Tick Aware in Toronto


Here at the Nature Centre, we believe that being outdoors is vitally important to human health. We love exploring and stewarding natural spaces in High Park and know that many of you share in our love of being outdoors in green spaces across the city. These green spaces are home to wild birds, insects, mammals, amphibians and reptiles. Living among these wild creatures is one of the benefits of having such rich biodiversity in Toronto, however, it can be really scary when some of the animals we share the city with pose a risk to our wellbeing.

As you have likely seen in the media, ticks are one such creature that can present a hazard. Ticks are very slow arachnids (cousins of spiders and other 8-legged invertebrates). They cannot fly or jump. Ticks climb up to the tips of grasses or shrubs and wait for a creature to brush up against it. The tick then climbs aboard to feed on its host over several days. While feeding, a tick can pass diseases on to their host. One of those diseases could be Lyme disease but it is very important to note that not all ticks transmit disease.

Three species of ticks have been reported in Toronto. Blacklegged tick (a.k.a. deer tick) is the species that can transmit Lyme disease. American dog ticks are more common than blacklegged ticks. Brown dog ticks are more rare and generally live indoors.  American dog ticks and brown dog ticks do not transmit Lyme, but can carry other disease-causing bacteria. For identification and habitat info, click here.C:\Users\Staff\Desktop\ticks.jpg

Image: Centres for Disease Control and Prevention

Based on Toronto Public Health’s tick surveillance program, blacklegged ticks have not been reported in High Park. However, blacklegged tick populations are becoming established in Toronto and ticks infected with Lyme disease-causing bacteria have recently been found in a few locations in Toronto (e.g. Algonquin Island on the Toronto Islands and parts of Rouge Park).

Being “tick smart” and learning about ticks and the hazards they present will go a long way in keeping you and your family safe while still spending as much time outdoors as possible.  

Here are some suggestions for “tick smart” outdoor adventures:

  • Wear closed-toe shoes, long-sleeved shirts and pants. Tuck your pant legs into your socks to prevent ticks from crawling up your legs. This will make it harder for ticks to find your skin and give you a greater chance at finding the ticks before they begin to feed. The chances of getting Lyme disease increase after the tick has been attached for 24 hours, so finding them quickly is best.

  • Wear light-coloured clothes to make spotting ticks easier.

  • Use insect repellant containing DEET, Icaridin or essential oils on your skin and clothing.

  • Stay on established trails. Not only will you prevent trampling and erosion, you will also reduce the amount of foliage you brush up against and decrease the chance that a tick will climb aboard.

  • Picnic on mown lawns instead of wild areas or put a plastic ground sheet down to reduce the chance of picking up ticks.

  • Before leaving a green space or natural area, remove your outerwear and do a preliminary tick check.

  • Upon returning home, do a “full body” check for ticks. Adults can use a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body. Children should have the help of a parent or guardian when doing a tick check. Be sure to check the places where ticks are known to latch on:

    • Under the arms

    • In and around the ears

    • Inside the belly button

    • Back of the knees

    • In and around the hair and hairline

    • Between the legs

    • Around the waist

  • Shower or bathe within two hours of being outdoors to wash away loose ticks. Comb hair well with a fine toothed comb.

  • Check your furry friends after walks for ticks. Brushing a dog’s fur and feeling for ticks with your fingers will help you detect them quicker. Ticks found on dogs should be brought to a veterinarian for identification and to be sent for testing. Medication is available for dogs that prevents tick bites.  

If you do find any type of tick on your body, remove it as soon as possible with fine-tipped tweezers using the instructions here.  Do not squeeze or burn the tick off – doing so could cause the tick to inject Lyme disease-causing bacteria into your body (if the tick carries the bacteria). Place the removed tick in a jar and bring it to one of the Toronto Public Health offices listed here for identification and testing. Submitting the tick to Toronto Public Health helps in tracking tick populations and their movement within Toronto.

