Mckellar Island Bird Observatory
Posted on: May 6, 2019
Eastern Bluebird about to be released at Mckellar Island Bird Observatory. (Credit: John Woodcock)

As the season changes from winter into spring, a variety of birds travel back to their northern homes on and near the shores of Lake Superior. If you are interested in learning about these migratory birds and participating in conservation efforts, there may be a bird banding station near you that accepts visitors and volunteers. Here in Thunder Bay, the McKellar Island Bird Observatory, established in 2014 by John and Maureen Woodcock, accepts volunteers and visitors in the Spring and Fall.

The following article, provided by John & Maureen Woodcock, outlines what they do and how you can get involved:

Mckellar Island Bird Observatory is located in Thunder Bay, ON on Mckellar Island, which is bordered by the Kaministiquia River, the McKellar River and Lake Superior. Click the image above to view the location in Google Maps. (Credit: John Woodcock)

McKellar Island Bird Observatory is a bird migration monitoring and banding station. We do daily counts of migrating landbirds during May, August, September and October. We also use an array of 20 nets set in a forested environment to capture birds (every morning, 7 days a week, weather permitting), following a standardized protocol. Every 30 minutes the nets are checked and data is collected on the birds that are captured. They are then banded and released. Visitors are always welcome and have the opportunity to accompany us when we check nets and then release one of the birds that has been banded. Inquire about volunteer opportunities.

Volunteer Nathan examines a mist net at Mckellar Island Bird Observatory. Nets are checked every 30 minutes and data on captured birds is recorded before banding and release. (Credit: John Woodcock)

McKellar Island Bird Observatory (MIBO) is a contributing member of the Canadian Migration Monitoring Network (CMMN) ( working in collaboration with Bird Studies Canada. Banding birds is an integral part of the migration monitoring program. The main objectives of the migration monitoring program at MIBO are:

A) To collect data suitable for trend analysis with the aim of documenting changes in populations of small landbirds that migrate through northwestern Ontario, as a contribution to the Canadian Migration Monitoring Network (CMMN)

B) To provide volunteers with opportunities to learn new skills

C) To engage in public outreach through demonstrations and on-site visits

The White Throated Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco and Yellow Rumped Warbler are among the top 5 species banded at the Mckellar Island Bird Observatory in the Spring. (Credit: John Woodcock)

Every year thousands of birds stop to rest and eat at McKellar Island during their annual migration. In the spring an average of 328 birds of 44 species are banded with the top 5 species banded being: White-throated Sparrow, American Goldfinch, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Dark-eyed Junco and Palm Warbler. In the fall an average of 2,300 birds of 67 species are banded with the top 5 species banded being: Tennessee Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Nashville Warbler, White-throated Sparrow and Dark-eyed Junco. An average of 25 birds is banded daily throughout the fall. Visit our field station and tag along with a bird biologist to get an “up-close and personal” educational experience with wild birds. See how birds are captured, banded and then released.  Learn about migration monitoring and bird watching in general. This is your chance to ask an expert about bird related issues. Excellent photo opportunities. See us at Contact us at

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