Birdwatching in New Brunswick has come a long way since John James Audubon alerted the world to the many birds on Grand Manan Island back in 1831.
Although many 'twitchers' have followed in Audubon's footsteps, New Brunswick remains a secret waiting to be discovered by birdwatchers of all levels.
Over 400 bird species have been recorded here: some of New Brunswick's specialties include American Black Duck, Greater & Sooty Shearwater, Piping Plover, Atlantic Puffin, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Boreal Chickadee, Bicknell’s Thrush, wood-warblers (23 breeding species), Nelson’s Sparrow, and Pine Grosbeak.
Our province’s importance to migratory birds is hard to overstate, and the autumn migration is a ‘don't miss' event. Come to see millions of Arctic-nesting shorebirds - including 85 percent of the world’s population of Semipalmated Sandpipers - migrate each autumn to South America through New Brunswick (and neighbouring Nova Scotia), with many making one critical stop on their 4,000 km journey, on the shores of the Bay of Fundy. They arrive at precise locations on the Bay of Fundy coast in southeast New Brunswick, including Dorchester Cape, Johnson's Mills, and Mary's Point, and there they feed on tiny mud shrimp – a single bird can eat 10-20,000 mud shrimp during a single tidal cycle, helping them to triple their body weight in 2-3 weeks, providing the necessary energy for the southern migration.
The Semipalmated Sandpiper is celebrated in late July at an annual festival in Dorchester, a community that is home to ‘Shep', the world's largest – (and, most likely, only) Semipalmated Sandpiper statue. Other common migrant shorebirds include Semipalmated Plover, Least and White-rumped Sandpiper, and Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs.
Grand Manan Island is another 'must' for birders – when you go whale watching, keep your eyes peeled for Red and Red-necked Phalarope, Parasitic and Pomarine Jaeger, Greater and Sooty Shearwater, and Wilson’s Storm-Petrel. Many vagrant species occur in spring and autumn. During the nesting season, diminutive Machias Seal Island, approximately 15km to the west, hosts thousands of pelagic birds including Atlantic Puffin, Razorbill, and Common And Arctic Tern. Small numbers of human visitors are daily permitted a careful, supervised landing.
In the southeast corner of New Brunswick, just off the Trans-Canada Highway, over 3km of boardwalks and trails in the Sackville Waterfowl Park lead you to the 150 species of waterfowl and songbirds attracted annually. Close by, Cape Jourimain National Wildlife Area is also rewarding.
The estuaries, bogs, forests and salt marshes of Kouchibouguac National Park provide a variety of habitat for more than 230 species of birds, including the largest tern colony in the province: more than 7,000 pairs of Common Tern nest on appropiately-named Tern Island. Head for the Restigouche River Estuary, particularly for Black Scoters during spring migration. The Estuary is also used as a staging area by Surf Scoters, and Red-breasted and Common Mergansers. In season, you may also see Osprey and Common Eider. Further north the migrant-trap of Miscou Island (accessible via a causeway) hosts over 250 species annually, and attracts serious birders from across North America and beyond.
Although the majority of the best birding sites are along (or just off) New Brunswick’s Bay of Fundy and Acadian coasts, we have a number of other important and worthwhile regions for birdwatching.
Mount Carleton Provincial Park and the nearby Nepisiguit Highlands offer opportunities to see Bicknell’s Thrush, and further south keen ears might hear a Yellow Rail and eagle-eyes might spot a Black Tern by the Lower Saint John River near Oromocto. The region supports a breeding population of Greater Scaup, and thousands of other waterfowl use this site during migration.
The communities of Gagetown and nearby Cambridge-Narrows host a birding event each May.
Another delight of New Brunswick is that you don’t even have to go far from the urban centres for wonderful birdwatching: Osprey, waterfowl, and even Bald Eagles are seen at the Ducks Unlimited Centre on the north bank of the Saint John River in Fredericton, and just 5km from the centre of Saint John the Irving Nature Park is well worth a visit.