Toronto Public Health has an excellent fact sheet about Lyme disease and ticks that can be downloaded here

Despite ticks becoming established in our city and the fear that this can bring, we encourage everyone to continue to get outside and connect with the natural spaces that we are so fortunate to have! Being “tick smart” and learning about ticks and the hazards they present will go a long way in keeping you and your family safe while still spending as much time outdoors as possible.


Happiness in Hibernation

by Guest Blogger Gar Concannon

Spring is officially here!  Recently I wrote about the dietary habits of wildlife in winter in High Park and hopefully you managed to find some time for some animal spotting in High Park since then.

If not, rest assured as spring is upon us and we are starting to feel the early season warmth.  The Cherry Blossoms of High Park will be out in no time and the snow and slush will be a distant memory.  Before all that though, High Park’s animal life will be stirring and making appearances that will certainly brighten up your walks.

Eastern Chipmunk

One of my favourite mammals to observe in High Park is the Eastern Chipmunk.  They are a member of the squirrel family.  You will spot these mostly on the wooded trails around High Park in spring.  The Eastern Chipmunk of High Park will spend most of their time in winter months in burrows.  To make a burrow, the chipmunk will dig a tunnel and will then fill the spaces with seeds, leaves and grass.  They will carry the seeds in pouches in their cheeks which shows the industrious nature of these creatures.  

Although they are not hibernators in the true meaning of the word, the Eastern Chipmunk will enter a torpid state called shallow hibernation that allows them to wake every few weeks to snack on their reserves that they spend the fall accumulating.  Chipmunks will start prepping for winter as early as July to prepare for the long winters.  In early spring, we will see a rise in their activity in High Park.  Chances are you will hear their chirping sound before you see them.  The snow will not slow them down either as they are known to dig up through a metre of snow If they are determined enough.


The largest member of the squirrel family to start making appearances around this time of year is the groundhog.  Legend has it that these fascinating creatures can also predict the weather and seasons!  We could really do with their help of late with this ever-changing weather!  The groundhog like the Eastern Chipmunk are fantastic architects navigating through burrows that they carve out with their impressively sharp claws.  During the warmer months, a groundhog’s incisors grow about 1.6mm each week to keep up with their eating schedule.  It is said that they can eat up to a pound of food per sitting.  This figure is even more impressive considering the total body weight of an adult groundhog is roughly 13lbs!

Groundhogs are very much like ourselves in the summer months.  They like to eat and to spend time sunning themselves.  What’s not to like about them?!  

The groundhog will go into true hibernation mode during the winter.  Their heartbeat slows from 80 beats per minute to 5 beats per minute.  Their respiration reduces from 16 breaths per minute to as few as 2 breaths per minute.  Their sustained feeding frenzy during the summer and fall months makes sense when we see how adaptive their bodies are during the winter hibernation period.

In February, male groundhogs will seek out a female partner and as spring progresses the mating season will continue.  During winter, they burrow in wooded areas but as the warmer weather approaches you will find them nesting in grassier areas. Although groundhog appearances in High Park are rare, keep an eye out for these wonderful rodents on your next trip, if it’s a warm sunny spring day, you might even see one sunbathing!  

The Eastern Chipmunk and groundhog’s ability to adapt and to survive the colder months never ceases to amaze.  Their instinctive ability to prepare for the changing seasons is just one facet of their extraordinary lives.






 Photo credits

Eastern Chipmunk - Gilles Gonthier

Groundhog - Matt MacGillivray


Three Baby Animals You Might See in High Park This Spring

By Guest Blogger Laura De Vuono

As April approaches, High Park is beginning to show some sure signs of spring. Although we are still due some uncertain weather before spring has fully sprung, this is a great time to explore the park and look for the first signs of the new season. One of the best things about spring in High Park is the arrival of baby animals. Most mammals in the park begin to have their young in late winter to early spring, so on your next visit be sure to keep a watchful eye out for signs of these little critters.

Eastern Grey Squirrel

The eastern grey squirrel is the most common animal found in High Park, and the baby animal you’re most likely to spot if you look hard enough. They have two breeding seasons—one in late winter (January and February) and one in midsummer (June and July)—and the winter babies begin to appear in the early spring. Young eastern grey squirrels can be seen exploring their surroundings outside of their nest by 8 weeks old, and by 12 weeks they are almost fully grown and independent.

