Nova Scotia, a scenic province along the east coast of Canada, is a land renowned for housing a vast multitude of avian life. These feathered residents add a vibrant touch to the province’s natural tapestry, from the rugged coastline to the lush forests.
Forested areas are often filled with the melodic tunes of singers and the drumming sounds of woodpeckers. The Black-capped Chickadee, a small and friendly bird, is a familiar companion in these woodlands.
Of course, Nova Scotia is also a crucial stopover for migratory birds, making it a birdwatcher’s paradise during certain seasons. So, whether you’re a seasoned birder or just starting, Nova Scotia offers a symphony of birdlife waiting to be discovered!
1. Pretty Predators
Starting strong, Nova Scotia’s skies are home to a broad spectrum of birds of prey and raptors. Why does the word “raptor” sound more dangerous? Because it certainly is – but only for smaller mammals.
Characterized by their curved beaks, sharp vision, and equally sharp talons, these are prominent in Nova Scotia’s surroundings and folklore; the provincial bird is one of them.
Often called a Fish Hawk due to its impressively tenacious and clean way of hunting fish, the Osprey is the provincial bird of Nova Scotia.
Ironically, these giant birds of prey find a shrine (and breeding ground) here only in the months after mid-April, before which they reside in warmer climatic conditions.
They have a distinctly crooked wingspan, which sets them apart from other large birds, like the eagles and hawks. It is pretty scarce in places other than the ones mentioned above due to a scary population decline in the mid-20th century due to DDT pollution.
Another raptor with a dominating presence in Nova Scotia is the hawk. Blissfully unaffected by the bustling city centre, these species have an unending abundance and survive in multi-habitual natural, rural and suburban areas.
1.2.1. Red-Tailed Hawk
Wondering what bird you hear when the screeching sound of major birds of prey is depicted in movies? It’s none other than the Red-tailed hawk, the most common breed of hawks to be spotted in the branches of Nova Scotia!
1.2.2. Northern Harrier
As far as hawks come, this one is unique in its appearance. With a white rump patch and a petite facial structure, this “Marsh Hawk” hovers over open grassland and marshes.
1.2.3. Cooper’s Hawk
This hawk is smaller than the average family (still medium-sized birds). In contrast to the previous grassland predator, this bird prefers dense vegetation, like forests, for its hunt. It can be seen speeding through the branches with a magnificent-to-see preying.
There are a total of 10 noted classes of hawks in Nova Scotia. Some unspecified ones are the red-shouldered Hawk, Swainson’s Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk and the Broad-winged Hawk.
Although it occurs like any other bird that visits backyards in parts of the country, these still happen to be consciously dwindling breeding birds due to human-oriented pollution.
1.3.1. Northern Hawk Owl
Sighting this bird of prey is only for those with keen sight. Nocturnal and well camouflaged, this little friend can blend into the barks of trees and every other rooftop. Will you be fortunate to spot one?
1.3.2. Snowy Owl
It’s not a very populous category, but it’s worth mentioning that this is one of the few birds of prey that spend the winter here. The males have a brisk white demeanour that blends in with the enthralling winter snow, making it an uncommon sight for the wandering eye, whilst the females often have spotted brown wings.
Another thing that would tickle your brain at this point would be the fact that winters in the Arctic often witness 24-hour daylight, and although from a bird fleet known for its nocturnal hunting abilities, the Snowy Owl is contrastingly diurnal and prowls for food in less dark conditions.
2. Backyard Birds
Frankly, the sighting list for locally spotted bird species is impossible to list down- after all, Nova Scotia is home to a whopping 491 species of birds!
Apart from the omnipresent crows, pigeons, doves, song sparrows and chickadees, here are some of the eye-catching commonplaces of this Canadian province.
2.1. Cedar Waxwings
If Zorro had a bird rendition, the cedar waxwing would make it to the list. With waxy red secretions on their secondaries, these frugivores are silky and warm-toned. You can find them in various habitats, including near rivers, in the summer to prey on small insects, and, as the category suggests, if offered fruit, they might often appear in your yard, depending on the availability of food sources.
