Three Places to Get Up Close To Wildlife in Ottawa (Winter Edition)

It's winter.  For some, this is the hardest time of year.  The days are short, the darkness feels endless and the shoveling can be constant (especially this year!).  And nature may seem like it's receded from view and curled up fast asleep, like you'd like to do!  For the entire season.  Right?

But hibernation is not an option, sadly for us, so for many winter is to be "endured" with a capital "E".  The chilling weather and the stillness and starkness of the land may seem endless but there ARE some creatures that can be found even in this harsh season.  And the animation of movement and colour and possibly even some up close connection can make the days seem just a little bit less grey!

** Please visit the bottom of this blog post to find recommendations for wildlife sightings in other seasons.

Here are three options during the winter in Ottawa to see wildlife:

1. Visit some Friendly Chickadees (and possibly nuthatches and more!).

You knew this one was top of the list, right?  Ottawa has some very friendly chickadees and an excursion out to visit them can be a mood booster for these cold winter days.  There are some popular sites where people have identified spots to feed chickadees but I'm finding even at other sites, these birds are very comfortable around city dwellers and are not shy about checking us out.  Bring a bit of bird seed (small black oil sunflower seeds are a favourite) and check out some of these spots:

- Mer Bleue (Ridge Road) has feeding stations near the parking lot and closer to the boardwalk.
- Sarsparilla Trail (Old Richmond Road near Hunt Club) is a short 1 km accessible trail to boardwalk overlooking a beaver pond in Stony Swamp.
- Mud Lake (Cassels Street) in the Britannia Conservation Area.  There are bird feeders here just off on the west side of the lake.
- I have also heard that Hogsback Falls has friendly chickadees - this should be a great spot as it's flanked on both sides by urban wood lots.

I've also found that along many trails or small urban wood lots, you can find bird feeders and friendly birds.  Pick an area that doesn't have alot of dog walkers though as this kind of activity might keep birds away.  See what you can find on on your next walk, snowshoe or urban ski!

-- You may even have a visit from a curious nuthatch (Sittidae)! --

-- Wild Bird Care Centre (spot the wild turkeys feeding at the front!) --

2. Drop by the Wild Bird Care Centre (734 Moodie Drive)

The Wild Bird Care Centre takes care of raptors, sea birds, passerines and others, many who have missed their migration windows and have to be overwintered.  Just last month, in December the flock they were caring for included a Least Bittern, Horned Lark and a Common Nighthawk, among many others.  The Centre, which is located in the Greenbelt off Beaver Trail, puts out bird feeders, so you will find overwintering birds around and you may even spot some wild turkeys (as they come around to treat themselves to the seed that falls from the bird feeders).

As of April 1, 2018 the Centre has closed the Rehabilitation Rooms to visitors (to allow a more quiet & peaceful environment for healing birds). However, "visitors will still be welcome to tour the educational exhibits in the Grace and Gordon Casselman Resource Room accessed at the back of (their) building." And they will still be offering some guided tours during special events such as Doors Open.  If you do visit, definitely consider offering a donation - this is a great organization to support!

3. Say Hi to some chatty Red Squirrels

Spotting red squirrels (also known as pine squirrels in some regions) is one of my favourite things in the winter.  Perhaps it doesn't feel particularly special, as squirrels can be quite common, but the antics and acrobats and fiestyness of this smaller species animates winter like no other.  They are very vocal and quite territorial, chasing off squirrels twice their size.  Your best bet is to find wood lots or green spaces with a high number of conifer trees (especially pine!) but they can also be found in mixed woods as these furry ones are very adaptable and opportunistic.  Get to know the chatter of the red squirrel and soon enough you'll be surprised with all the locations that you can find these neighbourly creatures.  Some possible locations: along the parkways, behind Parliament Hill, in Hampton Park (off Island Park Drive) and the Arboretum.  (This map shows where the pine trees are in the Dominion Arboretum.)

