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Winter in Toronto

Winter Trees and Shrubs

Winter in Toronto

Animal Houses

Winter in Toronto

Winter Wildflowers

Winter in Toronto

Birds

Winter in Toronto

Fruits

Winter in Toronto

American Beech

In larger natural areas in the city, especially mature forests in the ravines, the smooth, silvery bark of mature specimens of American Beech is very obvious in winter. Smaller understorey specimens often retain leaves which dry to a caramel brown and are distinctive in winter.

Description: Deciduous tree with simple leaves that alternate on twigs and branches. Leaf is an elongated oval shape with distinctive straight veins terminating in a marginal tooth. Leathery to the touch. Smooth light grey bark. Fruit are nuts which are eaten by birds and mammals.

Habitat: Undisturbed forest, usually with sugar maple.

Height: 35 m

Leaf length: 5-10 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Fagus grandifolia

Winter in Toronto

White Ash

White Ash trees in the city have been severely affected by a recent invader,the Emerald Ash Borer. Larvae feed just under the bark and eventually kill the tree. The bark of an infested tree shows the tell-tale signs of tunnelling. City Forestry has tried to mitigate the impact of the borer by felling Ash in parks and ravines.

Description: Leaf composed of an odd-number of leaflets (5-11) which are arranged opposite each other along the midrib except for the last one. Each leaflet is oval, on a long stalk (2 cm) and the margins lack serrations. Leaf length: 15-30 cm. Leaflets 7 - 12 cm. Male and female flowers are on separate trees. Ash fruit persist into winter.

Habitat: Undisturbed forest, usually with sugar maple.

Height: 20 m

Leaf length: 15-30 cm

Flowering: May

Fruits: June

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Fraxinus americana

Winter in Toronto

Sugar Maple

Our splendid native Sugar Maple is largely confined to ravines and intact woodlands in the City, but is now being used in street plantings rather than the Norway Maple. Old specimens develop distinctive deeply-furrowed bark which curls into thick “licks”.

Description: Deciduous tree with a straight trunk and a round-topped crown. Bark is dark grey and in older pecimens it forms deep furrows. The leaf has 3 prominent lobes and two smaller lobes at the base. The notch at the bottom of each lobe is rounded. Flowers are inconspicuous and open at the sane time as the leaves. The wings of the key (fruit) are shorter than the stalk, droop down in a U, and are almost parallel

Habitat: Prominent in remnant woodlots, and major ravines.

Height: 40 m

Leaf width: 10-15 cm

Flowering: May

Fruits: June

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Acer saccharum

Winter in Toronto

Silver Maple

Silver maples are a common street tree in Toronto. On older trees, the “stringy” bark is another distinctive field mark for this maple. Silver maples often have cavities which provide winter dens sites for squirrels and racoons. Mature trees are prone to branch breakage in winter storms.

Silver maples are a common street tree in Toronto. Their distinctive red flower buds open early, well before the other maples. The leaf is elongated and quite delicate with deep-cut lobes. On the underside, the leaf colour is almost white. On older trees, the “stringy” bark is another distinctive field mark for this maple. The seeds, or keys, produced in spring, are favourite source of food for squirrels.

Description: Deciduous tree which has an erect, narrow form. Bark is stringy in larger specimens giving it a shaggy look. Leaf is elongated (much longer than wide) with deep lobes (5) and the notches are rounded and U-shaped. Pointy tips to lobes and prominent teeth. Delicate looking leaf quickly becomes dry and curled after dropping. Leaf underside is white. Key is quite large (5 cm) with a thick swollen seed. The wings are joined at an angle of about 90 degrees.

Habitat: Prefer damp situations, such as river edge, but tolerate the dry, urban conditions.

Height: 40 m

Leaf length: 7-12 cm

Flowering: March - April

Fruits: May - June

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Acer saccharinum

Winter in Toronto

White Oak

The White Oak is a stately tree and one of the giants of pre-settlement broadleaf forest in Toronto, reaching heights of up to 30 metres. In winter it can be told from the similar Red Oak by its distinctive bark. White Oak bark appears flakey, and has a reddish tinge. Leaves often persist through winter on the ground, and they are dstinguished from other oaks here by their rounded lobes. The acorns too can be found under larger trees and are sought after by squirrels.

White oak was one of the giants of pre-settlement broadleaf forest in Toronto, reaching heights of up to 30 metres. Distinguished from other oaks here by its leaves which have rounded lobes and are smooth underneath. The acorns are sought after by squirrels.

Description: Large, deciduous tree with pale grey bark which has a scaly appearance. The crown is rounded and branches appear gnarled and misshapen. Leaf has 5 to 9 lobes which are rounded (not pointed). Both male and female flowers occur on the same tree (monoecious). The male flowers (pollen-producing) are yellow and open a little before female flowers in early May. The acorn is quite small (2 cm) and elongated, and the cap of woody scales covers less than one-quarter of the acorn. The acorn develops over summer and ripens in the Fall.

Habitat: Prefers deep, moist soils in mixed deciduous forests.

Height: 30 m

Leaf length: 12 cm

Flowering: May

Fruits: August

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Quercus alba

Winter in Toronto

Red Oak

In winter, you get to appreciate the large, spreading canopy of the Red Oak. Sometimes, a few of the pointy-lobed leaves cling to branches, helping to differentiate the tree from the White Oak. The dark, ridged bark of Red Oak is also quite different from the scaley patterns of White Oak.

Red Oaks are among the last of the native trees to leaf out in spring. They are host to a myriad of insects, including caterpillars of butterflies and moths which feed on foliage, wasps which form leaf and stem galls, and beetles which bore into the acorns and tunnel into wood.

Description: Large deciduous trees with grey bark which is patterned into long vertical ridges. Leaf usually has has 7 or 9 lobes which are pointed, helping to distinguish it from the White Oak which has rounded, blunt lobes. Male and female flowers are separate, but on the same tree (monoecious). The fruit is an acorn which is quite large and squat (3 cm long) with a shallow cap that covers about one-third of the acorn. It develops on the tree for two years and ripens in the Fall.

Habitat: Grows on a variety of soils. Used as an ornamental shade tree. Red Oak is more salt and drought tolerant than White Oak and so has been planted in streetscapes.

Height: 25 m

Leaf length: 15 cm

Flowering: May

Fruits: October

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Quercus rubra

Winter in Toronto

White Spruce

A classic winter scene is the spruce with branches drooping from wet snow. Every two to six years, spruce produce a big crop of cones. Cone seeds are an important food for Red Squirrels and, in the boreal forest, finches.

pending

Description: White spruce are medium-sized conifers. Needles are stiff and diamond shaped in cross-section, wrapping the twigs like a bottlebrush. The cones are small and elongate, drying to a rounder shape. Can be confused with the taller Norway Spruce, introduced from Europe and used in city plantings a lot. Norway spruce cones are very long and pendulous. The spruces and firs can be hard to distinguish, but there are a few contrasts. Spruce have four-sided needles (fir needles are flat) that are stiff and pointed (flexible with distinct midrib in firs). Spruce seed cones hang from the tips of small branches (fir cones hang from anywhere along branches). The bark of spruce is scaley (firs have smooth bark with prominent resin blisters).

Habitat: Commonly planted. Tolerant of wide range of soils.

