Many city dwellers yearn to spot wildlife when out for a walk in High Park. While some creatures like coyotes are often elusive, most visitors are fortunate enough to see waterbirds, which are common due to the habitat needs satisfied by a number of water features throughout the park.
Grenadier Pond is the most famous and popular of the waterfowl habitats in the park. The cattail marsh at the northern end provides habitat for Mallards, Great Blue Heron and Black-crowned Night-Heron.
Some examples of species you may spot in the pond are Hooded Merganser, Canada Geese and Mute Swans, and even in the winter you’ll still see Ring-billed Gulls and Herring Gulls loafing on the ice.
Also within the park are the sedimentation ponds in the northeast, and the “duck ponds” at the southeast end, where you’ll find Mallards, Canada Geese, as well as Wood Ducks and various herons.
A favourite sight is the Mute Swan (Cygnus olor), whose common name comes from the fact that it is less vocal than other swan species. Mute Swans are not native to North America, but were introduced from Europe and Asia. They are easy to spot due to their large size, and in fact they are one of the heaviest flying birds. They have white plumage and an orange-reddish bill. From time to time, visitors may be lucky enough to spot a Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator) on Grenadier Pond, part of a reintroduction program at Wye Marsh. This native species can be differentiated from the more common Mute Swan by their black bill.
Another common waterfowl species is the famous Canada Goose (Branta canadensis). They are also large birds, with long black necks, a black head with a white stripe, and they make a distinctive honking sound. They feed on vegetation, being especially fond of short grass. Canada geese mate for life, which can be as long as 30 years. Their numbers have increased steadily in recent years due to the increased availability of their preferred habitat in urban areas (non-native, short turf grass), and High Park, with its manicured gardens surrounding the pond, is no exception.
Also common is the Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos). These ducks have bright orange feet, but that’s where a lot of similarities end between male and female mallards. Females are brown, while males have a green head (although they may look more like females during their summer moult). Females also make the commonly heard “quack quack quack” sound we associate with ducks. Mallards are one of the most common waterfowl species in North America, and feed on aquatic vegetation, as well as seeds and insects. Visitors may notice that they are “dabbling” ducks, meaning they feed near the surface, as opposed to diving for food.
Less commonly seen in cities but thriving in High Park are wood ducks (Aix sponsa), which nest in tree cavities and therefore live near woodlots where deadwood has been left standing. Also present are Double-crested Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus), large black birds that are named for the two small tufts of feathers occurring on either side of their head. They’re often easy to recognize by their habit of orienting themselves to the sun and spreading their wings in order to dry their feathers, and in some cases, to help regulate heat gain or loss. (Read more about Cormorants.)
Please don’t feed the waterbirds!
Well meaning, but ill informed visitors to High Park are often seen feeding geese and other waterbirds. This is harmful, not helpful, to these creatures! Feeding wild waterbirds encourages them to depend on food from humans, rather than learn to fend for themselves in the wild. It can also cause health problems for the waterbirds, as they are fed artificial, processed food rather than their natural diet. And finally, feeding by humans helps to increase their numbers to artificial proportions, ultimately leading to bird/human conflicts which often lead to harmful practices against the waterbirds.
Miguel de la Bastide
Wood Duck (male)
Author: Barbi Lazarus
Mute Swan with cygnets
Abbate, Matthew. 1993. “Cormorants, Darters and Pelicans of the World”. Smithsonian Institution.
Animal Alliance of Canada. “Habitat Modification and Canada Geese: Techniques for Reducing Canada Goose Conflicts in Urban and Suburban Environments.”
Bennet, Doug and Tiner, Tim. 2004. “Wild City.” McClelland and Stewart Ltd.
Boyle, Theresa. 2008. “Dogs on a Wild Goose Chase.” Toronto Star.
Environment Canada. 1995. “Great Lakes Fact Sheet: The Rise of the Double-Crested Cormorant on the Great Lakes-Winning the War Against Contaminants”. Environment Canada.
Kidd, Joanna and McEwen, Beth. “High Park: Restoring a Jewel of Toronto’s Park System.” City of Toronto.
Sept, J. Duane. 2004. “Common Birds of Ontario.” Calypso Publishing.
Yukich, Bob. 2007. “High Park Birding Site Guide.”