And yes, it's for the most part, squirrels that you will be spotting during winter and NOT chipmunks.  Chipmunks don't venture out of their burrows in the winter.  While they don't sleep through the full winter in hibernation, they rouse only to eat from their food stores underground and then go right back to snoozing.

-- You won't see these guys (fat cheeked chipmunks) during the winter! --


Other Winter Wildlife

What other winter wildlife have you seen?  Are there some favourite spots that you go to for outdoor excursions?  In terms of more common local wildlife, we've been lucky enough to spot a hare and a mink on different past excursions, even with their winter coats (catching the movement out of the corner of your eye) and our first sighting this year was of an owl along Green's Creek.  So brilliant!!  And there are of course many other birds found around the city that overwinter or visit during the colder months such as House Sparrows, Starlings, Crows, Woodpeckers, Waxwings and other lovely avian wildlife.  This also includes owls such as the Great Greys and Snowy Owls, which make a stir in both local naturalist circles and also the general public.

I've heard of some popular spots for deer, but keep in mind that feeding deer in winter can have its controversies.  Spotting other mammals doesn't happen very frequently but in winter it can be interesting to find evidence such as tracks and other evidence and possibly get some insight into the animal's intention and focus.

Please share what your favourite urban winter sighting has been!

Photo Credits (2, 3, 4 & 5): Viliam Glazduri (InstagramFlickr500 pxContributor to Wild. Here.


Get Ready for Much More Activity.... in April!

Yes, I said it.  April... I know, I know... we should focus on the here and now.  My apologies.  Let's just get through winter right?  But it's not as far off as you think!  And I wanted to highlight it now, just so that you'd be ready for this special month.  As winter mellows out and thaws and spring finally returns, there are a lot of animals on the move:

migrant owls and raptors are moving north through the area and can be spotted (if you are very lucky) in woodstands and green spaces.  Migrations for these birds can start earlier in the winter but peak around March/April.

- you can find amphibians moving to ponds and larger vernal pools as they migrate at night after the first mild spring rain.

- many mammals are venturing out of lodges, dens and shelters and looking to mate.  Don't forget to do some of your urban wildlife explorations around sunset - dusk!

And if you are on the outskirts of the city, be on the look out for raven nesting sites.  They breed in late winter and raven fledglings leave the nest in mid to late April.  (I was fascinated to hear about this when we were out for a class trip in a pine plantation in February and our teacher was telling us that the ravens were building (or returning to) their nests to mate at that time.  Brrrrr!!  Seems like the Common Raven (Corvus Corax) are a very hardy breed of Canadian wildlife!)

Stay tuned this spring as I have a list of six other opportunities to get up close to wildlife in the warmer months.

For now, Happy Winter Urban Exploring!

Getting Up Close To Wildlife Series 2017:

PART TWO - Places to Get Up Close To Wildlife in Ottawa (Spring/Summer edition)

PART THREE - More Places to Get Up Close to Wildlife in Ottawa (Summer/Fall edition)


  1. I had a super comment that I received via email and I wanted to share it here along with my response:

    "So appreciative you have taken the time to put a site like this together.

    Last spring I went to see the Spring Peepers in Shaw Woods...just wondering if there is a place closer to Ottawa...



    1. David,

      Thank you for the kind words!

      Aren't Spring Peepers the best? You can definitely hear them but finding them is another story!

      Much of the joy I find is in the search (and then you find so many things - even if it's not what you were looking for in the first place!)

      Here is a great blog post from Gillian that includes details on Spring Peepers to help:

      The habits and habitat are some of the clues that I use to determine where to search.

      Good luck with your nature adventures and do share in the comments on the blog - love hearing about other people's urban nature outings!

      - Katherine

    2. And here are some other details from Nature Watch:

      "They reach their highest density in brushy second growth or cutover woodlands. They apparently cannot withstand extensive urbanization... Although widespread and abundant, and though their call is familiar to many, it takes great patience and persistence to actually find a Spring Peeper."