The following birding information has been prepared by Professor Renee Will, who has been to Churchill, Manitoba six times since 1988. Renee is a member of the Department of Nursing and Health Studies at Brandon University.
Tips for Birders
- Churchill's birds are very accessible and approachable. This makes them highly vulnerable to disturbance by over-enthusiastic birders. In cold, damp weather, eggs and/or nestlings will be lost in less than a minute if the parents are unable to return to the nest. Please respect the birds, their habitat and the ABA Birders' Code of Ethics.
- A valuable resource is A Birder's Guide to Churchill by Bonnie Chartier. The second edition, published in 1994 by the American Birding Association, Inc., is available through ABA Sales.
- The best time to see birds is the second week of June through the second week of July. Earlier in the season is best for migrants en route to more northerly nesting grounds. Late June and early July is the best time for nesting species although by mid to late July, many nesting species tend to be elusive and difficult to see.
- In a four to seven day trip, most birders can expect to see approximately 100 species without too much difficulty.
- There is an RBA (Rare Bird Alert) board at Akudlik which is updated daily throughout the season. Check it frequently and be sure to add your own finds.
- Check jaegers at the mouth of the river very carefully. Long-tailed shows up almost annually, and Pomarine has been recently seen. Check gulls equally carefully. Thayer's, Iceland and Glaucous are good possibilities. Sabine's occurs early in June and has not been seen in six personal visits the first week of July. Little Gulls have been seen at a variety of sites including the river, Goose Creek Road, and Landing Lake. Ross's may feed with Bonaparte's, and in 1995 two Black-legged Kittiwakes were a tremendous bonus. Check the far side of the river for Black Guillemot.
- Bring layers of clothing for weather that may be +27 degrees Celsius one day,and wet and +1 degree the next! Don't forget warm, preferably waterproof boots, long underwear and rain gear. Regardless of how heavy your suitcase is, bring your spotting scope--the mouth of the river cannot be fully appreciated without a scope. Also, bring insect protection--a good quality bug jacket is recommended or full-strength DEET repellent. Some people have had success with citronella-based products. Northern blackflies live up to their reputation, and in warm weather, bulldogs (like giant horse flies) can leave a nasty bite.
- Be prepared for the insects and high cost. Churchill is not accessible by road, so everything is brought in by train or air, hence the high costs. Insects are numerous and on warm days with little wind, they can be a real nuisance. Just remember--the birds are worth every penny and every bite!
Notable birds that can be seen in the Churchill area include:
Ross's Gull is the most sought after of the approximately 175 species which can be found in and around Churchill. It was first discovered in 1978, and returned in 1980, when a nesting pair was found. It has been seen every year since, though in some years it is definitely harder to find than others. Be sure to check: the Granary Ponds; the ponds at Akudlik; the lakes surrounding Akudlik, Isabelle, Loon and Rosabella; and the river below the dock. You may have to check each spot several times in order to find Churchill's jewel.
Northern Hawk Owl
The Hawk Owl is a rare Churchill nester, occurring three times since 1988. Twin Lakes is a possible site. Churchill authorities report that this species, more than others, is subject to too much stress from bird-photographers.
Smith's Longspur is a common summer resident of the tundra, easily identified by its melodious song. Try to familiarize yourself with its song in advance and seeing it will be that much easier. Check both sides of The Highway, from Churchill to Akudlik, and all along Launch Road, on the way to CNSC.
A retiring bird, the Spruce Grouse is not easily found, but when it is, it generally gives everyone in the party the view of a lifetime. Check extensive stands of spruce, along Goose Creek Road, at Twin Lakes, or along Cook Street, off Twin Lakes Road.
A rare resident, seen only once in six personal trips to Churchill, the Three-toed is most likely to be seen in the Twin Lakes area, in burn tracts.
Be prepared to be up late or early, and to work hard to see the Yellow Rail. However, if it is present its distinctive ticking call is unmistakeable along Goose Creek Road, or at the Akudlik ponds. It is worth checking any areas of wet tundra or grassy marsh.
Harris's Sparrow is frequently heard and infrequently seen. Check open stands of spruce along Goose Creek Road or Landing Lake Road, and listen for its beautiful song. This is another species for which familiarity with the song is definitely an asset.
Other birds which are reasonably easy to see are listed below:
The months indicate the hard to miss time period
Loons and Grebes
- Pacific Loon: [June- July]
- Horned Grebe: [July]
- Snow Goose: [May - September]
- Canada Goose: [May - September]
- Greater Scaup: [June - August]
- Common Goldeneye: [June - July]
- Oldsquaw: [June - August]
- Common Eider: [May - September]
- Black Scoter: [June - August]
- Surf Scoter: [June - August]
- Red-breasted Merganser: [June - August]
- Northern Pintail: [June - September]
- American Widgeon: [May - August]
- Northern Shoveler: [May - September]
- Green-Winged Teal: [June - September]
- Northern Harrier: [June - August]
- Merlin: [June - September]
- Willow Ptarmigan: [June - October]
- Lesser Golden-Plover: [June - September]
- Semipalmated Plover: [June-September]
- Lesser Yellowlegs: [June - August]
- Whimbrel: [June - September] Hudsonian Godwit: [June - August] Least Sandpiper: [June - August]
- Stilt Sandpiper: [June - August]
- Short-billed Dowitcher: [June - September]
- Common Snipe: [June - September]
- Red-necked Phalarope: [June - September]
- Parasitic Jaeger: [June - September]
- Bonaparte's Gull: [June - August]
- Ring-billed Gull: [June - August]
- Herring Gull: [June - September]
- Arctic Tern: [June - August]
Larks and Swallows
- Horned Lark: [May - September]
- Tree Swallow:[May - July]
Jays, Crows and Ravens
- Gray Jay: [All year]
- Common Raven [All year]
- American Robin: [June - September]
- American Pipit: [June - September]
- Orange-crowned Warbler: [June - July]
- Yellow Warbler: [June - September]
- Yellow-rumped Warbler: [June - September]
- Blackpoll Warbler: [June - July and September]
- Northern Waterthrush: [June - August]
- American Tree Sparrow: [June - September]
- Savannah Sparrow: [June - September]
- White-crowned Sparrow: [June - September]
- Dark-eyed Junco: [June - August]
- Snow Bunting: [June and September - October]
- House Sparrow: [All year]
- Rusty Blackbird: [June - September]