11 Types of Water Birds in Ontario

Do you ever find yourself wondering what types of birds call the lakes and rivers of Ontario home?

If you’re an avid bird-watcher or simply curious about our feathered friends, you’re in for a treat!

Ontario is home to a diverse array of water birds, each with its own unique characteristics, behaviors, and habitats.

From the elegant swan to the comical duck, the 11 types of water birds in Ontario are sure to capture your imagination and leave you in awe.

So, grab your binoculars, and let’s dive into the fascinating world of Ontario’s water birds!

American WigeonAmerican Wigeon
Blue-winged TealBlue-winged Teal
Northern ShovelerNorthern Shoveler
Green-winged TealGreen-winged Teal
Wood DuckWood Duck
Tundra SwanTundra Swan
Great Blue HeronGreat Blue Heron
Green HeronGreen Heron
American BitternAmerican Bittern

Types of Water Birds in Ontario

1. American Wigeon

Credits – ebird

American Wigeons have white hats and greenish stripes on the sides of their heads.

The remaining ones have a brownish-gray hue.

The females have a brown color overall, with a grayish brown on top of their heads.

Both sexes have relatively white bill coloring.

The breeding range of the American Wigeon includes mostly the northernmost parts of western Canada, the United States, and Alaska.

They migrate to the warmer climes of the southern and central United States, as well as the shores of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, during the winter.

The American Wigeon is a species of duck that may be found in ponds, marshes, and fields, where it feeds on plants both underwater and on land.

Even insects and other invertebrates are fair game for them.

American wigeons build their nests distant from bodies of water on the ground among grasslands and meadows. 

The female prepares a nest of down feathers, grass, and twigs in a dip in the ground, where she will deposit anywhere from 11 to 13 eggs.

It doesn’t take long for the ducklings to leave the nest.

2. Blue-winged Teal

Blue-Winged Teal

The blue-winged teal is a tiny duck belonging to the Anatidae family. With a white crescent ahead of their eyes, their head has a bluish-gray color.

Their whole brown, the speckled body extends from their breast to their tail.

Once their wings are spread, you can see a characteristic blue spot on the shoulders, which is outlined in white and green.

The females possess the same glossy brown coloration as the males but lack the males’ white facial markings.

After successfully breeding in Canada or the United States, Blue-winged Teals will migrate to warmer climates in places like Mexico, the Gulf Coast, the Caribbean, the southern West Coast, Northern and Central South America, and Florida.

Blue-winged Teals are found around the shores of ponds and lakes that have calm or slow water and have outcroppings of trees and rocks.

In addition to preferring the shallow water and lush foliage of places including marshes and swamps, this species makes its home near these types of habitats.

You may see them during the mating season in the northern parks and plains.

Blue-winged Teals subsist mostly on the floating aquatic vegetation that they discover.

It is possible that they feed water insects, especially during the mating season.

Blue-winged Teals build their nests in depressions on the ground, typically near water and hidden from predators by dense vegetation.

Lined with down, they are constructed from grass and weeds.

Females may produce anything from five to fifteen eggs, which they then tend for two to three weeks.

Ducklings are able to take their first steps a few hours after hatching; however, they won’t be able to fly for another six to eight weeks.

3. Northern Shoveler


Male Northern Shovelers may be identified by their distinctive greenish heads and big black spoon-shaped beaks.

Its sides are rusty brown, its breast is white, and its back is black.

The male has blue spots on his wings as well.

The females of this species have a dappled brown color, a blue shoulder band, and enormous orange beaks.

The Northern Shoveler spends the winter across the southern part of the United States, as well as along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts up to Canada.

These birds spend the summer mating in the western part of Canada and the northwest states of the United States.

The Great Lakes region is also home to breeding populations.

Northern shovelers congregate in bunches in low, stagnant water.

Shovelers filter out invertebrates, crustaceans, and even some seeds from the water they eat by churning up the bottom and sweeping their bills from side to side.