Height: 25 m

3-6 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Picea glauca

Winter in Toronto

Norway Spruce

This conifer is planted as an ornamental tree or as a windbreak in rural and urban environments. Due to its symmetrical shape when young it is also commonly used as a Christmas tree. The long cylindrical cones hang down from the tip of a branch; they are green when young and become light brown with age.

Description: Cones are large and long, quite distinctive. Bark is scaley.

Habitat:

Height: 40 m

10-18 cm

Origin: Introduced

Scientific name: Picea abies

Winter in Toronto

Eastern White Cedar

This evergreen tree has yellowish-green leaves, compressed and scale-like. Cedars grow best in wet areas such as the edge of forested wetlands (swamps). They are a popular hedging tree.

Description: This evergreen tree has yellowish-green leaves, compressed and scale-like. Bark looks stringy.

Height: 15 m

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Thuja occidentalis

Winter in Toronto

Staghorn Sumac

The dried fruit are retained on the deciduous shrub all winter.

Description: The twigs and young branches are covered with soft hairs which resemble the velvet stage of deer antlers. The fern-like leaves turn bright reds and oranges in the fall. Often form large groves, as they spread readily by suckers (rhizomes). Broken twigs or leaves exude a milky sap.

Habitat:

Height: 7 m

Flowering: June

Scientific name: Rhus typhina

Winter in Toronto

Common Reed

The introduced Common Reed colonizes wetlands and spreads rapidly, forming dense monocultures that exclude native plants and associated wildlife. It grows very tall and has large, attractive feathery-looking inflorescences borne at the tops of yellowish or tan-coloured stems. It is very similar in appearance to the native red-stemmed Common Reed (P. a. americanus) that grows as scattered plants in wetlands supporting diverse species. Both of these grasses occur along Great Lakes shorelines.

Description: Pending

Habitat: Marshes, swales. Widespread in disturbed wet or moist sites such as ditches, but can take over a wetland with surprising rapidity.

Height: Up to 4m

Flowering: July - September

Origin: Introduced

Scientific name: Phragmites australis

Winter in Toronto

Red-osier Dogwood

Bright red twigs stand out in winter.

The flat-topped flower clusters are a magnet for insect pollinators. Berries are eaten by songbirds in the fall. Twigs are flexible, and are used in basket weaving and floral arrangements.

Description: Dense, deciduous shrub. White flowers arranged in clusters at the end of stems. Leaves arranged in opposite pairs along the twig. Prominent veins curve and run towards the tip. Fruits are white berries. Young branches are deep red and are flecked with white.

Habitat: Prefers moist soils, especially the edges of swamps. Invades old fields.

Height: 2 m

Flowering: May - June

Fruits: July - August

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Cornus stolonifera

Winter in Toronto

Goldenrod Gall Fly

Green spherical gall on the stem of Canada Goldenrod induced by the feeding of the larva of the Goldenrod Gall Fly.

By winter, the spherical gall has dried to a grey or brown, and it is tough, almost wood-like. Inside the Goldenrod Gall fly larva is hibernating. It will pupate in early spring and emerge as an adult. Downy woodpeckers are known to peck open the galls to extract the larva. Woodpeckers leave a distinctive chiselled-out hole, which is different from the clean, small exit hole that the adult leaves through in early spring. Eastern Grey squirrels have also been reported to prey on the winter galls.

Description: Adult Goldenrod Gall Fly is light brown with spotted wings. The larva is white.

Habitat: Canada Goldenrod.

Length: 5 mm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Eurosta solidaginis

Winter in Toronto

Goldenrod Bunch Gall Midge

The gall is a rosette of leaves at the tip of the Goldenrod stem. It forms in response to a larva of the Bunch Gall Fly feeding on the shoot tip. Stem growth stops, but leaves continue to form in a rosette.

Description: Adult.pending Larva. White.

Habitat:

Length: 4 mm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Rhopalomyia solidaginis

Winter in Toronto

Pine-cone Willow Gall Midge

In winter the distinctive pinecone-shaped galls at the ends of willow twigs house the pupal stage of a tiny midge which will emerge as a winged adult in spring. Females lay eggs at the tips of growing willow stems (apical buds) and the larvae burrow into the bud to feed. Stem elongation stops, but the feeding induces leaf proliferation and the cone-like structure forms. The gall protects the developing larva and then provides an overwintering site.

Description: The gall consists of overlapping leaves at the end of a twig. In summer it is green and can have a whitish bloom due to leaf hairs. The gall dries to brown in fall and looks like a pinecone, hence the common name. The adult midge which emerges from the gall in spring is tiny.

Habitat:

Length: 4 mm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Rhabdophaga strobiloides

Winter in Toronto

Goldenrod Elliptical-gall Moth

The caterpillar makes the spindle-shaped gall in the stem of Canada Goldenrod. The adult moth emerges in late summer and females lay eggs at the base of the goldenrod plant. The eggs overwinter, and the following spring the larvae move to the growing tips of the new plants where they burrow in to the stem Their feeding stimulates the plant to create the gall.

Description: The gall is spindle-shaped and usually situated about mid way down the plant stem. Look for the exit hole near the top of the gall. The adult moth is a nondescript brownish colour.

Habitat:

Length: 10 mm

Scientific name: Gnorimoschema gallaesolidaginis

Winter in Toronto

Bald-faced Hornet

Bald-faced Hornets usually build their nests out at the end of branches in deciduous trees, and so by winter the abandoned nests are conspicuous in the landscape. pending

Solid, fat-bodied wasp which builds its paper nest in trees and shrubs. Nest shape varies, but is normally a grey baseball-sized globe that has branches intertwined for support.

Description: Nest shape varies, but is normally a grey baseball-sized globe that has branches intertwined for support.

Description: Solid, fat-bodied wasp which is black and white. Builds nest in trees and shrubs - nest shape varies and can be irregular but usually has branches intertwined for support.

Habitat: Fields, gardens.

Length: 20 mm

Adults: June - October

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Vespula maculata

Winter in Toronto

Common Teasel

The distinctive egg-shaped flower of Teasel persists through winter as dried seedheads. The seeds are eaten by American Goldfinch. Dried flower heads are popular with florists in flower arrangements, and historically were used to card (comb) raw wool, and "tease" or raise the woven surface.

Large spiny bracts curve upwards around egg-shaped flower heads which are densely populated with tiny lavender flowers and hidden spines. Spines remain after flowers die back. Pollinated mostly by bumblebees; flowers also visited by other bees and Pipe Vine Swallowtail. Seeds eaten by American Goldfinch. Dried flower heads used historically to card (comb) raw wool, and "tease" or raise the woven surface.

Description: The distinctive flowerhead looks like a spiny egg and the long spiny bracts which encircle it remain on the plant through winter.

Description: The distinctive flowerhead looks like a spiny egg and is packed with light pink flowers. The long spiny bracts remain on the plant through winter.

Habitat: Roadsides, old fields. Widespread in low, moist areas and disturbed areas.

Height: 50 - 180 cm

Flowering: August - October

Origin: Introduced

Scientific name: Dipsacus fullonum

Winter in Toronto

Common Mullein

The tall dried flowerhead towers over other wildflowers in winter. The spike consists of dozens of small flowers which contain tiny seeds. An alternate name, “candlewick”, speaks to the historic use by Roman soldiers who burned the dried stalks (dipped in fat) as torches.