Eastern Chipmunk

The eastern chipmunk is another common inhabitant of High Park—they can be heard chirping and chattering as they scurry about the park during the spring, summer, and fall. Unlike the eastern grey squirrel, most chipmunks only have one breeding season a year, from mid-April to mid-May. Young eastern chipmunks only weigh about 3 grams at birth, making them the tiniest babies on this list. They grow quickly, however, and reach their full adult size by early fall of their first year, and most begin to breed in their first spring. While exploring High Park this April, keep an eye out for young chipmunks foraging outside of their burrows for the first leaves and shoots of the season—they might be even more charming than their adult counterparts.


High Park is also home to Toronto’s favourite masked mammal: the raccoon. Just as likely to make their den in a hollow tree as in a brick chimney in a residential neighbourhood, raccoons and their young are notoriously adaptable to life in a big city. Raccoons breed in late winter and early spring and their young are mostly born in May, although births have been recorded as early as March. Young raccoons stay with their mother until they are about a year old, and their distinctive facial markings begin to develop in their first few weeks of life. It is not uncommon to see young raccoons following their mother through the trails of High Park in search of their next meal.

Spring in High Park means rebirth and renewal. Although it may seem a long way away, the promise of new life—blossoms, blooms, and baby animals alike—is enough to keep the cold at bay for now as we dream of warmer days.





Winter Diet for the Animals of High Park

By Guest Blogger Gar Concannon

Red Fox

Photo by Peggy Cadigan

The recent snow melt and increase in temperatures of late have transformed High Park into an early spring landscape for all to enjoy.  As you are walking through the park exploring the paths and trails, it’s hard to imagine that animals have stayed in High Park all winter long, surviving through the cold temperatures and snowy conditions. Keep an eye out for signs of winter wildlife on your next journey through High Park.  

We know there are plenty of animals that stick around and call High Park their home during the winter, but what are they eating to survive the cold temperatures?  One of my personal favourite sounds on spring walks in High Park is the chirp of chipmunks as they forage for seeds left over from the previous summer months – a sound that may be heard sooner than anticipated!

I often wondered what happens to these little mammals during the bitter winter months and what are they eating to survive?

The Eastern Chipmunk hibernates during the winter months, but does not build up layers of fat. In the summer months, chipmunks will begin to collect and store large quantities of seeds. By October, each chipmunk has accumulated enough seeds to enable it to survive the winter months.  With the onset of winter in November, chipmunks will then disappear into their subterranean burrow.  Chipmunks are important in the dispersal of seeds because of their habit of storing them underground. Any seeds that are not consumed stand a better chance of germinating than those remaining on the soil surface. In this way, chipmunks assist in the spread of shrubs, trees, and other plants.  

They have been known to pop up from hibernation on milder days during March, occasionally burrowing through a meter of snow to do so.

Another animal that always fascinated me was the fox.  In Ireland where I grew up, these shy creatures were plentiful and would often be spotted at dawn when there was less chance of bumping into a human!  These animals are beautiful to observe in their natural habitats if you ever get a chance to do so.  High Park is no stranger to Red Fox activity and winter is a great time to see them with the sparse landscape making sightings more common.  The fox is well acclimatized to dealing with cold winter months.  The fox will wrap its long bushy tail around itself to keep their face and feet warm.

During winter, food is not as plentiful for foxes. They primarily eat meat during the winter months such as meadow voles, mice and squirrels.  When High Park is covered in snow, foxes rely on their senses to hunt for food.  A fox’s hearing is one of its strongest senses when it comes to winter food.  It is said that a fox can hear a watch ticking from 120 feet away!  This incredible advantage is important in tough winter landscapes.  

