounds as quickly as possible. The first three weeks of May are the best time to see warblers, vireos, tanagers and orioles. Of the 53 regularly occurring warbler species in North America, 41have been found at Point Pelee.
On rare occasions, you may witness a fallout of migrants in the park. Fallouts or groundings of songbirds occur when a warm weather front advancing from the south or southeast meets a cold weather front moving in from the north or northwest. Birds will descend when the two fronts meet at ground level, or when the birds flying on a warm front override a cold front. Grounding of migrants, while amazing, is usually very for stressful birds, and birders need to use caution during these situations.
Migration continues into June with flycatchers and shorebirds. Nesting species have established territories by this time and are raising young.
- Birds of prey in large numbers
- Songbirds are more numerous, but in non-breeding plumage and are quiet
- Longer and more leisurely (July-December)
- Fall storms often bring rarities
Songbirds begin to move south by mid-August, moving at a slower pace than the spring. While there are greater numbers of birds, they can be more challenging to identify as they are not singing and in their winter plumage.
September and October are the best times to see the greatest diversity of birds of prey. September is the best month for Sharp-shinned, Cooper’s and Broad-winged Hawks. Blue Jays also move through the area in large numbers at this time. In early October, look for Peregrine Falcons and by the end of the month, Golden Eagles will start to move through.
Waterfowl, especially geese, tend to move in November in large numbers. Some birds will linger in the area, as long as conditions stay warm enough for them to survive.
Where to Go Birding
Point Pelee National Park is one of the best inland locations to observe bird migration. Its location on major migratory flyways and on the north shore of Lake Erie makes it a migrant trap – a place that attracts a wide diversity of species in a very small area. More than 390 species of birds have been recorded in the Point Pelee Birding Area.
While most famous for spring and fall migration, there is a good diversity of birds found in the park and surrounding area throughout the year. Check out this map for the Birding Best Bets in Point Pelee National Park and surrounding area.
During the Festival of Birds, demand for parking near the Visitor Centre is high. As the parking spots are filled, the lots will be closed and it will be necessary to spread out in the park.
With restrictions on the number of people that can access some of the more popular/famous birding areas in the park, you may find yourself exploring some hidden gems. Here are some tips and tricks to get the most of your time spent in areas that may be new to you if the Visitor Centre and Tip areas are at capacity.
Where to Find Sightings
The Visitor Centre is the best place to obtain information on migration and current sightings. Park staff are on hand to assist you. The Nature Nook Gift Store, operated by the Friends of Point Pelee, located in the Visitor Centre offers a selection of birding resources.
Visit the Birding Information Centre, located in the tent just outside the Visitor Centre for daily updates, sightings board and map.
- Join eBird and share your sightings with PointPeleeNP
- Regular birding updates from the Point Pelee area are posted to BIRDNEWS listserv (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Provinicially rare sighting from the Point Pelee area are posted to ONTBIRDS listserv
- Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for migration updates and rare bird alerts
- Join the Ontario Bird Alert Discord server for updates from the field for Point Pelee National Park and locations across the province.
Birding and Photography Ethics
Point Pelee National Park strives to provide opportunities to experience bird migration, while ensuring the protection of birds and their habitats. Follow these guidelines to protect birds and their habitats.
Promote the welfare of birds and their habitats
- Keep disturbance to a minimum. Some species can tolerate human activity, while others are extremely sensitive. Migrants are especially sensitive to disturbance as they may be tired and hungry – allow them time to rest and feed.
- Rare birds are exciting, but consider the circumstances of a sighting before widely releasing the information. If you are unsure, consult with park staff. Report and document your sightings.
- While the use of recordings is acceptable in some locations, it is not suitable in heavily birded areas like Point Pelee. Use of recordings in the park is prohibited
- Use artificial light sources (ex. flash) sparingly when filming and photographing birds, especially for close-ups. Never use flash with owls.
- Do not alter habitat or nesting sites to optimize photographic or viewing opportunities.
- Stay on designated trails. Seasonal footpaths are marked with orange flagging tape. No matter how established a trail might seem, don’t use it unless it is properly marked.
- Respect trail closures and restoration sites. Restoration projects that will benefit bird habitat sometimes require temporary closures.
- Follow all park rules, including parking, trail use and speed limits.
- Feeding wildlife in a national park is prohibited.
- Practice common courtesy with all visitors you encounter.
- Limit use and volume of two-way radios and other communication devices.