A striking plant with tall spikes of yellow flowers and large woolly leaves. Reported to be successfully cross-pollinated only by bees. Flowers open for pollination for one day, and, if cross-pollination does not occur, the plant pollinates itself. Individual plants can produce up to 200,000 tiny seeds, depending on conditions. Seeds can remain viable for many decades.

Description: Big plant. Leaves huge and tough with furry surface. Small yellow flowers arranged up a thick, tapering stalk. Biennial. In first year grows as a basal rosette, then in second year flowers.

Habitat: Dry, sunny sites, especially gardens, roadsides. Widespread in disturbed areas.

Height: 30 - 200 cm

Flowering: July - September

Origin: Introduced

Scientific name: Verbascum thapsis

Winter in Toronto

Queen Anne's Lace

In winter, the familiar white flat-topped umbel of summer dries into a seedhead with a basket-like arrangement. The feathery leaves at the base die back, leaving just the flowerstalk and seedhead. Seeds are eaten by wildlife.

One of the most abundant flowers of disturbed sites. The delicate flower heads consist of many tiny white flowers clustered in a flat-topped “umbel.” The central flower is often purple. Umbels are characteristic of plants in the carrot-parsley family, to which this species belongs. Seeds are eaten by wildlife. Several plants that closely resemble this one have poisonous alkaloids and are very dangerous to eat.

Description: As flowers age and become dry seedheads, the umbel becomes curled-up at the edges, and is said to resemble a bird's nest.

Description: Tall, robust plant with feathery leaves, characteristic of the Carrot Family. Flower is a cluster (umbel) of small white flowers delicately arranged in a flat-topped arrangement. As flowers age and become dry seedheads, the umbel becomes curled-up at the edges, and is said to resemble a bird's nest.

Habitat: Dry meadows, roadsides, abandoned, disturbed land.

Height: 30 - 100 cm

Flowering: July - September

Origin: Introduced

Scientific name: Daucus carota

Winter in Toronto

Bull Thistle

A robust, tall thistle with very thorny leaves and stem. The large, usually single flowerheads are loved by American Goldfinches looking for seeds in late summer.

Description: Stem has formidable spines. Leaves are long and hairy and end in a long spine. Purple flowerheads sit on spiny bracts.

Habitat: Sunny sites in fields, roadsides.

Height: 150 cm

Flowering: July - August

Origin: Introduced

Scientific name: Cirsium vulgare

Winter in Toronto

Common Milkweed

By winter, the seedpod halves have dried grey and hard and resemble clam shells. Some still have fluffy seeds clinging to them. The plant stalk provides an overwintering site for larval stage of the Milkweed beetle.

Small, strongly-scented pink or purplish flowers with a complex structure are borne in rounded clusters. Large oblong leaves have fine down beneath. Thick milky juice with toxic properties flows from cuts in leaves and stems. Monarch butterfly larvae eat leaves but are immune to the toxins which make the larvae unpalatable to predators. Honeybees are the main pollinators, although other insects visit the flowers. Warty green pods contain brown seeds with silky "parachutes".

Description: The dried seedpods remain attached to the plant stalk through winter. Pods split open to expose hundreds of small brown seeds which have fluffy silky hairs at one end.

Description: Broken stem and stalks exude sticky, milky sap. are pink, borne in clusters and are fragrant, particularly in the evening. are large and olive green but they get wrinkled and grey as they age. Open a ripe seedpod and hundreds of seeds blow out and float away. Seeds are light brown and have fluffy silky hairs at one end.

Habitat: Open, sunny sites, particularly disturbed land, roadsides, old fields.

Height: 150 cm

Flowering: July - August

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Asclepias syriaca

Winter in Toronto

Chicory

The zig-zag stem is studded with the small dried remains of the flowers.

Chicory's beautiful blue flowers close by early afternoon. This plant is cultivated for its tap root which is roasted and ground for use as a coffee substitute, and as a flavour enhancer for some beers. Very young basal leaves are eaten raw in salads. Members of the chicory family are known for their milky and often bitter juices.

Description: Erect plant, sparsely leaved. The stem is zig-zaggy, giving the plant a gangly, somewhat straggly appearance. The basal leaves resemble those of Dandelion. A biennial, the second-year plant produces light blue flowers which have serrated ends to the petals.

Habitat: Open, sunny habitats, especially dry meadow, roadsides, waste areas.

Height: 30 - 100 cm

Flowering: June - October

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Cichorium intybus

Winter in Toronto

Canada Goldenrod

Small yellow flowers are clustered along arching branches in a showy late summer display. Must be cross-pollinated by insects to produce its seed-like "achenes" which are wind dispersed. Pollinators include honeybees, bumblebees, soldier beetles, and hoverflies. Forms large colonies from rhizomes. An important food source for many birds and mammals. Round swellings on stems indicate parasitism by Gall Flies (Eurosta solidaginis).

Description: Perennial plant. Bright yellow mass of flowers actually many small flowerheads, each of which in turn is composed of disk and ray flowers. The plumes tend to droop in an arch. Flowers in late-summer.

Habitat: Widespread in disturbed areas, roadsides and meadows.

Height: 30 - 150 cm

Flowering: August - November

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Solidago canadensis

Winter in Toronto

Bird's-foot Trefoil

Clusters of intense yellow flowers brighten up roadsides and other open habitats in summer. Narrow spreading seed pods resembling the toes of a bird give it the name "Bird's-foot trefoil". Leaves have five leaflets. Introduced to North America as a honey plant, and as forage for livestock. Largely self-incompatible, and requires bumblebees and honeybees for pollination.

Description: Perennial wildflower which grows in clumps and can form dense mats. Distinctive leaves warrant closer examination to see the three clover-like leaflets and two more separate at the base.Bright yellow flowers have the swollen petals typical of the Pea family. Fruit is a pod which resembles a bird's foot.

Habitat: Open, sunny habitats, especially roadsides, abandoned fields.

Height: 60 cm

Flowering: June - August

Origin: Introduced

Scientific name: Lotus corniculatus

Winter in Toronto

Common Burdock

pending

Flowerheads are prickly and thistle-like. Light pink, small flowers. Leaves are dark green and large. Introduced from Europe.

Description: Pending

Habitat: Open, sunny habitats especially roadsides, abandoned land.

Height: 100 cm

Flowering: July

Origin: Introduced

Scientific name: Arctium minus

Winter in Toronto

Common Cattail

The "cat tail" of this unusual wetland plant is a flower head consisting of a spike of tiny light coloured male flowers above a fatter compact cylindrical spike of equally tiny female flowers--greenish at first, but turning brown after pollination. The male part falls off. Grows in dense stands. Cattail marshes are favourite nesting sites for red winged blackbirds, and provide cover for many wildlife species. Rootstocks are eaten by muskrats and geese.

Habitat: Marsh edges and shallows. Prefers lime-rich mineral soils. Widespread in marshes, roadside ditches, along shorelines, and in various moist areas.

Height: 200 cm

Flowering: July

Origin: Introduced

Scientific name: Typha latifolia

Winter in Toronto

Evening Primrose

Long, narrow seedpods split open at the top. Birds, such as Chickadees, will visit fruits looking for seeds.

Description: Spike covered in fruit capsules which curl back at the opening. Seeds are tiny and likely wind-dispersed. A biennial plant, the seedhead represents the second and final year of the plant. In the first year, it grows as a flat rosette of leaves and puts down a tap root for the winter. In summer of the second year, it produces bright yellow flowers.