Being frugivorous backyard birds is also one of the significant risks they could bear. Since they eat a massive quantity of fruit, some over-ripened ones might ferment alcohol, leading to intoxication or even death.
2.2. European Starlings
Labelled as pests due to their mildly aggressive approach towards everyday yard items like peanuts, suet feeders cracked corn and sunflower seeds, these birds are noisy, family-oriented and travel in large numbers.
If you are a resident of Canada, you might associate these birds with pink and red colours as well. Do you wonder why? Juncos are a genus that varies in pigment from place to place. Most of the East Coast is acquainted with slate or similarly unsaturated hues of this avian.
Since they are native to Nova Scotia, these birds eat insects and worms. They are also vast eaters of seeds of weeds and many such grasses, which make them your backyard companion (and a great contributor to emptying the suet feeder).
2.4. Downy Woodpecker
These are pocket-sized birds with heavily spotted plumages with strong beaks. They seem to be used to human-altered habitats and are often seen carving tree trunks for their residence.
In Nova Scotia, they have altered bills to establish territory and echolocate food.
3. Migratory Birds
Have you ever pondered what extraordinary journeys are undertaken by migratory birds spanning multiple continents? The aggregate coastline of Nova Scotia spans over 7500 km, which, coupled with its comfortable climate, makes it one of the best places to refuel for multiple species of our feathered friends.
This strategic location of mild summers and moderate winters is a storehouse of bountiful food resources, practically a warm embrace in the North for the hard-working birds.
In addition to the stunning landscape every spring, get your binoculars ready to witness a vibrant flock of petite musical flyers fluttering across Canada’s sky. Although commonly found in chromes of yellow, warblers branch out into different colours like blue-grey (Northern Parulas) and olive green (Ovenbirds), totalling a whopping 23 species.
A pocket-sized beauty, these birds bring their melodic song from parts of South America, British Columbia, the Caribbean, and other parts spread across the country and the continent for the spring.
Think about finally ending all your professional responsibilities before a long weekend. What would you do? If rest/unwind is your answer, you could never be a warbler. These dainty birds start building their nests for breeding right after they set their diminutive feet on this territory.
For the warm fall, the province of Nova Scotia sees yet another visitor – the sandpiper. With its sleek beak, this little songbird feeds on crustaceans, fish, and small worms.
3.3. Purple Martin
This is a majestic yet tricky friend to spot. With an iridescent blue-purple feathered body, they blend in with the sparkling seas, where they establish breeding colonies. But did you know this is a combined effort? People set up birdhouses strategically for these birds due to an increasing concern for their conservation.
They are known for their agility, and birdwatchers can go on for hours looking at their graceful acrobatics and delicate lethal swoop to catch food from the buzzing waters beneath.
3.4. Tree Swallows
Yet another shiny visitor from the south, the tree swallow, has a mesmerizing turquoise back with a pure white tarsal side.
However, that isn’t the sole thing that is eye-catching about them. Tree swallows forage in groups frequently, and these aviators are known for catching prey mid-air without any recession in speed. They are social and often mate up with extra pair individuals to breed.
Nova Scotia passed its Migratory Birds Convention Act to protect breeding bird species or migrant birds in Nova Scotia. It might be a good time to tell you that disturbing or messing with these birds or their nests is not advisable.
4. Coastal Companions
4.1. Wilson’s Storm-Petrel
Nova Scotia houses off-shore islands. And on these islands, the Wilson’s Storm-Petrel is often bred.
Ever dreamt of walking on water? These small-sized seabirds have the impressive ability to patter their feet on the water surfaces, and yes, its name stems from a Biblical reference to Peter’s walk on water in the Gospel of Matthew.
The easiest way to spot these tiny birds is when they go hunting for food. Renowned for their fluttering fly, they glide near the water, searching for edible aquatic life.
