Nova Scotia sticks out into the North Atlantic from the Eastern seaboard of Canada, and only fails to be an island by virtue of the narrow Chignecto Peninsula that separates it from the neighboring Province of New Brunswick. The 3 coasts, with the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the North, the Bay of Fundy to the West, and the North Atlantic to the East, all have different characteristics in terms of scenery and character, and different birding as well. The Northern third of Nova Scotia is Cape Breton Island, joined to the rest by a main road over a causeway. The human population is concentrated in the metropolitan area of Halifax/ Dartmouth, and Industrial Cape Breton around Sydney, as well as smaller towns such as Truro, New Glasgow and Yarmouth. Many people also live in rural areas and in small towns and villages along the coast. The main human activities have been traditionally fishing (especially lobster); farming and forestry, although the former is currently in decline. Much of the land is forested, with the predominantly Boreal- type forest (mostly White and Black spruce, Balsam Fir, Tamarack etc.) along the coast and in the Northern part of the Province gradually giving way to more mixed forest (more Maple, Oak, Red Spruce etc.) inland and farther south. The narrow strip of the Annapolis Valley is largely agricultural, and there are extensive areas of freshwater marsh and saltmarsh. There are numerous lakes and rivers, many of which are remote and hard to access, but some of which have cottages around the edge - thus contributing to the wide variety of birding habitat.
The weather is very changeable, and Summers tend to be warm and dry, Winters tend to be cool and wet, with snow cover over most of the Province from about mid-December to about early April (less so in recent years). Storms, with high winds and much precipitation, are frequent in winter, and much anticipated by birders for what they sometimes blow in. Fog can be a major problem, especially around the Southwest coast.
Birding can be good at any time of the year, depending on the species looked for, and the habitat. The physical location makes the Province an excellent area to attract vagrants from farther west, that eventually stall against the coast (e.g. Townsend`s Warbler, Varied Thrush) and the occasional Eurasian vagrant (e.g. Fieldfare). From early May onward, the woods are alive with Vireos, Thrushes, and especially, Warblers, of which some 21 species are reasonably widespread and regular breeders (the mosquitoes and blackflies are even more regular and widespread!). Fall brings the Shorebird migration, widespread on the coasts, and of world importance for some species in specific locations. There is also an excellent Raptor migration in some favoured spots. Seabird watching can be excellent all year round, but tends to be most interesting in Winter, where sometimes large numbers of Loons, Grebes, Alcids and Sea-Ducks (Long-tailed, Eider, Red-breasted Mergansers etc.) can be seen from shore.
Amherst Point and Belle Isle Marshes
Although in different areas of the Province, these are rather similar areas of fresh water marsh habitat, with impoundments, reed beds and fields, excellent for waterfowl, Pied-billed Grebes, Short-eared owls, Northern Harriers, Bobolinks and some Warblers species, etc. in Summer.
Off the tip of Digby Neck, accessible by 2 small car ferries, there is a village with accommodations, and varied habitat for birding all year round. The best seasons are probably late Summer and Fall. In Summer and early Fall several local companies offer half day trips by boat into the adjacent mouth of the Bay of Fundy for whale watching (Humpbacked, Fin and Northern Wright); plus excellent seabird watching - often with huge numbers of Shearwaters, Phalaropes and the occasional Jaeger and South Polar Skua being regular highlights. Later in fall there is an excellent Raptor migration over the Island. Again, a good day, especially in fall, can easily yield over 100 species.
Cape Breton Highlands National Park
Has a huge area of upland and coastal habitat, including much true wilderness. Some of the trails are quite accessible, though. This is where Bicknell's Thrush can be found singing at dawn in June, and where there is probably the biggest variety of Warblers, particularly the more boreal species (Cape May, Mourning, Blackburnian etc.) in the Province. There are 2 rocky islands offshore that hold a breeding colony of Razorbill and Atlantic Puffin, easily accessible by tour boats.
Cape Sable Island
In Shelburne County, sticking out into the Atlantic, and accessible by road, this area at the South West tip of the Province has a variety of habitats, including mud-flats for Shorebirds, marshes for Herons and other large waders, and an excellent record of passerine migrants including all kinds of rarities and vagrants, especially in the Fall. The best spots are around The Hawk at the tip of the island, and the surrounding alder patches. Snowy Owls have been regular on the dunes offshore in recent winters, and there is a regular fall passage of Shearwaters and other seabirds in fall. On a good fall day, it is not hard to surpass 100+ species here. There are some keen resident birders, always interested in showing visitors around. Offshore are Bon Portage, and farther out, Seal Islands, both with banding (ringing) stations, and Seal in particular is a Mecca for rarity hunters. The NS Bird Society runs trips to Bon Portage in spring and fall, but Seal is less accessible, with trips arranged occasionally.