Habitat: Meadows, roadsides.

Height: 50 cm

Flowering: June - September

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Oenothera biennis

Winter in Toronto

Curly Dock

The dried flower stalk and fruits are a conspicuous red-brown colour in winter. There are many species of docks worldwide, and they have colonized a wide variey of dsturbed habitats.

Description: Perennial with a tap root. Produces a tall flower stalk in summer. Leaves are long with a wavy margin, and are produced from the base of the plant. Flowers are tiny and pinkish or greenish. Flowers have no smell and are wind pollinated. Each flower produces one seed. Seeds are quite large and embedded in a membranous heart-shaped wing which helps wind and water dispersal.

Habitat: Meadows, roadsides, shorelines.

Height: 1 m

Flowering: June - September

Origin: Introduced

Scientific name: Rumex crispus

Winter in Toronto

Canada Goose

The characteristic V-shaped flocks of these large, easily recognized and highly vocal birds are known to virtually all Canadians. Unlike Canada geese in far northern parts of their range, Toronto’s flocks are “non-migratory.” Some flocks remain close to the waterfront, while others “commute” from Lake Ontario, where they spend the night, to foraging areas in urban parks and other grassy areas, or farm fields on the outskirts of the City.

Description: Males and females look alike, but males are about 10% larger, on average. This is a large, distinctive, plump brownish bird with a long black neck, and a black head with a white chin and cheeks. The call is a loud, pleasant honk. The chicks (goslings) hatch with a covering of natal down feathers that are striped gold and black and which helps camouflage them in the grassy margins of ponds and wetlands. The juveniles are grey and white, not the white and black of the adults.

Habitat: Lakes, ponds and coastal marshes. In our area they are often seen grazing on grass in parks, and along the edges of ponds and other moist places.

Length: 110 cm

Adults: January - December

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Branta canadensis

Winter in Toronto

Mute Swan

The Mute Swan is a large graceful white bird that was introduced to North America in the late 1800’s for ornamental purposes in parks and gardens. Birds escaped from captivity and their progeny spread up the northeastern seaboard of the United States. The first report of feral Mute Swans breeding in Ontario dates from 1958. By about the mid-1970’s, it was well established in Ontario, along the lower Great Lakes. Favourable habitat conditions have allowed its continued spread to inland lakes, marshes and rivers in southern Ontario. Its habit of “raking” the bottom while feeding has a negative effect on aquatic plants that are sources of food for some species of native waterfowl.

Description: The Mute Swan is a large, white, long-necked species of waterfowl. Adults are distinguished from other white swans by a black knob at the base of its orange bill, and by the sinuous curve of its neck. Males and females are difficult to distinguish except in breeding season when the knob of the male becomes enlarged. Juveniles are grey, moulting to white in late winter. Winter juveniles can also be identified by their pinkish beak. Chicks, called cygnets, may have greyish buff down, or they may be a dull white shade.

Habitat: Mute Swans inhabit a wide variety of aquatic habitats including lakes, ponds, marshes, rivers and estuaries.

Length: 150 cm

Wingspan: 240 cm

Weight: 10 kg

Origin: Introduced

Scientific name: Cygnus olor

Winter in Toronto

Trumpeter Swan

Aptly named for the loud bugling call that adults give. Until about thirty years ago, Trumpeter swans were rare in Ontario and not seen in Toronto. Concerted captive breeding has now restored small local populations and pairs have started to breed in the wild. Captive-raised swans can be identified by yellow uniquely-numbered tags that are inserted in the patagium skin of the wing. Both adults construct a large nest structure from reeds. The cygnets appear on the water by July. They hatch with a light grey downy, and then moult into a juvenile plumage. They can fly in six weeks.

Description: The largest of the three white swan species that can be found on Toronto's waterfront in winter. The distinctive black beak helps distinguish it from the Mute swan (which has an orange beak). The Tundra swan, an infrequent visitor to Toronto, has a yellow patch at the base of the beak, but this can only be seen close-up. Immature birds are light grey.

Habitat: Lakes, large ponds.

Length: 160 cm

Wingspan: 250 cm

Weight: 12 kg

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Cygnus buccinator

Winter in Toronto

Tundra Swan

Tundra swans are the most abundant and widespread of the three North American swans, but they are only seen in Toronto during migration, especially in March when some may stopover briefly on their way north. The swans breed in the high arctic, and eastern populations winter on the Atlantic coast.

Description: Smaller than Trumpeter swan, the other native swan, and Mute swan which is introduced. Close-up in the field, you can see a yellow patch at the base of the black beak which identifies it as Tundra swan.

Length: 90 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Cygnus columbianus

Winter in Toronto

Mallard

The Mallard is the most abundant and widespread duck in the world. This species belongs to the group of “dabbling ducks” that feed in shallows, either at the surface, or by tipping the anterior body underwater, leaving the tail end sticking up above the water. Mallards also feed on land and have adapted very well to urban environments. This species hybridizes with other dabblers, including Black Ducks and Pintails. Native to the north temperate zones of North America and Eurasia, it has been introduced to some southern hemisphere countries as a game bird. It is considered to be the ancestor of most domesticated ducks.

Description: Male in breeding plumage has a glossy green head, white collar and a dark brown front, with a bright yellow beak. Females are mottled brown and difficult to distinguish from females of some other dabbling duck species such as Gadwall and Black Duck. Both sexes have a blue wing patch (speculum) with white borders.

Habitat: Marshes, ponds and lakes, large rivers, urban parks.

Length: 40 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Anas platyrhynchos

Winter in Toronto

Gadwall

A dabbling duck which feeds by tipping up in shallow water and eating submerged aquatic plants. Known as a “marsh duck” because it is able to take off vertically from the water when disturbed. Arrive in Fall and linger as long as shallow ponds remain ice-free.

Description: From a distance, both males and females look similar, with mostly grey-brown plumage, and a grey beak. Only when you get up-close can you discern the subtle but elaborate markings of the male in breeding plumage. Females are primarily mottled brown, and this crypticity helps when they incubate their eggs in a ground nest. The white speculum of Gadwalls distinguishes them from mallard which has a blue speculum.

Habitat: Freshwater, especially marshes, ponds and lakes, large rivers, urban parks.

Length: 50 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Anas strepera

Winter in Toronto

American Black Duck

Black ducks are uncommon in Toronto now; numbers have declined thought due to competition with the more aggressive Mallard duck. Black ducks are dabbling ducks, feeding in shallow water by sieving food from the water column, and by upending to reach down to root out underwater plant tubers and grab arthropods in sediments.

Description: A dark brown duck with quite red legs and feet. Similar to Mallard, especially the female, but in addition to its much darker plumage, Black ducks have a blue-purple wing patch (speculum) that has little or no white edging.

Habitat: Freshwater, especially marshes, ponds and lakes, large rivers, urban parks.

Length: 50 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Anas rubripes

Winter in Toronto

Redhead

This medium-sized diving duck feeds mainly on submerged aquatic plants, but will take snails and invertebrates in the weeds. The beak is blue and it has a tough black tip, the “nail”, which provides protection for the beak and it also houses tactile sensory pores. Redheads winter in small numbers on the Great Lakes; most migrate from their prairie breeding grounds to the coast.

Description: Males and females look quite different; the brownish females are tricky to differentiate from females of Canvasback and Greater Scaup. Males of Canvasback also have a red head, but their head and beak shape are quite elongated whereas the Redhead has a rounded head shape.