4.2. Harlequin Duck
Wearing the colours of Harlequin, the comic servant characters from the Italian commedia dell’arte, this charismatic duck is unique in its appearance.
It also lives quite the bold life by floating around in choppy sea waters near treacherous rocks compared to the ones mainly restricted to calm lakes. They are a true example of the wild side of Nova Scotia and gracefully navigate through tricky waves in search of their seafood-based diet.
4.3. Piping Plover
This seabird holds a special place in birdwatchers’ lists due to its delicately unique behaviours. Each species of plover has its vocalizations and rituals for many things they do. This one, specifically, as the name suggests, has a melodious piping song.
Most species practice a hunting dance involving running toward the food, abruptly stopping, and pecking it when accessible. Its preferred habitat fuels this – the beachy sands, which are convenient to build their bowl-shaped nests.
Another joyful thing they do is a courting ritual. Typically, the male initiates this ritual by scraping its feet rapidly into the ground, creating shallow depressions, and presenting small objects like shells or pebbles. This showcases his ability to build, tend, and sustain the nest. The females consequently reciprocate by crouching low, extending their plumes, and flitting the feathers on their long tails.
4.4. Northern Crested Caracara
These are large brown birds with an average mass of 1kg. Often mistaken to be a hawk, it biologically stems from the Falcons family. However, it is the only falcon that collects materials for nest building. Behold! These birds, too, have intricate courtship displays that involve aerial acrobatics, vocalizations, and territorial behaviours.
Males are seen performing impressive flight maneuvers, soaring and diving to impress females and establish their dominance. This caracara is surprisingly not picky regarding its diet, which ranges from small mammals to fruit, which makes its adaptability quotient soar.
5. Forest Feathers
Most of the previously mentioned migratory birds, specifically the singers, take solace in Nova Scotia’s canopic forest.
5.1. Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker
Easily recognized, the males of this species flaunt a black and white head and a red crown, and as its name suggests, many species also have a vibrant yellow belly that stands out against their otherwise monochromatic colouration.
What its name also suggests is the “sapsucker” part of it. Traces of this woodpecker are often seen in rows of “sap wells” – holes drilled into trunks of trees to acquire sap from (generally) fruit trees.
This also proves to be ecologically apt since the wells also serve as feeding sites for other insects and hummingbirds.
5.2. Wood Thrush
The timeless wood thrush is a declining species worldwide known for its warm, russet-brown upperparts and creamy white underparts adorned with bold black spots. It is mainly camouflaged on the forest floors, rummaging through dead leaves for its insectivore diet.
It is a rare and elusive genus in Nova Scotia, which automatically makes glimpsing a big deal for the local bird watchers’ diary.
5.3. Northern Cardinal
This bird is one of the recent ones to cause a stir in every Canadian birdwatcher’s list. Originating in the South of North America, this bird has been climbing latitudes due to climate change over the past century.
Characterized by their dramatic plume, vibrant red body, black face masks, and conical beaks, this species of Cardinal double up as songbirds that contribute to the tapestry of the province’s soundscape.
In many tribal folklore, this bird is a harbinger of rain and good fortune.
6. Wetland Species
Have you ever glimpsed the creatures that call these wetlands of Nova Scotia home, from agile amphibians to graceful waterfowl? Let’s uncover a few of them here.
6.1. Wilson’s Snipe
Yet another bird with fancy displays of courtship. Commonly called “winnowing”, this technique involves the introduced species flying high into the air and creating a distinctive sound by generating vibrations with their specialized tail feathers. This sound is known to travel far and wide as a display of territory.
What is also unique about them are their feeding habits. They probe the land for small creatures with their specially adapted bill, which have sensitive nerve endings. Their cryptic plumage and ability to navigate in darker conditions allow them to forage for food during the nighttime, taking advantage of optimal feeding opportunities while minimizing predation risk.
6.2. Great Blue Heron
Characterized by their long legs, flexibly tall neck and distinctive blue-grey plumage, these magnificent bird species are often stalking patiently in shallow water, waiting to strike at small aquatic prey.
