Balcony Birding: A Great Way to Enjoy Birds While We Stay Home

A Blue Jay spotted while balcony birding. Photo: Monika Croydon

By Monika Croydon

Balcony birding is the hot new hobby! No traveling or social distancing required, with easy access to food, drinks, and washrooms. Lockdowns don’t stop the birds from migrating! Now that we in Ontario are back to a stay-at-home directive, it’s even more important to be able to watch birds safely.

I’m very lucky to live in Swansea Village Co-op, a housing co-op in Toronto’s west end, close to High Park. My third-floor balcony looks over a small ravine and the north end of “Catfish Pond”, the only surviving pond that escaped landfill in the early days of development in our neighbourhood.

This ideal location means that I can be a balcony birder! I do go out to High Park and other local parks, but being able to see and photograph a surprising number of birds from my balcony – even my couch – has been a great way to enjoy birding safely. I can do my own version of a ‘big sit’ (when a birder sits in one location all day and records all the birds seen from that spot!)

I’ve seen everything from Wood Ducks in the trees to Sandhill Cranes flying overhead, Golden-crowned Kinglets flitting about, to Hairy Woodpeckers carving out nest holes. I realize that I’ve got an advantage with my location, but balcony birding can be enjoyed in any part of the city. Friends downtown report seeing Peregrine Falcons and Red-tailed Hawks, and even spending some quality time watching the antics of House Sparrows and European Starlings can be fun.

Unfortunately, we have a lot of dangerous reflective glass surfaces on the three low-rise buildings that make up our housing co-op. The balcony railings are glass, and the sliding doors are large and reflect the trees and sky, especially at the back where they face the ravine. Members of the co-op have found dead or injured birds around the buildings, and we wanted to do something to prevent window strikes. The co-op Board voted to invest in having bird-safe window treatments applied to the front and back stairwell windows of our most dangerous building. These large areas of glass seem to be the biggest threat, facing the treed ravine at the back, and front yard trees. The Feather Friendly film was installed by the Convenience Group last summer. We hope that this spring we’ll be saving bird lives!

Feather Friendly window markers. Photo: Monika Croydon

Bird feeders on balconies are not recommended. Our co-op bylaws prohibit this, and for good reason. The seed and bird poop will fall onto lower balconies, the dropped seed on the ground will attract unwanted guests (squirrels, raccoons, pigeons, and rodents), and birds flying towards or away from feeders could strike a window.

I learned the hard way that bird feeders can be dangerous. One winter a number of years ago, I hung a suet feeder on my balcony. It was great watching the birds, and it seemed safe. One afternoon I came home to find a Hairy Woodpecker lying in one of my garden pots. I realized it must have been eating seed that had fallen to the floor of the balcony from the suet feeder, and then hit the glass balcony wall as it tried to fly away. It finally did find its way over the top of the balcony and flew off. I stopped feeding birds after that because I didn’t want to put birds at risk by attracting them to my glass balcony.

I do envy those people who have back yards and can put feeders out and watch their own bird visitors. I’m content to watch the White-breasted Nuthatches and Black-capped Chickadees glean bugs on the trees, and the Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers drill holes and have tiffs in the branches.

Our efforts at Swansea Village Co-op to keep birds safe will pay off all year, and especially during spring and fall migration. If you’re concerned about window or balcony strikes, take a look at the FLAP website for a number of options to make your apartment bird friendly.

Wherever you live in Toronto, birds are migrating over or past your homes. Consider doing some balcony birding this spring! All you need are binoculars and some time – which is what many of us have a lot of these days!

Author Biography

Monika is a retired Toronto Public Library librarian. She has been a birder for about 10 years, and now spends much of her free time birding in Toronto parks, or in other places in Ontario. She is also a keen photographer, and takes her camera with her on every outing.

Monika is a member of the Toronto Ornithological Club, and she volunteers with the club, as well as with the High Park Nature Centre and the Fatal Light Awareness Program, or FLAP. An advocate of bird protection, conservation and appreciation, she enjoys sharing her love and knowledge of birds with anyone who will listen!