Foxes can locate rodents and other small animals underground by sound.  This is important when there can be up to a meter of snow between the fox and its prey.  If a fox’s hearing allows it to locate a small animal below ground, the fox stalks it and pounces from as far as 16 feet away, using its tail to steer while in mid-air.  The agility and speed (a fox can run up to nearly 50km per hour!) are significant advantages to surviving winter in High Park.  Keep an eye out for fox tracks in the snow in winter.  To distinguish a fox track from a dogs you can study the pattern.  Dog track marks will be random, whereas a fox track tends to have more purpose and direction as they hunt.

Although High Park might appear to be empty at this time of year, the park is in fact teeming with wildlife and activity.  As humans brave the winter elements, so too do our animal friends. They just have to work a little bit harder than us for their meals!

If you’re looking for a family adventure this winter, why not take advantage of one of the many guided Family Nature Walks in High Park. For more information on specific dates, please follow this link: https://www.highparknaturecentre.com/family-nature-walks/







Coniferous Tree ID: Scots Pine

By Guest Blogger Laura De Vuono

Bruce Martin

Scots Pine by Bruce Martin

Unlike deciduous trees whose defining characteristics make them easier to identify, many coniferous trees can look very similar. If you take a closer look at their bark, needles, and seeds, however, it’s clear that every pine, fir, and cedar has a personality and history of its own; you just need to get to know them. One such conifer is the Scots Pine.

The mature Scots Pine, also known as the Scots Fir or Scotch Pine, can be identified by its long, narrow, often twisted trunk that is usually bare of needles until its broad, flat or rounded crown. Young Scots Pines have the more typical pyramidal pine shape. Its bark near the crown is a distinctive flaky orange-brown, and it can be differentiated from other pine species by its two needle bundles. The needles of the Scots Pine are rigid and often twisted together, unlike other Pines with straight or more flexible needles.

Franz Eugen Köhler

Illustration of Scots Pine by Franz Eugen Köhler

Although abundant in High Park and other parts of Toronto and Ontario, the Scots Pine (if you haven’t already guessed by its name) is not native to Canada; it is a Northern European tree, and the national tree of Scotland. It is the most widely distributed pine species in the world, and because of this, it varies widely in shape and appearance. The Scots Pine is used and loved by many creatures of High Park, such as the Eastern Grey Squirrel as well as many species of birds. Scots Pine seeds are a favourite snack of the elusive Red Squirrel; if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of one of these little rodents sitting amongst the needles or searching for pinecones along the branches of a High Park Scots Pine.

Because of its incredible resiliency since its introduction to Canada, this mighty Pine has begun to flourish in places where native trees cannot, and has even been known to dominate some sensitive ecosystems, pushing native species out. Because of its invasive nature, some efforts have been taken to control the growth of this beautiful conifer in some parts of the province. But worry not, the Scots Pine will not be eradicated any time soon—this hardy pine will not give up that easily!

Next time you’re in High Park, see if you can identify the spirited Scots Pine amongst the other conifers—look out for twisted needles in bunches of two, orange-brown bark, and a long, narrow trunk with a wide, parasol-shaped crown.






Top 5 Things to Do in High Park in Winter

By Guest Blogger Theresa Ogurian

Black Oak Savannah in winter. Photo by High Park Nature Centre.

Black Oak Savannah in winter. Photo by High Park Nature Centre.

Despite appearances this January, winter is the coldest season of the year. It is the time of the year when the temperature drops and snow falls. It is the time when some animals hibernate and some birds migrate to warmer climates. With the warm jackets and big boots needed in winter, some people may feel like hibernating or migrating too. But instead of staying indoors, or going on a vacation to a tropical town, why not embrace winter in the city and explore High Park in winter!

Going to a park may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of winter, but spending time in nature in a beautiful park can be rewarding in any season. To get you motivated, here are the top 5 things to do in High Park this winter.

Family Nature Walks – Attend a drop-in Family Nature Walk at the High Park Nature Centre. Upcoming winter topics include Trekking and Tracking, Amazing Animal Adaptions, Know Your Nature and more. It is always fascinating to learn something new about nature. You can find the full schedule of walks here: http://ow.ly/VPnw308lvPR.

