Close Encounters of the Bird Kind

Close Encounters

It was sometime after midnight and Judy Boyd, an avid birder, was sitting inside the observation tower at Medicine River Wildlife Centre with other local birders listening to a cacophony of sounds coming from the surrounding Boreal Forest. The group was participating in something called “The Big Sit” and the concept was simple – find a good spot for bird watching, sit in that spot for 24 hours, and count all the bird species you see or hear. It was a sedentary activity, but it was anything but boring. “Birding is amazing after dark,” said Boyd, a Red Deer resident and coauthor of The Birding Guide for Central Alberta. “The night is alive with sounds – frogs, owls and other night birds.” The most exciting moment came at some point in the wee hours of the morning when the group heard the distinctive hooting call of a Barred Owl, a species that is rarely seen or heard in Central Alberta and has a distinct call that sounds like: “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?”

The Central Zone is a popular birding destination. Dotted with marshes and pothole lakes, the area serves as the meeting point of three Natural Regions – the Prairies, Boreal Forest, and Aspen Parkland. There is an abundance of waterfowl nesting habitat in Central Alberta and a diverse array of birdlife can be found throughout the various regions.

Red Deer is also home to Alberta’s first federal migratory bird sanctuary and a very active community of birders and naturalists who offer free bird walks, a free online and printed bird guide, a bird checklist, and host events like “The Big Sit.”

Backyard birders, families and nature lovers also enjoy visiting Ellis Bird Farm where they can see Mountain Bluebirds, Purple Martins, Tree Swallows, and many other species and learn about cutting edge scientific research that is conducted at the farm. Birds can be seen while walking the trails, dining at the teahouse or while strolling through the beautiful and diverse naturescape gardens.

“Every time I go out my door I am birding,” said Boyd. “Birding is fun and nature never ceases to amaze me.”

Birding in the Red Deer Area

Ellis Bird Farm

Located just 35 minutes northeast of Red Deer, Ellis Bird Farm is an excellent spot for bird watching. The farm has
extensive wetlands and hosts a large purple martin colony, a large collection of nestboxes and demonstration wildlife gardens, all connected with wheelchair-accessible paths. Nature-based events and workshops are held throughout the summer season (May to September).

Gaetz Lakes Sanctuary

Just outside the back door of Kerry Wood Nature Centre is 300 acres of protected area. With five kilometres of trails, viewing decks and a birdblind, the Gaetz Lakes Sanctuary is the perfect place, to view a variety of habitats for plants, mammals and birds.

Kerry Wood Nature Centre

Located within Red Deer’s Waskasoo Park System, the Kerry Wood Nature Centre is a year-round interpretive centre, offering extensive natural history and environmental education programs and exhibits. Look for all new permanent exhibits late in 2015.

Slack Slough

This extensive bulrush marsh and adjacent wetlands is an exceptional area for viewing waterfowl, including a variety of diving and dabbling ducks, and a diversity of marsh and shore birds. Canada geese, common goldeneyes and buffleheads are common in spring and summer. Tundra swans frequent the area during migration. Located east of Hwy 2, off McKenzie Rd. at the south end of Red Deer.

The Red Deer River Naturalists have published two birding trail maps: one for the City of Red Deer and one for Central Alberta. Maps are available at Kerry Wood Nature Centre, Ellis Bird Farm as well as other locations around Central Alberta. Check out for details.

Share this Post