Habitat: Lake Ontario in winter.

Length: 50 cm

Weight: 1,500 g

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Aythya americana

Winter in Toronto

Greater Scaup

Scaup are the most abundant diving duck in Toronto in winter; dense “rafts” of birds can be seen on Lake Ontario when the ice forces birds closer to shore. Wintering flocks of scaup on Lake Ontario are birds that have nested in Northern Quebec. The colonization of the Great Lakes by Zebra mussels has paradoxically benefited Scaup; birds dive to the mussel beds, pull off a mussel, and return to the surface before swallowing it whole. Their muscular gizzard will crush and grind the mollusc up.

Description: There are two species of Scaup, called Greater and Lesser Scaup, and they are so similar in appearance that only experts can distinguish them in the field. Males of both species have a black head and chest contrasting with white underparts. Females are uniformly brown, but the white face patch is diagnostic.

Length: 46 cm

Weight: 1,000 g

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Aythya marila

Winter in Toronto

Long-tailed Duck

A diving sea duck; birds have been recorded feeding for molluscs at depths of 60 metres. Large flocks of Long-tailed ducks winter on Lake Ontario and can be often be seen close to shore along the Toronto waterfront. By late winter, before they depart for their high arctic breeding grounds, males can be heard giving their loud, distinctive nasal courtship calls.

Description: The two streamer-like tail feathers of the male are distinctive. Both males and females sport dark patches on each side of the head which look like earmuffs. Females are a more subdued brown and white.

Habitat: Great Lakes in winter, such as Lake Ontario.

Length: 40 cm

Weight: 800 g

Scientific name: Clangula hyemalis

Winter in Toronto

Bufflehead

Small diving duck which breeds in the boreal forest, where it nests in tree cavities, often re-using the abandoned nestsites of woodpeckers. Pairs stay together in winter, and the pair bond can persist for several years. Feeds on amphipods and midge larvae which it dives for in shallow waters.

Description: The smallest diving duck. At a distance, the white head patch is prominent; males have a white head patch, females have a small white patch on the side of the head. In good light, the dark head feathers of the male can be seen to actually be iridescent blues and greens.

Habitat: In winter, near-shore Lake Ontario and adjacent ponds.

Length: 35 cm

Weight: 450 g

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Bucephala albeola

Winter in Toronto

Common Goldeneye

Compact, medium-sized diving ducks which fly rapidly, hence an alternative name of “whistlers” because their whirring wings make a whistling sound. Most of the eastern Canadian population migrates from boreal breeding grounds to Chesapeake Bay in winter, but some winter here as long as Lake Ontario near-shore remains ice-free.

Description: Males have an iridescent greenish-black head which looks dark at a distance, and an oval white patch at the base of the stout bill. Females have a chocolate brown head and a yellow eye; white flecking on the sides distinguishes them from male Redhead.

Length: 50 cm

Weight: 1,000 g

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Bucephala clangula

Winter in Toronto

Canvasback

The scientific name of this large diving duck is adapted from the name of one of its favourite aquatic food plants, Vallisneria americana (Wild Celery). The Canvasback’s primary range is in western North America. It has long been regarded as a very rare species in Ontario in all seasons. In the vicinity of Toronto there are occasional reports of Canvasbacks on Lake Ontario in winter, and, in the breeding season, there are sporadic reports of nesting in marshy areas bordering the Lake.

Description: From a distance, the deep chestnut tones of the male Canvasback’s head and neck appear uniformly dark along with the blackish breast and elegant ebony bill. These dark features contrast sharply with the male’s mostly white body in breeding plumage. The sloping facial profile, formed as the bill merges with the front of the head, is a key identification feature. The female’s head, neck and breast are paler than in the male, and her body is greyish. Canvasbacks are strong fliers and are reported to be able to fly at speeds of up to about 115 kilometres per hour.

Habitat: In our area, winter distribution is determined by the availability of areas of open water for foraging. In more southerly parts of the wintering range, in the Unites States and Mexico, and in some coastal areas, conditions that favour foraging are more reliable, and Canvasbacks may be observed congregating in rafts in areas of open water.

Length: 55 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Aythya valisineria

Winter in Toronto

Ruddy Duck

Ruddy Ducks belong to the family of “Stiff-tailed Ducks”, so named because they often hold their stiff tail feathers in an upright position. These small diving ducks are excellent underwater swimmers, although they move about awkwardly on land. The large head and broad bill, in combination with a short neck, squat body and longish tail give this duck a somewhat “out of proportion” appearance.

Description: In all plumages, males have a large white cheek patch, and black cap and back of head. From approximately late fall through late winter males are easily identified by their deep cinnamon body colour and large, slightly concave, blue bill. At other times of year the male’s bill is grey, and his body colour is greyish brown, resembling the female of the species.

Habitat: In our area, Ruddy Ducks are sometimes observed in winter on Lake Ontario and adjacent water bodies that have not frozen over. They require open water in which to forage for aquatic invertebrates. In some other areas of Ontario--the lower Ottawa River, for example--Ruddy Ducks have been observed in late fall in large mixed species rafts. In breeding season, the Ruddy Duck’s primary range is in western North America and Central America where it inhabits fresh water lakes and ponds with marshy shorelines.

Length: 38 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Oxyura jamaicensis

Winter in Toronto

Hooded Merganser

A fish eating diving duck hunting for fish and crayfish, usually in shallow water. Up close, the beak looks "saw-edged" with backward pointing serrations of the edges which are helpful in grasping struggling prey. Hooded Mergansers arrive on the waterfront in late Fall and stay as long as in-shore waters and adjacent ponds are ice-free.

Description: Smallest and least common of the three merganser species which winter in Toronto. Males have a striking black and white crest, usually fully extended, making the head look large and round, almost comical. The female crest is a uniform light orange.

Habitat: Ponds, large rivers.

Length: 45 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Lophodytes cucullatus

Winter in Toronto

Common Merganser

A fish-eating duck that dives to chase prey, and catches them in its beak which is edged with sharp tomia that act like backward-pointing teeth, ideal for restraining slippery prey.

Description: In winter, the sexes are in breeding plumage and look quite different. Males have a greenish-black head, the slimmer females have a rusty brown crest. What can be tricky is telling female Common mergansers from Red-breasted mergansers. A key fieldmark is the breast pattern; Common mergansers have a sharp transition between the white breast and reddish neck

Length: 70 cm

Weight: 1,700 g

Scientific name: Mergus merganser

Winter in Toronto

Red-breasted Merganser

Diving fish-eating duck. Like other pursuit-divers that propel themselves underwater with their legs and feet, the hindlimb is positioned well back on the pelvis. Mergansers are visual predators, as they swim on the surface they thrust their head underwater alternating each side, looking for nearby fish.

Description: Males have a distinctive crest which distinguishes them from the similar Common merganser male. Females of the two most common mergansers look very similar; the Red breasted merganser has a reddish neck that blends into the dull wash of the breast.

Habitat: Ponds, marshes, large rivers.

Length: 60 cm

Weight: 1,300 g

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Mergus serrator

Winter in Toronto

American Coot

This medium-sized waterbird is easily identified by its predominantly dark, slate-coloured body; small, rounded black head; and contrasting bright white bill and frontal shield. In our area, coots overwinter in very small groups, as icy build up along shorelines interferes with their ability to access submerged aquatic plants that are a necessary source of food. By contrast, expanses of open water in parts of the U.S. wintering range are able to support thousands of coots and other waterbirds in mixed species “rafts”.