They are common birds, yet offer a magnificent sight at every wetland, but that wasn’t always the case since the late 90s saw a massive decline due to hunting pressure and pollution. The “Great” is derived from the sheer size of this bird; at 4 ft height, this is the largest heron on the continent.
6.3. Green-Winged Teal
This is a lively species of duck that migrates to Nova Scotia annually. What sets the Green-winged Teal apart is its remarkable agility and feeding behavior.
These ducks are expert dabblers and gracefully tip their heads underwater to forage for their diet of aquatic plants and invertebrates. Their specialized bill enables them to strain and filter food particles from the water, showcasing their adaptability to wetland environments.
In courtship displays to attract females, they perform intricate rituals, such as head-bobbing, wing-flapping, and vocalizations.
7. Birds in Nova Scotia – Why Are There These Many Bird Species?
Geography favours Nova Scotia in more than one way. Topographically, Nova Scotia has proximity to most of the significant habitats that birds over the world prefer, with sprawling grasslands, lush forests, marshlands, and over 7500 km of coastline.
There are also islands offshore, which provide secluded habitats for those who need them. This convergence of diverse habitats accentuates Nova Scotia’s unique appeal to various avifauna.
It is also vital on the migratory route maps since it’s the first piece of land a species will encounter after a tiring fly across the Atlantic waters. Nova Scotia’s ecological diversity extends beyond birdlife, making it a biodiversity hotspot.
This region serves as a transition zone between two types of biomes – the northern boreal and the southern temperate forests, resulting in a rare coexistence of residents. The waters of the seas also offer one of the world’s best tides, displacing a lot of fish – fish that happen to be just the diet that most birds indulge in.
8. Nova Scotia Bird Society
Another factor in this seemingly natural habitat is the efforts put in by organizations to protect their interests.
For over 60 years, the winged treasures of Nova Scotia have been protected and promoted by the Nova Scotia Bird Society. They also encourage bird-watchers and other public members to appreciate this beauty, offering social activities like picnics and field trips, checklists, and seminars.
Many species are protected, and multiple types of research go into sustaining the futures of birds and the equity that human bodies can offer.
9. Some of the Best Birdwatching Places
Fancy birdwatching? Here are some places in Nova Scotia you should consider for your next captivating adventure. Join guided tours or sketch your next excursion in these vibrant hotspots :
9.1. Cape Breton Highlands National Park
There is no way that a birdwatcher goes to Nova Scotia and does not go to the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. For all the hikers out there, this is the perfect way to get on a small hike through the boreal forests of Nova Scotia. The trails overlook deep rivers and watch the ocean on both sides due to their massive size. Kayaks and boat tours to adjacent islands are an option here.
The Snowy Owl mentioned previously also happens here, running true for birds like the bald eagle, puffins, ospreys, gannets and the piping plover.
9.2. Brier Island Nature Reserve
Whilst the Cape Breton Highlands National Park is located at the northern tip of Nova Scotia, Brier Island Nature Reserve is in the southern part of the province, in the Bay of Fundy. Heads up! This place also experiences the highest tides in the world and is accessible only by ferry, which makes adrenaline brim up throughout the journey.
They also offer a 4 km trail, which gives visitors a glamorous view of all the specialties the reserve holds and cruises used for viewing whales and seabirds. Most of the coastal birdlife can be found here.
The entirety of Nova Scotia is one huge bird-watching station. They boast 6 UNESCO sites, two supported sites, and three national parks. On top of that, the whole area is distributed with local wooded areas, and essentially, everywhere could act as a bird-watching spot if you wish to.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of the birds in Nova Scotia, and it’s practically impossible to collate all these stunning collections of birds in one place.
Whether you wander along meandering trails, lose yourself in the vibrant meadows, or seek solace beneath the dense canopy of the ancient forest, the birds in Nova Scotia promise a testament to an unforgettable birdlife journey of discovery.