The lamellae, which are comblike extensions along the border of their bills, are used to force the water out and to grab the food.

4. Mallard


The male Mallard ducks possess very noticeable greenish heads.

Their bills are brilliant yellow, and their gray bodies are marked by brown chests and black at the base of the tail.

They possess a speculum, a blue spot on the wing edged with white, and a curl of tail feathers.

Females and youngsters possess a mottled brown appearance and have orange bills in addition to the speculum that is still blue.

The western coasts of Alaska and Canada, as well as the continental United States, are permanent homes for mallards.

Migrating south from their breeding grounds across Alaska and Canada, these birds may be seen in northern Mexico and the southern United States.

Among the most known ducks, mallards may be found in ponds and rivers and are eager to receive handouts.

They are non-diving dabbling ducks that consume aquatic vegetation.

Extremely long-lived, the oldest one ever documented was 27 years old.

Mallard ducks often build their nests on land, somewhat near water.

They are often dug into the earth and covered with plants from the surrounding region or concealed behind overhanging grass.

They may lay up to fourteen eggs at a time, and after around three to four weeks, the hatchlings are able to leave the nest.

Hunted and raised for their meat, Mallards are the ancestors of almost all domestic ducks.

5. Green-winged Teal

Green-Winged Teal

Green-winged Teal ducks are tiny waterfowl known for their dabbling antics.

A greenish stripe runs down the middle of the male’s skull. The remainders of their heads appear brown, while their bodies are a drab gray.

Females are dark throughout, but their tails are bright yellow.

An identifying feature of both sexes is a green spot on each wing.

The majority of Green-winged Teals go south from their Arctic breeding habitats across the northern United States, Alaska, and Canada to winter in the southern United States and along the Pacific Coast.

The Rocky Mountains, however, serve as a permanent home for a few species of ducks.

Approximately 50,000 Green-winged Teals have been counted in big flocks on flooded terrain and small ponds.

They eat things like seeds and insects.

Green-winged teals build their nests among dense vegetation, usually on the ground.

Green-winged Teal nests are ground colonies across wetlands, grasslands, and meadows.

A maximum of nine eggs are laid, and the hatching time is around three weeks.

The ducklings may be pushed out of the nest in very short order.

6. Wood Duck

Wood Duck

Male Wood Ducks are easily identifiable by their stunning crests, which are white and black and topped off with bright red eyes and a gorgeous green head.

True to their name, these winged creatures have beautiful manes.

Their bodies are a kaleidoscope of colors: reddish-brown on the breast, buff on the flanks, brown on the tail and back, with white patterns and iridescent blue highlights.

The females are darker in color overall, with grayer brown hair and white surrounding their black eyes.

Their wings include blue spots called a speculum.

Most of the United States, including the Pacific Coast and certain regions in the Northwest, is home to Wood Ducks.

Breeding Wood Ducks in Canada and the northern USA often spend the winter in Mexico and the southern United States.

Common in forested swamps, Wood Ducks graze on insects, seeds, and fruit both in and out of the water.

They also forage for food in woodlands and fields.

Wood Ducks build their nests approximately 60 feet in the air in tree holes that are located near bodies of water.

Women use their own down, gathered from their chests, to line the nest.

They may lay up to sixteen eggs at a time, and after four to five weeks, the young will use their clawed feet to crawl out of the nest and then leap to safety.

7. Tundra Swan

Tundra Swan

As the most common and populous swan species on the continent, Tundra Swans are split into two subspecies.

Those living in the Western hemisphere are the other.

As they make their way from their Atlantic coast wintering grounds to their Arctic coast nesting sites in the springtime, only members of the Eastern Population pass through Southern Ontario.

Swans may be seen by the general public at many staging grounds across Southern Ontario.

A pair of Tundra Swans will stick together for the long haul.

They usually find a companion by the time they are two or three.

Once this occurs, the two birds will spend the whole year doing everything together, including eating, breeding, migrating and sleeping.

The most frequent call made by these birds is a “hooo-hoo-hooo” bugle, with the emphasis placed on the second syllable.