Description: Although coots are often seen in association with ducks, they are not closely related: coots have smaller heads, shorter tapered bills, longer legs, bigger feet, and lobed toes that lack the webbing characteristic of ducks. The complex toe structure of coots allows them to swim, dive for food and walk efficiently on land.

Habitat: In winter, coots require shoreline habitat that is sufficiently free of ice and snow to allow them to feed on submerged aquatic plants. Coots may also graze on grass in parklands adjacent to lakeshores or ponds, if these areas remain free of heavy snow cover.

Length: 38 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Fulica americana

Winter in Toronto

Great Blue Heron

Usually seen alone, standing motionless in still water patiently watching for a passing fish. When prey is spied, the long neck is folded up and retracted. The strike involves the heron throwing out the neck and beak like a spear. In late summer and fall, herons migrating from northern breeding colonies arrive in the city; some stay if the winter is mild; most migrate south to the east coast of the United States where they switch diet to marine crabs and estuarine fish.

Description: Tall grey heron with a long neck and a long, dagger-like beak. In flight they appear to labour, with deep wingbeats, neck folded in and long legs stretched out the back. Juveniles (first-year birds) are grey overall, and usually heavily streaked on the front.

Habitat: Lakes, ponds, large rivers.

Length: 120 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Ardea herodias

Winter in Toronto

Ring-billed Gull

The familiar “seagull” of carparks and inland waters. Toronto gulls are well habituated; in carparks they will perch on light standards and watch for discarded human food to scavenge. Tommy Thompson Park on the waterfront now supports one of the largest gull nesting colonies on the Great Lakes.

Description: Crow-sized white bird. Adults have yellow legs, webbed feet, narrow, pointed grey wings and a yellow beak with a black band at the tip (hence the name). Immature gulls are mottled grey and light brown and do not attain the full adult plumage for several years.

Habitat: Freshwater, especially lake shores. In urban areas can be found in car parks and garbage dumps.

Length: 47 cm

Weight: 550 grams

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Larus delawarensis

Winter in Toronto

Herring Gull

The familiar “seagull” of large lakes and coastal regions. In Toronto, the Herring gull is not as common as the smaller Ring-billed Gull, and it tends to live on the waterfront, rarely seen inland. Herring Gulls scavenge a wide range of foods, but they are also predators on fish and the chicks of other waterfowl.

Description: Crow-sized white bird with pink legs, narrow, pointed wings and a yellow beak. The adult beak has a bright orange spot on the lower beak near the tip. Adult in winter has brown streaks on the head.

Habitat: Great lakes and coastal.

Length: 60 cm

Weight: 1.1 kg

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Larus argentatus

Winter in Toronto

Great Black-backed Gull

The largest gull you will encounter in Toronto, but not common. Primarily a coastal species.

Description: About twice the size of a Herring gull, and has a dark grey or black back.

Habitat: Coastal, but inland can be found on Great Lakes. A few usually overwinter on the waterfront each year.

Length: 75 cm

Weight: 2,000 g

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Larus marinus

Winter in Toronto

American Kestrel

Our smallest and most colourful bird of prey. They feed on small ground prey such as mice, crickets, and sometimes small snakes. When hunting over a field, they fly slowly and then hover above the prey before diving down to grab it in their talons.

Description: Males and females look different; males have blue-grey wing feathers whereas they are brown in females. Females are larger than males.

Habitat: Old fields, meadow.

Length: 30 cm

Weight: 150 g

Wingspan: 55 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Falco sparverius

Winter in Toronto

Red-tailed Hawk

Usually seen soaring on large broad wings high above the city. Their call is a shrill, piercing whistle. These large hawks will hunt Grey Squirrels, and birds such as Rock Pigeons and Ring-billed Gulls. In winter, they will also catch mice that remain active under the snow cover. Beginning in March, pairs perform spectacular aerial courtship flights. These usually consist of the pair circling high up with the smaller male higher than the female. The male stoops on the female in a mock attack, and the female flips on her back to meet him with talons. Contact is not usually made though. Sometimes the male carries a prey item.

Description: Large hawk; adults have a rusty-brown tail. Underparts cream, but look for a band of dark brown mottling on the chest of adults.

Habitat: Fields, especially adjacent to woodland, highway verges. In urban areas hunt in parkland and open woodland.

Length: 60 cm

Wingspan: 90 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Buteo jamaicensis

Winter in Toronto

Rock Pigeon

Familiar pigeon of parks and streetscapes. At a food source, pigeons will quickly fill their crop, a distensible pocket in the oesophagus, then fly up to a safe perch where they slowly digest the meal. Can breed year-round, building a simple stick nest on building ledges.

Description: Grey pigeon with iridescent green head and pinkish front, short pink legs and small head. Much individual variation, but most birds have a white patch on the lower back and two black bands on the wings.

Habitat: Urban. Visits bird feeders.

Length: 20 cm

Origin: Introduced

Scientific name: Columba livia

Winter in Toronto

Mourning Dove

The Mourning Dove is a common bird in our area and is often observed perching on wires, sunning itself on lawns, or pecking for seed on the ground in small groups. This delicate looking dove with a long tapering tail and gray-brown plumage is easily recognized by its mournful cooing call and by the whistling sound its wings make as it becomes airborne. Mourning doves can be attracted to backyard bird feeders with seeds such as millet, black oil sunflower seeds and cracked corn.

Description: This slender, small-headed bird has a classic dove shape. The basic body colouration is subdued browns and grays. The tail is long and pointed, and the outer feathers are rimmed with white. The wings have a small number of black spots, and there is a single spot under the ear.

Habitat: Forest edge, old field and urban. Visits bird feeders. Mourning doves are birds of edge habitats. They occur both in agricultural and urban settings, and prefer open brushy and weedy areas with a small number of trees.

Length: 25 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Zenaida macroura

Winter in Toronto

American Crow

The only large all-black land bird that you are likely to see in Toronto (the other is the double-crested cormorant which is a water bird). In flight, broad wings have a ragged wing-tip appearance due to wing slots. The loud “caw” call is distinctive, and is given loudly and repeatedly, especially when chasing enemies such as the Red-tailed hawk. Crows are smart birds that live year-round in family groups. They are omnivores, often seen feeding on road kill.

Description: Large black bird with a robust beak. Up close, you can see dense bristles covering the nares (nostrils). Broad wings with prominent wing slots.

Habitat: Open habitat, especially open fields with scattered woods, and agricultural land. Urban.

Length: 50 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Corvus brachyrhynchos

Winter in Toronto

European Starling

Starlings are human commensals, thriving in urban areas. Starlings hunt for bugs in the soil and litter layer of grassed areas, such as lawns, sports fields and sidewalks verges. They use a technique called “gaping” in which the beak is thrust into the sward and forced open to expose bugs hiding inside. Starlings are hole-nesters, building a coarse nest bowl inside any suitable cavity. They have even started nesting inside the hollow precast hydro poles now replacing the old wooden poles. Pairs can raise two, sometimes three, broods between May and October. In winter, starlings feed in flocks, and at dusk gather in large, communal roosts.

