There are many wonderful things about birdwatching – and just one of them is that you never have to go far to enjoy it. St. John’s boasts a surprising variety of birds to see and discover, and many wonderful places to do just that. Here are just a few of my favourites:

City Parks

As a resident of St. John’s, I’m always impressed with the great number of parks, trails and wonderful green spaces that our city maintains. It’s great for us, and for the birds. One of the largest urban parks in Canada, Pippy Park has tons of forest and a great network of trails to explore as you look for birds like Fox Sparrow, Canada Jay and Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.

Bowring Park is among my favourite places to visit in the city with its busy duck pond, paved walking paths and more secluded trails to provide a variety of experiences. Keep an eye out for Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, Boreal Chickadees and even the local Northern Goshawk that comes by regularly to chase the pigeons.

Many locals have yet to discover the wonders of Bidgood Park (Goulds), where well groomed trails and beautiful boardwalks meander through the forest and across a large wetland. An array of birds nest in this little park – from tiny Wilson’s Warblers and Northern Waterthrush to large but secretive American Bitterns (listen for their unique “pumping” sound as they call from their hiding spots in the marsh). 

Quidi Vidi Lake

Ring necked duck on quidi vidi lake

Ring Necked Duck – Jared Clarke

Local birders may think of Quidi Vidi Lake as a winter birding locale, but it can also make for a lovely summer outing. The ducks are always fun, come in an astounding variety, and are a great way to introduce children to birds & nature.  Many are of domestic stock, but others like American Wigeon, Northern Pintail and Ring-necked Duck are truly wild and simply attracted to the hub-bub of a city lake. Ospreys and Bald Eagles frequent the lake, Common Terns can be seen fishing along the shores, and in late summer several species of shorebirds stop by on their southward migration. Occasionally something locally rare or unusual shows up, and you might find yourself “people watching” as the local birders and photographers congregate to check it out. Other city ponds and lakes (e.g. Virginia Lake, Mundy Pond, Kent’s Pond and Kenny’s Pond) can be just as wonderful, and most have lovely trails to help you enjoy them.

Memorial University Botanical Garden

Black-backed Woodpecker on a log

Black-backed Woodpecker – Jared Clarke

Botanical gardens are always a wonderful place to explore, and since Memorial University’s is located in a patch of boreal forest right in the middle of St. John’s it is also great for birdwatching. In addition to the large garden areas, there are five nature trails which take you through the forest and over bogs and fens where a variety of birds and wildlife might be spotted. Several species that usually eschew city life can sometimes be spotted here, including Blackpoll Warbler, Great Horned Owl and Black-backed Woodpecker.

Cape Spear National Historic Site

Cape Spear is a popular spot with locals and tourists alike – both for its rugged beauty and for being the easternmost point of land in North America. It is also a great birding location, offering opportunities to spot a mix of seabirds and coastal species that one might not expect so close to the city. Locally breeding birds like Atlantic Puffin, Razorbill, Black Guillemot and Black-legged Kittiwakes can be spotted throughout the summer. Late summer is a great time to look for “pelagic” species which are normally far out to sea, such as Great & Sooty Shearwaters (known locally as hagdowns or bawks) and the surprisingly tiny Leach’s Storm-petrel. A telescope is helpful here, but many birds can be spotted with binoculars and a little patience. And who knows – you might even spot a whale! On land you might find barren-loving birds such as American Pipit and Savannah Sparrow, both of which nest along the clifftops, or Whimbrel that have stopped to feast on berries during one of the world’s most spectacular migrations. The surrounding forests are home to a variety of songbirds, and are especially important during spring and fall migration. If you like to combine your birding with a good hike, the East Coast Trail will lead you through all these habitats and more.

Manuels River Interpretation Centre

Red Crossbill on the tip of a tree branch

Red Crossbill – Jared Clarke

Located just minutes outside St. John’s, the Manuels River hosts more than 5km of easy trails that will guide you along the river, through the valley and into beautiful woods. Look for the locally endangered Red Crossbill (the Newfoundland race percna is considered endemic and doesn’t occur anywhere else!), friendly Black-capped Chickadees, raucous Blue Jays and more than a dozen other species that spend the summer in the forests here. Belted Kingfishers fish from quiet perches along the river, and several species of duck might be spotted in the water. Combine your birdwatching with a visit to the Interpretation Centre to learn about the area’s amazing fossils or grab lunch at the food truck outside. 

From leisurely trails to rugged cliffs and quiet ponds to secluded forests, St. John’s offers a wonderful array of birding destinations right at your doorstep. Be sure to get out and explore nature in around the city this summer. Maybe you’ll discover your own special spot – and we’d love to hear about it 😉 

By: Jared Clarke, Collaborator and professional birder.

Jared Clarke grew up on the northeast coast of Newfoundland and was introduced to the outdoors at a very young age, mostly by his grandfathers. Always a nature enthusiast, he became interested in birds while working for a local conservation group. Jared soon became one of the most avid birders in the province. Despite his “official” training as a health researcher (Ph.D. Medicine), his love of nature and sharing it with others increasingly led him astray. He currently runs a bird and nature tour business, called Bird•The•Rock, and routinely leads trips at home and abroad for various tour companies.  Jared lives in St. John’s with his wonderful wife and two beautiful daughters. You can follow his adventures at birdtherock.com or on his social channels @birdtherock.

Published: August 20, 2020