The whistling of a Tundra Swan’s wings is another common sound.

Many people today still refer to them as “whistling swans,” the moniker Lewis and Clark gave them upon first seeing them.

8. Bufflehead


The small, bulbous heads of these birds led the ancient Greeks to give them the moniker “bullheaded.”

The male Bufflehead may be identified by the large white area that sits just between its eyes.

This patch draws attention to the glossy green and purple hues that may be seen on the face, neck, and head.

They have a black top half and a white lower half.

Male and female Buffleheads appear different from each other, with the exception of the latter’s characteristic bulbous head.

The area just below each of their eyes is white, setting off their otherwise black or dark brown skulls.

Its lower half is gray, and its upper half is black. As with adult females, juveniles have brown heads and a white spot on their foreheads.

The Pacific coasts of Canada, the United States, and northern Mexico are frequent stops for migratory buffleheads, which breed across Canada.

During their journey, they are frequently seen across the Appellations and the Midwest.

During the mating season, you may see Buffleheads in lakes and ponds surrounded by poplar and aspen trees.

They seek the safety of shallow bays and inlets or the shore during the colder months.

Diverse species of buffleheads may be found in the ocean, although they mostly forage by diving.

Underwater, they hunt for aquatic insects, mollusks, and crustaceans, which they consume.

Buffleheads are soft-spoken birds that don’t create loud noises.

During the mating season, males are more vocal and may produce squeaking or chattering noises.

A mother’s voice is heard by her young.

Buffleheads tend to utilize tree cavities, especially those formerly used by Northern Flicker woodpeckers, as nesting sites.

Tiny tree-shaped cavities are found in close proximity to a body of water.

Just enough down feathers for the female to conceal the eggs in the nest.

For thirty days, she incubates anything from five to twelve eggs.

9. Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

The Great Blue Heron is the biggest species of heron found in North America.

A black crest or feather stretches from in front of their eyes to behind their ears on their otherwise white faces.

The color of their bills ranges between yellow and orange.

They possess long gray legs, grayish-blue bodies, gray necks streaked with white and black, and a gray head.

Although Great Blue Herons may be seen in much of the United States throughout the year, those that nest mostly in Canada and Midwest often move south during the winter months.

Throughout Florida, a variant of the Great Blue Heron known as the Great White Heron may be seen.

A Great Blue Heron’s natural habitat is any area with a significant wetland component.

They may be found in a wide variety of wetland habitats, including freshwater and saltwater marshes, flooded marshes, mangrove swamps, shorelines, and lake borders.

Shrimps, frogs, fish, salamanders, crabs, grasshoppers, dragonflies, and other aquatic insects make up a large portion of the Great Blue Heron’s diet.

Wading or standing in water is where they do most of their hunting.

They can float on the water’s surface, fly over water, dive into the water, leap feet-first from perches, and more.

Many Great Blue Herons choose to raise their young in large nesting colonies on the branches of trees near bodies of water.

Twigs and sticks are woven together and then covered with a softer material to create the nests.

Since Great Blue Herons often return to the same nests throughout the years, it’s possible that the nests have been expanded via maintenance and additions.

Two to seven eggs are then laid by the female. For around four weeks, both parents will take turns tending to the eggs.

10. Green Heron

Green Heron

Their namesake, the green heron, gets its name from the glossy green-black coloration seen on the bird’s crests, crowns, wings, and backs.

However, you must take a closer look at these birds, which seem stooped and gloomy from a distance.

Their normally two-toned bills become all black during the mating season.

Their legs and irises likewise change color from yellow to orange.

Their upper bodies, including their necks and heads, have a maroon or chestnut color.

A white vertical stripe across the front of the neck. The undersides of their stomachs are gray.

Young ones have more of a crest and are a darker brown overall.

Green Herons migrate south from their breeding grounds in the east and along the coast of the United States.

Those in Mexico, the Gulf South, and the Caribbean, however, stay open year-round.