Halifax Harbour in Winter
The Cities of Halifax and Dartmouth surround a large harbour, that remains ice-free in winter, and into which is discharged the city`s largely untreated effluent. This attracts Gulls, including large numbers of Iceland, and Black-Headed as well as others, plus Sea Ducks and Alcids. The shrubbery in the surrounding parks often has rare lingering Warblers, Orioles, and Cardinals etc. The Nova Scotia Bird Society and Halifax Field Naturalists run a number of Sewer Strolls each Winter, which usually produce excellent winter birding. Some of the surrounding areas, especially nearby coastal marshes, are well watched because of the relatively large (by NS standards) population of birders, and therefore commonly produce interesting birds.
Nova Scotia Provincial Parks
Nova Scotia is full of small parks, maintained as rest, picnic or camping areas by the Provincial government. Their locations are well marked on the highways maps. Almost all have trees, shrubbery and other habitats, and almost all can have good birding, depending on the location and time of year. One of the best hour's birding I have ever had, anywhere in the world, in my life, was one dawn in one of our local Provincial Parks, when the Warblers, Sparrows and Thrushes were dripping from the trees. An hour later they had nearly all gone. In most of the Province a visiting birder's best bet is to contact a local birder to find exact directions to the local hot spots and what is around.
Number of Species
Number of bird species: 452
Provincial Bird - Osprey Pandion haliaetus
Birding in Atlantic Canada: Nova Scotia
R Burrows Series: BIRDING IN ATLANTIC CANADA 163 pages, illus, maps. Jesperson Press 1988
ISBN: 092050289XBuy this book from NHBS.com
Birding Sites of Nova Scotia
- A comprehensive year-round guide for birders & other nature lovers by Blake Maybank Nimbus 2006
See Fatbirder Review
ISBN: 155109519XBuy this book from NHBS.com
Birds of Nova Scotia
Robie W. Tufts Paperback (1986) Nimbus Publishing Ltd
ISBN: 0920852661Buy this book from NHBS.com
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Guides & Tour Operators
CloudBirders was created by a group of Belgian world birding enthusiasts and went live on 21st of March 2013. They provide a large and growing database of birding trip reports, complemented with extensive search, voting and statistical features.
2012 [07 July] - Chris Benesh - Newfoundland & Nova Scotia
…The stretch of the Glen Elg-Waternish road we covered was also quite enjoyable, complete with some stunning Evening Grosbeaks. Finally, on our way to Halifax, we made a final stop to pick up the Acadian subspecies of Nelson's Sparrow. A great way to wrap up our visit to northeastern Canada…
2013 [07 July] - Chris Benesh & Lena Senko - Newfoundland & Nova Scotia
…Newfoundland’s plankton-rich waters attract around 40 million seabirds each year, and in the summer, almost every small island and cliff face is populated by a colony of ocean-loving nesters. Our first taste of seabird spectacles came on a boat tour in Witless Bay. The swarms of Atlantic Puffins, Common Murres, Razorbills, and Black-legged Kittiwakes flying to and from their island nests by the thousands sent our heads spinning. We were able to pick out a few Thick-billed Murres and Northern Fulmars on their nests, while enjoying close looks at several Humpback and Minke Whales. Later, at Cape St. Mary’s, we gawked at the spectacular sight of 50,000+ nesting Northern Gannets…
2013 [07 July] - Robert Tuveson - Newfoundland & Nova Scotia
…Being keen ABA-twitchers we wanted to go there in the summertime for a load of speciality birds, i.e. breeding species like Roseate Tern, Black-headed Gull and Bicknell’s Thrush, alcids like Razorbill, Black Guillemot and Atlantic Puffin and seabirds like Great- and Manx Shearwater and Wilson’s- and Leach’s Storm- Petrel…
2014 [07 July] - Chris Benesh - Newfoundland & Nova Scotia
The 2014 Newfoundland and Nova Scotia Tour could easily be remembered as being a tour of extremes....
2015 [07 July] - Chris Benesh - Newfoundland & Nova Scotia
The 2015 Newfoundland & Nova Scotia got off to a bit of rocky start with summer showers making us keep rain jackets and umbrellas close at hand. Yet, despite that, we had a terrific boat trip out into Witless Bay where we witnessed one of nature's greatest spectacles...
2016 [07 July] - Chris Benesh & Doug Gochfeld - Newfoundland & Nova Scotia
The Canadian Maritimes have some of the most beautiful landscapes on the continent, and they really come alive with bird life in the summer. We were fortunate to be able to enjoy this bounty of nature with a combination of a great group of people and excellent weather...
Places to Stay
Trips down Digby Neck will reward the birder with glimpses of many marine and other birds, including the legendary puffin.
Comfortable Lodging, Fine Dining, Activities and Events Year Round - A natural paradise of outdoor recreation, canoeing, hiking, nature interpretation, wildlife and ecology study…
Atlantic Canada Branch of the Sierra Club
The Sierra Club of Canada is a membership-based, volunteer-governed national environmental organization with Chapters across the country. It is dedicated to exploring, enjoying and protecting the wild places of the earth and to practice and promote the responsible use of the earth's ecosystems…
Blomidon Naturalists Society
The primary objective of the BNS is to encourage and develop in its members and the public, an understanding and appreciation of nature which is interpreted broadly and includes the rocks, plants, animals, water, air and stars. We meet in the evenings for informative and entertaining talks once a month on the third Monday (except in July and August). Our field trips are scheduled irregularly but we usually have a couple every month except in the winter.
