Nova Scotia

Osprey Pandion haliaetus ©Richard Stern Website
Birding Nova Scotia

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. 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. Unfortunately, though, there is more and more clear-felling, leaving less and less mature forest habitat. 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 habitat and sought-after species. 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 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 Divers (Loons), Grebes, Auks and Sea-Ducks (Long-tailed, Eider, Red-breasted Mergansers etc.) can be seen from shore.

Top Sites
  • Amherst Point and Belle Isle Marshes

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    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 Warbler species, etc. in Summer. Eddy Marsh in Amherst is the only reliable spot for Black terns.
  • Brier Island

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    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 Right); plus excellent seabird watching - often with huge numbers of Shearwaters, Phalaropes and the occasional Jaeger and Skua being regular highlights. Later in fall there is an excellent Raptor migration over the Island. Large "kettles" of Broad-wings, and Sharp-shins whizzing about at low levels, are the highlights, with rarities being regular. A good day, especially in fall, can easily yield over 100 bird species.
  • Cape Breton Highlands National Park

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    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, Yarmouth & West Pubnico Peninsula

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    In Shelburne County, sticking out into the Atlantic, and accessible by road, these areas at the South West tip of the Province have 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.
  • Grand Pre - King's County

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    An area of agricultural land reclaimed from the sea, with an interesting history - well illustrated by the local signage and visitor centre. From mid-July to mid-October at high tide, the spectacle of thousands of sandpipers wheeling about in formation, often being harassed by Peregrines and Merlins, is a great wildlife spectacle. In winter the area is excellent for many types of raptors, and flocks of Horned larks, Lapland longspurs etc.
  • Halifax Harbour in Winter

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    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, as well as Black-Headed, Mew, and the other expected species, plus Sea Ducks and Alcids. The shrubbery in the surrounding parks often has rare lingering Warblers, Orioles, and Cardinals etc. in early Winter. 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. They are accessible to walkers all year round, but most are closed to vehicles and campers from Labour Day through to the next Victoria Day weekend.
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 452

    Provincial Bird - Osprey Pandion haliaetus
Useful Reading

  • All the Birds of Nova Scotia

    | By Ian McLaren | Gaspereau Press | 2012 | Hardback | 281 pages, 34 plates with 124 colour photos | ISBN: 9781554471164 Buy this book from
  • Birding Sites of Nova Scotia

    | (A comprehensive year-round guide for birders & other nature lovers) | by Blake Maybank | Nimbus | 2005 | Paperback | 554 pages, maps | ISBN: 9781551095196 Buy this book from
  • Birds of Nova Scotia

    | By Robie W Tufts, Roger Tory Peterson, John A Crosby & John Henry Dick | Nimbus Publishing | 1986 | Paperback | 478 pages, 40 colour plates, 30 line illustration | ISBN: 9781551096445 Buy this book from
  • Nova Scotia Birds

    | (A Folding Pocket Guide to Familiar Species) | by James R Kavanagh | Waterford Press | 2019 | Unbound | 12 pages, 140 colour illustrations, 2 colour maps | ISBN: 9781620053669 Buy this book from
  • Nova Scotia Wildlife

    | By Julie Towers | Nimbus Publishing | 1995 | Paperback | 96 pages, B/w illustrations | ISBN: 9781551091242 Buy this book from
Useful Information
  • Nova Scotia Bird Society Information

    The Nova Scotia Bird Society maintains an active Facebook page, with multiple daily sightings and photos posted. A perusal of the most recent few days will give visiting birders an idea of what is around. For more detailed lists, most of the province's birders contribute sightings to eBird, and this is a great source for seeing exactly what has been around, and where. Nearly all keen birders resident in Nova Scotia are happy to take visitors birding, and to give advice. The best source for accommodations, where to go and what to do other than watch birds is HERE and there is a print version free at all tourist bureaus.
  • Atlantic Bird Observatory

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    The Atlantic Bird Observatory has been studying migrating birds since 1995. Affiliated with Acadia University and a member of the Canadian Migration Monitoring network, it is located on Bon Portage Island, NS, Canada. Bon Portage Island is located off the southwest coast – just 3 km off the southwest tip, near Cape Sable Island. Island access is via a small outboard and a fishing boat.
Museums & Universities
  • 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
  • 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 Bird Society

    The Nova Scotia Bird Society has been a focus for birders in this province for 60 years. Serving about 600 members, we have much to offer anyone interested in wild birds. Browse through our web site for a sample of what we do, and feel free to send us e-mail if you would like more information. The society has a very popular Facebook Page followed by 10% of the province's population! It also has a popular Twitter Account.
  • 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.
  • Sable Island Preservation trust

    Sable Island Preservation Trust was established as a non-profit, charitable organization in 1997 in response to Environment Canada’s announcement that it was closing the main station on Sable Island. The founding members believed that a continuous human presence was essential for the long-term preservation of Sable Island.

Abbreviations Key

  • IBA Cape Sable Island

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    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….
  • MBS Amherst Point

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    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...
  • NP Cape Breton Highlands

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    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.
  • NP Kejimkujik

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    Kejimkujik… protects 381 sq km of inland lakes and forests, and 22 sq km of rugged Atlantic coastline (Kejumkujik's Seaside Adjunct).
Sightings, News & Forums
Guides & Tour Operators
  • Fieldguides

    Tour Operator
    Newfoundland & Nova Scotia - Boreal specialties, seabird colonies & numerous breeding landbirds in the beautiful Canadian Maritimes
Trip Reports
  • 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...
  • 2017 [07 July] - Chris Benesh & Cory Gregory

    ...We continued out to Blackhead and Cape Spear where we chanced into a singing Gray-cheeked Thrush, enjoyed some views of whales offshore, found some Pine Grosbeaks high in a spruce, and saw our first gannets flying by offshore. The boat trip out of Bay Bulls gave us our first taste of seabirds and folks had great looks at the quintessential Atlantic Puffins, Razorbills, and even a Thick-billed Murre trying to pretend it was a Common Murre...
  • 2018 [05 May] - Jean Hugé

    PDF Report
    ...En route, we stopped in Windsor at Howard Dill’s Farm, home to the world’s greatest pumpkins (!), and got views of American Robin and Ring-necked Pheasant. Another stop near Walton along Minas Basin yielded American Wigeons and our first Belted Kingfishers of the trip. Black Scoters were swimming in the bay...
Places to Stay
  • Harbourview Inn

    Trips down Digby Neck will reward the birder with glimpses of many marine and other birds, including the legendary puffin.
Other Links
  • 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.
  • NatureNS

    A peruse of these archives may well prove useful to the intending visitor.
  • Recent Postings

    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
  • Mark & Sandra Dennis - Cape Sable Birding

    Birder, naturalist and can’t grow a decent beard. As I write this I’m 57 years old, originally from the UK but moved to Canada in 2003 with my artist and scientist wife Sandra. In 2015 we made a move from Quebec to Nova Scotia and now I will be searching the nooks and crannies of the Cape Sable area for birds, butterflies and dragonflies.
  • 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!
Photographers & Artists
  • Photographer - Richard Stern

    Albums of birds that he has photographed in NS recently.

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