Green Herons are common sights in wetlands that have a lot of vegetation, such as marshes, swamps, ponds, and lakes.

However, if there are sources of water around, they will remain in orchards or dry woodlands, even if they like inland or coastal wetlands.

Green Herons consume insects, tiny fish, spiders, snails, reptiles, crabs, rodents, and amphibians.

They prefer to hunt from the beach, perched on sticks above the water, then go out into the sea.

Green Herons build their nests of long, thin sticks on the branches of trees well above the water, while some species have also been seen using nests on the ground, concealed by shrubs.

Females may lay a maximum of six eggs at a time, spacing each out by two days.

The last egg is deposited, and then the twenty-day incubation period, during which both parents tend to the eggs, begins.

Once their offspring hatch, both species will care for them.

11. American Bittern

American Bittern
Credits – All About Birds

American Bitterns aren’t easy to spot, but you may be able to hear their strange, watery boom cries in the spring.

The American Bittern, a member of the heron family, is a chunky, medium-sized bird that often lives alone.

Their brown patterned and speckled patterns and ability to remain immobile amid the reeds with their head raised to make them seem to be part of the reeds themselves.

They possess small legs and golden eyes that become orange while they are courting.

The American Bittern is a wading bird that migrates from its breeding grounds across Canada and the northern United States to Mexico and the Gulf Coast in the winter.

The American Bittern is a bird that lives nearly entirely in tall reed marshes and other wetland habitats with shallow water.

You may discover them by looking for coarse vegetation along the borders of ponds and lakes.

American Bitterns consume a variety of amphibians, crustaceans, fish, insects, and small animals.

They lurk silently among the reeds, waiting for their victim to get near enough to grab their bills, and then they pounce.

The American Bittern’s nests are floating islands of coarse grass.

The females choose a suitable location and construct the nest themselves out of local materials, including cattails, sedges, reeds, and other plants.

The incubation period lasts around 26 days after they deposit up to seven eggs. After hatching, the females regurgitate food into the young’s beaks.

They fledge in about two weeks and become independent shortly afterward.

Check out this article on Common Birds of Ontario.


In conclusion, the 11 types of water birds in Ontario are a testament to the incredible biodiversity of the province.

Whether you’re a seasoned birder or simply someone who loves to appreciate nature, these birds offer endless opportunities for discovery and learning.

From the Tundra Swan to the Green Heron, each species has its own unique traits and behaviors that make them fascinating to observe.

So the next time you’re near a lake or river in Ontario, take a moment to appreciate the beauty of these magnificent creatures.

They are a reminder of the incredible richness of our natural world and the importance of preserving and protecting our environment for future generations.


Where can I see these water birds in Ontario?

You can see these water birds in various lakes, rivers, and wetlands throughout Ontario. Some popular birding spots include the Thousand Islands National Park, the Ottawa River, and Bruce Peninsula Park.

What is the most common water bird in Ontario?

The most common water bird in Ontario is the mallard duck.

Are water birds in Ontario migratory?

Some water birds in Ontario are migratory, meaning they move from one place to another in search of food and breeding habitats. Examples of migratory water birds in Ontario include geese and ducks.

How do water birds adapt to their environment?

Water birds have various adaptations that allow them to survive and thrive in their aquatic habitats. Some adaptations include waterproof feathers, webbed feet, and specialized beaks for fishing.

What is the best time of year to observe water birds in Ontario?

The best time of year to observe water birds in Ontario depends on the species and their migration patterns. In general, the spring and fall migrations are the best times to see a variety of water birds.

What should I bring when observing water birds in Ontario?

When observing water birds in Ontario, it is recommended to bring binoculars, a bird identification guide, and a field journal. Wearing appropriate clothing and footwear for the weather and terrain is also important.

Last Updated on March 22, 2023 by Lily Aldrin

About Lily Aldrin

I am Lily Aldrin. I attended Cornell University, where I obtained my degree to become an Ornithologist so I could pursue my love of these magnificent creatures in and out of their natural habitats.

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