Description: Robin-sized black bird. Starlings have a bustling gait, and appear to “strut” as they walk rather than hop. In spring and summer, sharp yellow beak, short tail, and shiny purple-black plumage. Young starlings are light brown, and nosiy as they trail their parents demanding food. By late summer, starlings have moulted into their white speckled winter plumage, and their beaks are black.

Habitat: Urban, including playing fields, farmyards. Visit bird feeders.

Length: 15 cm

Origin: Introduced

Scientific name: Sturnus vulgaris

Winter in Toronto

American Goldfinch

Goldfinches are strict seedeaters, preferring to perch on the seedheads of thistles and sunflowers. In flight, they give a “tinkling” call, their flight is bouncy and undulating, and their wings flash black and white. Some goldfinches stay in Toronto over winter and they will visit hanging feeders.

Description: In summer, this sparrow-sized yellow bird is understandably mistaken for a canary, especially the males in their bright yellow breeding plumage and black cap and wings. The female is pale yellow and does not have a black cap. In early Fall, goldfinches undergo a complete moult of their feathers and males and females both look a uniform olive-yellow.

Habitat: Old fields and urban parkland. Visits bird feeders.

Length: 11 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Carduelis tristis

Winter in Toronto

House Sparrow

The familiar sparrow of city sidewalks and backyards. Usually live in small, noisy flocks which get bigger in winter as families coalesce. Primarily a seedeater, but in the breeding season it feeds nestlings with insects, and gardeners sometimes despair of sparrows browsing the tender shoots of vegetables.

Description: In summer the sexes are easy to distinguish; male has a chestnut back, pale grey front and a black throat, female is paler and does not have a black throat. In winter, males still look a little darker but they do not have a prominent black throat patch.

Habitat: Urban, including farmyards. Visits bird feeders.

Length: 12 cm

Origin: Introduced

Scientific name: Passer domesticus

Winter in Toronto

American Robin

A common sight in gardens and especially on lawns where the Robin hunts for earthworms which it detects mainly by sound. Hunting birds will pause and cock their heads to listen. Males are well-known songsters, and they sing from before dawn in spring, with another burst at dusk.

Description: Plump, grey bird with a rust-coloured breast and relatively long tail. Up close, yellow beak and white eye-ring contrast with the dark head. Female has sightly more subdued colouring than the male. Young Robins are speckled brown, and usually naiive and rather too confiding.

Habitat: Familiar bird of suburban lawns. Forest, especially forest edge, open woodlands, parklands, backyards.

Length: 15 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Turdus migratorius

Winter in Toronto

Northern Mockingbird

The Northern Mockingbird, considered rare in Toronto just twenty years ago, is now established and gradually becoming more common here. Noted as a prodigious mimic, males can have repertoires of dozens of songs. It likes to perch prominently on hydro poles and treetops where its long tail is obvious. Its diet is varied; in winter frequents shrubs still carrying fruit.

Description: Predominately light grey plumage. In flight, dark wingbars contrast with white to give a flashing effect. The tail is relatively long. Short, rounded wings enable manoevrable flight.

Habitat: Woodland edge, old fields with shrubs, urban parkland.

Length: 25 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Mimus polyglottus

Winter in Toronto

American Tree Sparrow

Small sparrow, more likely to be seen in winter at feeders where they glean seeds from the ground beneath. Some birds overwinter in Toronto.

Description: Distinctive field marks include the red-brown crown, a bi-coloured beak with a yellow lower mandible, and a spot on the chest.

Habitat: Thickets, old fields. Likely to be found skulking around shrubs and the edges of woodland.

Length: 15 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Spizella arborea

Winter in Toronto

Dark-eyed Junco

Juncos overwinter in Toronto, arriving from their boreal forest breeding grounds in late Fall. They live in small, mobile flocks, and maintain contact between members with “click” calls. Male song which consists of trilling, and courtship chasing between pairs, starts in March prior to the northward migration. By mid-May, the juncos have left.

Description: Juncos are slate-coloured above and white below, with a light pink conical beak. Adults males and females are quite similar; females are a little paler. When flushed, the white outer tail feathers flash conspicuously in flight.

Habitat: Open woodland, edges. Visit bird feeders.

Length: 10 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Junco hyemalis

Winter in Toronto

House Finch

A native of western United States, House Finch became established in New York from escaped cage birds, and have gradually expanded their range north. Their song is a beautiful, elaborate melody. Males begin to sing in March.

Description: Male has red on head and front, female is streaked brown. Much individual variation.

Habitat: Garden parks, suburban backyards. Will visit feeders in winter.

Length: 13 cm

Scientific name: Carpodacus mexicanus

Winter in Toronto

Sharp-shinned Hawk

A small bird-hawk, hunting woodland songbirds and occasionally large insects such as dragonflies. Prey is usually caught on the wing, with its long legs and talons. Seldom seen, and usually only when perched in the canopy on the lookout for prey.

Description: Males and females look alike, but females are larger. Upperparts are grey, underparts are cream with rusty red mottling.

Length: 30 cm

Weight: 200 g

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Accipiter striatus

Winter in Toronto

Cooper's Hawk

A bird-eating hawk that frequents woodlands, ravines and backyards with feeders. It is about the size of a crow, and so noticeably larger than the other hawk that it coexists with, the Sharp-shinned hawk. Typical of many raptors, adult females are much larger than the males, and they are more vocal and aggressive. In winter in Toronto, preys mostly on Rock pigeons, Mourning doves, and European starlings.

Description: A long-legged hawk with red-brown barring on the breast. The dark grey crown looks like a cap and helps distinguish it from the similar, but smaller, Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Length: 45 cm

Weight: 550 g

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Accipiter cooperii

Winter in Toronto

Eastern Screech Owl

This compact owl pounces on prey such as mice and insects from a perch. It has rounded wings which provide for manoevrable flight in complex environments such as woods. Typical of other owl species, the leading edge of the flight feathers have comb-like barbs which likely function to soften wingbeat noise.

Description: Small owl with tufted “ears” and yellow eyes.

Habitat: Open woodland.

Length: 20 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Megascops asio

Winter in Toronto

Downy Woodpecker

This inquisitive little black and white bird is our smallest and most abundant woodpecker. The Downy Woodpecker is a frequent visitor to bird feeders in parts of Toronto that have some tree canopy, and it is often observed hopping up tree trunks as it searches for larvae and spiders hidden under the bark. In early spring, males can be heard “drumming” on dead branches, posts, even. They are signalling ownership of a territory, hoping to attract a female mate.

Description: Male and female Downy Woodpeckers have black and white striped heads, but only the male has a small red band on the back of his head. The short bill distinguishes this species from the similar, but larger, Hairy Woodpecker.

Habitat: Downy Woodpeckers have adapted well to urban areas with open wooded habitats for nesting and foraging. They are attracted to patches of goldenrod, as this plant’s numerous galls contain larvae which are a rich source of food. Visits backyard bird feeders in winter.

Length: 15 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Picoides pubescens

Winter in Toronto

Hairy Woodpecker

Has oversize toes and a stiffened tail which help secure it on tree trunks where it uses its robust beak to hammer at bark to uncover prey. Not common, but in winter will readily use bird feeders, especially suet feeders.

Description: Starling-sized black and white woodpecker with long chisel-like beak. Up close, a black eye-stripe and male has a red patch on the back of his head.

Habitat: Forest, especially mature mixed forest. Visits bird feeders.