Halifax Field Naturalists
The objectives of the Halifax Field Naturalists are to encourage a greater appreciation and understanding of Nova Scotia's natural history, both within the membership of HFN and in the public at large; and to represent the interests of naturalists by encouraging the conservation of Nova Scotia's natural resources…
Nature Nova Scotia (Federation of Nova Scotia Naturalists)
The Federation of Nova Scotia Naturalists exists to support the common interests of naturalists clubs, and to represent those clubs at the provincial level…
Nova Scotia Nature Trust
Nova Scotia has a rich and diverse natural heritage. From the blazing colour of an autumn hardwood forest to the stark beauty of a granite barren; the high energy of waves crashing on the shore to the tranquility of a riverside marsh; the beaches of the Northumberland Strait to the cliffs scoured by the Fundy tides. Nova Scotians are stewards of many natural treasures. But these landscapes and the many species that inhabit them need protection if they are to persist. With less than 30% of the province`s land publicly owned, private landowners have an important role to play in protecting these places.
Nova Scotia Bird Society
The Nova Scotia Bird Society has been a focus for birders in this province for almost 40 years. Serving over 500 members, it has much to offer anyone interested in wild birds. Browse through the subjects below for a sample of what we do, and feel free to send us e-mail if you would like more information…
Piping Plover Conservation
The PEI Piping Plover Guardian Program was started by a handful of volunteers monitoring Piping Plovers on beaches outside of PEI National Park. In 1995, Island Nature Trust began coordinating the Plover Program, and has been working with volunteers to protect this endangered shorebird ever since.
Sable Island Preservation trust
Mission to maintain on-going supervisory human presence; establish educational and interpretation programs and coordinate core services and activities…
Atlantic Bird Observatory
Migration monitoring is ongoing throughout the world, and in the past several years efforts have been made to increase the number of monitoring sites in Canada. The initial efforts to set up a long-term migration monitoring site for the Canadian Atlantic coast started in 1995, on Seal Island (43o; 25N, 66o; 00W) and Bon Portage Island (43o; 27N, 65o; 45W); Nova Scotia. A week of mist netting and observing birds served as a pilot study to determine the islands appropriateness for inclusion into the Canada-wide migration monitoring network.
Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History
Close your eyes and imagine for a moment the sounds and sights of Canada`s East Coast. Seabirds clamber noisily along the wave beaten shore. Songbirds sing heartily from nearby perches as hikers fill their bellies with blueberries. An eagle soars patiently over the blue water of an inland sea…
Amherst Point Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Amherst Point Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) lies five km southwest of Amherst at the head of the Bay of Fundy. It was established in 1947 with the agreement of the landowners. However, to afford permanent habitat protection, the land was later acquired by the Canadian Wildlife Service (1973–1974) and designated as a component of the Chignecto National Wildlife Area. The landscape is a mosaic of ponds, marshes, forests and old farm fields...
Cape Breton Highlands National Park
The Park protects 950 sq km of magnificent highlands and coastal wilderness. Approximately one-half of the world-renowned Cabot Trail is owned by, and located within the Park.
Cape Sable Island IBA
Eastern Cape Sable Island’s sandy beaches and mudflats provide year-round habitat for a diversity of birdlife. Spring and fall migrants include geese, loons, egrets, herons, seaducks, cormorants and brant attracted to the sandy beaches and mudflats….
NovaBirds Cam Blog
I had set up a hummingbird feeder and was astonished at how many birds that began to visit. Wanting to share my joy of the birds with others who aren't as lucky as me to see them in person, I started boradcasting!…
Cape Breton Birds
I have made this web site to help anyone interested in Wild Birds. I will be posting information on Birdwatching trips, feeding wild birds, what rare birds are being seen around Cape Breton, nest box building, and questions and answers about wild birds. Contributions to this page are welcome.
A peruse of these archives may well prove useful to the intending visitor.
Outdoor Nova Scotia
Winter is the season with which Canadians identify; they wrap its rigors around their shoulders as a flag of honour, and wave it to the world for everyone to see. And this year, with vicious ice-storms in the east, avalanches in the western mountains, and floods in the Maritimes, the ensign is particularly vivid. But if such events encourage our natural inclination to remain warmly indoors through the interminable wait for spring, we would miss out on the natural delights the outdoor world has to offer. This is especially true in Nova Scotia…
Archives of rarity reports
Sable Island Green Horse Society
Leach's Storm-Petrels lay a single creamy white egg in long horizontal burrows which they dig in earth - the males do the digging, mostly using their feet. Since burrows cannot be made in loose sand, on Sable Island, petrels dig into the sand under solid materials and structures, thus their burrows have a secure roof. Petrels may also use natural holes and crevices…