Birding – Several species of birds are still very active in High Park, such as Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays, Black-capped Chickadees, Downy Woodpeckers, and American Robins. There have even been sightings of Bald Eagles in the park this winter! Be sure to check out several habitats to see the greatest variety of birds, including the Black-Oak Savannahs and Grenadier Pond.

Tracking – Want to be a nature detective? A fun activity for the whole family is looking for animal tracks in the snow or mud! Common tracks found in High Park are from grey squirrels, raccoons, and dogs. If you are lucky you may even find coyote tracks! Once you’re on the trail, see how far the tracks take you and enjoy a day of curious exploration in the park.

Ice Skating – Another popular winter activity in High Park is skating on Grenadier Pond – but only if the flag is yellow! If you want to learn how to skate, you can also check out the outdoor rink near the tennis courts during public skating hours, or register to learn to skate with Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation. . You can learn more about their skating program here: http://ow.ly/KxyV308lz5L.

Hiking and Photography – High Park is a huge place! Did you know there’s a bird sanctuary? What about an outdoor amphitheatre? Have you seen the sculptures surrounding the Forest School? Strap on your boots (or snowshoes!) and take photos of the hidden gems in High Park. If you have a photo you would like featured in our #photooftheweek, send your best shot to naturecentre@highpark.org.

There are many things to do at High Park in winter that will get you outside, discovering this beautiful place. We challenge you to try at least one of these adventures this winter, so embrace the brisk air, learn about nature, and have fun!


High Park Nature Centre: https://www.highparknaturecentre.com/adult-workshops/

High Park Nature Centre: https://www.highparknaturecentre.com/2017/01/birds-keeping-warm-this-winter/

Toronto: http://www1.toronto.ca/parks/prd/facilities/complex/77/index.htm City of Toronto: http://www1.toronto.ca/wps/portal/contentonly?vgnextoid=5e5c2271635af310VgnVCM10000071d60f89RCRD

Tiny but Mighty: The Red-Breasted Nuthatch

By Guest Blogger Laura De Vuono

Photo by Wolfgang Wander

Photo by Wolfgang Wander

      While wandering through the snow-covered wonderland that is High Park during Toronto’s long winter months, you might catch a flash of rusty red darting through the trees, perched on a branch, or zipping up and down a tree trunk. If you look closely, you may see the Red-Breasted Nuthatch, a diminutive songbird with a big personality.

        Red-Breasted Nuthatches are identified by their small size, black and white striped head, and copper-coloured breast plumage. As is the case with many bird species, the males are more brightly coloured than the females, whose breast feathers are a much paler hue than the vibrant rusty orange of the males.

        Although their diet consists largely of insects, these tiny birds are named for their unique way of getting nuts and seeds from their shells: by jamming them into a piece of bark and hammering at them with their long, pointed beaks. Another distinguishing trait is the Nuthatch’s ability to zig-zag down tree trunks headfirst with ease, and even cling to the underside of branches while foraging for food, due to their long hind toes and strong legs. This habit gives the Nuthatch the nickname of the “Upside-Down Bird”.

Photo by Yellowstone National Park

Photo by Yellowstone National Park

        Although the Red-Breasted Nuthatch is small in stature, it more than makes up for its size with its energetic nature and peculiar honking call that sounds almost like a tiny tin horn sounding through the trees. This, as well as their playful zipping and flitting up, down, under, and around tree limbs and trunks makes the Red-Breasted Nuthatch a joy to observe.

        If you find yourself in High Park, keep an eye and ear out for a flash of this stripy-headed, copper-chested noisemaker flitting through the branches—if you are lucky enough to see one, you are guaranteed to be enchanted by the tiny, feisty Red-Breasted Nuthatch.

Text Sources:

Animal Diversity Web: http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Sitta_canadensis/

Audubon: http://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/red-breasted-nuthatch

Canadian Wildlife Federation: http://www.hww.ca/en/wildlife/birds/red-breasted-nuthatch.html?referrer=https://www.google.ca/

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Red-breasted_Nuthatch/id

Photo Sources:

Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Red-breasted-Nuthatch.jpg

Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Red-breasted_nuthatch_(24381518515).jpg