Length: 20 cm

Scientific name: Picoides villosus

Winter in Toronto

Pileated Woodpecker

Our largest woodpecker uses its robust beak to excavate holes in tree trunks in its search for carpenter ant nests, then inserts its very long tongue to extract them. Pileated woodpeckers are responsible for the large oval-shaped holes in tree trunks of maples, cedars and ash.

Description: Our largest woodpecker, with a distinctive red crest. In males the crest extends right to the base of the beak; in females the forehead is black.

Habitat: Forest, especially mature native forest.

Length: 50 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Dryocopus pileatus

Winter in Toronto

Blue Jay

A familiar bird of suburban backyards where they are noisy and conspicuous most of the year. In winter, Blue Jays live in mobile flocks of males and females, adults and immatures. These flocks will descend on backyard bird feeders and chase off other birds. In the Fall, Blue jays will hide acorns and peanuts in caches that they memorize the location of, so they can re-find in winter. Gives a range of loud calls, including bell-like calls. In March, the winter flocks break up into smaller courtship groups usually consisting of two females and a number of adult and young males. Eventually, pairs form and nesting begins. Young males may not breed in their first year.

Description: Distinctive, medium-sized blue and white bird with a prominent blue crest. Males and females look alike. Relatively short, rounded wings and a flap-and-glide flight.

Habitat: Forest, especially forest edge, but inhabits wide range of habitats with trees including backyards, where in winter it visits bird feeders.

Length: 25 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Cyanocitta cristata

Winter in Toronto

Black-capped Chickadee

A favourite of backyard birdwatchers, chickadees are confiding and in winter can easily be trained to take food by hand. In fall, birds will store hundreds of seeds in holes and crevices throughout their woodland range. Later in winter, they can remember each cache and retrieve them! In winter chickadees are often seen in mixed species flocks along with nuthatches and woodpeckers.

Description: Sparrow-sized woodland bird with a chubby body and an oversize head that gives it a chick-like appearance.

Habitat: Forest, especially deciduous and mixed woods, but also parkland and urban gardens. Visits bird bird feeders.

Length: 8 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Parus atricapillus

Winter in Toronto

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Nuthatches will often hop face down a tree trunk as they search for small bark-dwelling prey. They have an extra large hind toe (hallux) to help them hang on. In winter, Red-breasted Nuthatches specialize on conifer seeds, but they will visit bird feeders. Instead of feeding on a seed at the feeder, they fly off to a tree, jam the seed into a bark crevice and hammer it open.

Description: Smaller and more colourful than the White-breasted Nuthatch (which is the common nuthatch in Toronto).

Habitat: Conifer forests. In winters with poor conifer seed crops up north, Red-breasted Nuthatches migrate further south and some overwinter in the City.

Length: 13 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Sitta canadensis

Winter in Toronto

White-breasted Nuthatch

Nuthatches are engaging birds in winter, quite confiding and not afraid to approach humans closely as if sizing them up. They have the distinctive foraging habit of hopping downwards on tree trunks, aided by oversize feet and claws. They use their slightly upturned, forcep-like beak to glean prey from under bark flakes.

Description: Sparrow-sized blue and white bird with a short tail and legs. Up close, a narrow, slightly upturned beak. Male has a black cap, female has a grey cap.

Habitat: Forest, especially mature deciduous forest. Visits bird feeders.

Length: 14 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Sitta carolinensis

Winter in Toronto

Brown Creeper

Almost mouse-like as it methodically works its way up the trunk of a large tree, probing bark crevices with its fine, curved forceps-like beak. Such small birds must feed for the entire daylight period in winter to obtain enough energy to survive the cold nights. Brown Creepers will roost together in tree cavities at night to keep each other warm.

Description: Delicately marked brown and white bird, about warbler size.

Habitat: Woodland, especially mature deciduous forest.

Length: 12 cm

Scientific name: Certhia americana

Winter in Toronto

Northern Cardinal

Cardinals will stay together in pairs all year, and keep in contact with loud click calls. Male song (females sometimes sing also) consists of loud, repeated whistles, and you can hear it at any time of year. A common visitor to bird feeders, where they use their deep conical-shaped beak to easily crack sunflower husks and then eat the seed.

Description: The unmistakeable bright red plumage and crest of the male cardinal contrasts with the more subdued female colouration. The red hue to the feathers is due to carotenoid pigments derived from the diet.

Habitat: Forest, woodland, gardens.

Length: 22 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Cardinalis cardinalis

Winter in Toronto

European Mountain-Ash

This European import is a popular ornamental tree because it attains a modest height and sports spectacular fruit in the Fall. The orange berries persist into the winter and are eaten by American Robins and Cedar Waxwings. Also known by its old English name of Rowan tree.

Description: Medium-sized tree with compound leaves consisting of up to 17 leaflets. Flowers are creamy clusters. The fruit consists of clusters of orange berries.

Habitat: Planted as an ornamental in parks, front yards. Has become naturalized.

Height: 15 m

Flowering: May - June

Fruits: September - December

Origin: Introduced

Scientific name: Sorbus aucuparia

Winter in Toronto

Kentucky Coffee Tree

This species is at the edge of its range in southern Ontario, and it's at risk. However, it has been widly planted in Toronto as it is very tolerant of urban conditions. This tree spends more than half of the year without leaves. Most trees produce either male or female flowers.

Habitat: It requires sunny locations. It preferes rich woodlands, but tolerates a wide variety of growing conditions in full sun.

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Gymnocladus dioicus

Winter in Toronto

Staghorn Sumac

The dried fruit are retained on the deciduous shrub all winter.

Description: The twigs and young branches are covered with soft hairs which resemble the velvet stage of deer antlers. The fern-like leaves turn bright reds and oranges in the fall. Often form large groves, as they spread readily by suckers (rhizomes). Broken twigs or leaves exude a milky sap.

Habitat:

Height: 7 m

Flowering: June

Scientific name: Rhus typhina

Winter in Toronto

Winterberry

The berries are eaten by robins and cardinals in fall and winter.

Habitat: Swamps and wet places.

Height: 1-5 m

Flowering: May - July

Fruits: August - November

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Ilex verticillata

Winter in Toronto

High-bush Cranberry

The flowerhead is composed of two types of flowers: the outer, larger flowers are sterile, the inner flowers are tiny but fertile. A close relative, the introduced European High-bush Cranberry, is often sold at nurseries but it should not be planted as it can be invasive.

Description: This is not the source of store-bought cranberries (which instead are derived from cultivars of the Large Cranberry, a member of the Heath family, which grows in swamps and bogs), but the fruit is edible. The flowerhead composed of two types of flowers: the outer, larger flowers are sterile, the inner flowers are tiny but fertile. A close relative, the introduced European High-bush Cranberry, is often sold at nurseries but it should not be planted as it can be invasive.

Habitat:

Height: 4 m

Flowering: June - July

Fruits: July - December

Scientific name: Viburnum trilobum

Winter in Toronto

About this guide

This mobile web app guide to common winter plants and animals of Toronto has been created and produced by Hopscotch Interactive.

At Hopscotch, Alejandro Lynch and Mike Dennison have spearheaded the development, design and production of the guide. Artwork and design has been contributed by Hugo Lynch. Research and writing contributions from Irene Bowman.

Creative Commons License

The text of this work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Permission to use some images in the guide has been kindly given by Ian Craine.

Please send any feedback or questions about the guide to Mike Dennison, dennison@hopscotch.ca.

DBID: 2cb6c17