While Central Alberta cannot rival such places as the Amazon Rainforest or Costa Rice for bird numbers and variety, the region is richly endowed with a wide diversity of bird species. Finding these wild creatures is just a matter of knowing where and when to look. Fall and spring migration is a time when the woods are alive with the twittering of warblers and sparrows, the beaches are dotted with shorebirds, and many wetlands are crammed with geese and ducks.
Patrolling these restless flocks are Peregrine Falcons and other majestic birds of prey. Summer is short in Central Alberta, so most species cram their nesting season into a few short weeks. Some of the early migrants, such as Horned Larks and Mountain Bluebirds, arrive in early/mid March while yearling Purple Martins may not arrive until the end of June. Starting in mid April, resident birds are joined by other breeding migrants and all begin to set up territories. May and June are the peak birding months; by mid-July the young of most species are out of the nest and the woods are falling silent once again. The end of summer is marked by the early arrival of shorebirds heading back south from their northern nesting grounds. Shortly thereafter, warblers and other northern migrants pass through. As the days shorten and the temperatures drop, the breeding birds follow suit. The only species that remain overwinter are those that can survive on buds, seeds, berries, live prey, frozen insects or carrion.
Despite the cold and snow, winter in Central Alberta has its own appeal for bird watchers, as Common and Hoary Redpolls, Hawk Owls, Snowy Owls, Gyrfalcons and other winter visitors join the year-round resident chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, ravens and owls. Finding birds in the Red Deer area is easy, thanks to a brochure (Birding Guide for the City of Red Deer and Area) published by the Red Deer River Naturalists (RDRN). This guide covers several hot birding spots in and near the city, from the pristine Gaetz Lake Sanctuary to multiple use areas such as River Bend Recreation Area and Bower Ponds. RDRN has also produced a bird checklist to the birds of the Red Deer Area. Both are available at Kerry Wood Nature Centre or can be downloaded from the RDRN website. Another birding guide, this one to birding hot spots within an hour’s driving distance from the city, will be published in the next few months. It will be posted to the RDRN website as soon as it is printed. For other birding spots in central Alberta, check out Ellis Bird Farm, Medicine River Wildlife Centre and JJ Collett Natural Area. Information on other natural areas as well as parks and protected areas can be found on the Alberta Parks website.