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Urban biodiversity scavenger hunt

Take on our urban biodiversity scavenger hunt and see what you can find — and learn — right in your own neighborhood.

A peregrine falcon perches in a red maple tree
A peregrine falcon perches in a red maple tree.

Get outside. What can you see? What can you hear?

People don’t often think of urban centres when they think about biodiversity. And yet, cities are where most of us interact with nature most often.

Have you ever seen a sparrow? Probably. But have you ever looked for one?

In this activity, we encourage our community to seek out the different species of plants, birds, and insects that can be found in Montreal at this time of year. Take your phone or camera out on your next walk to the corner store, grab your kids for a fun quest, or relax on a bench in the park and see what you can spot!

Trees and plants

Want an extra hint to help find these trees?
Check out QuéBio's map of public Montreal trees.

Ashes are being destroyed in Montreal by the emerald ash borer. Though many trees have died, some have been 'vaccinated' against this invasive beetle.

How you can find it:

  • Distinctive "diamond" patterened bark.
  • Often marked with spray paint (for removal or treatment) because of the invasion of the emerald ash borer.
  • Very common street tree.

Most trees planted in cities are males as females produce 'fruits' that have a very strong distinctive (!) odour. It's introduced from China and is a unique 'living fossil' tree. Very resistant to pollutants and other stressors.

How you can find it:  

  • Recognizable by distinctive short peg-like branchlets and unusual silhouette.

Traditionally used for many medicinal purposes, hackberry is very beneficial for wildlife and withstands harsh conditions very well. It is often used as a street tree.

How you can find it:  

  • Very distinctive bark, with "corky" irregular ridges.

There are many species of this beautiful small flowering tree.

How you can find it:

  • Recognizable by plump, fuzzy buds at this point in the year (kind of like a fuzzy "sweater" to protect the flowers).
  • Often planted in front yards as a landscaping species.

Its distinctive "papery" white bark is highly weather resistant. It can be used to make syrup or "birch beer".

How you can find it:  

  • Fairly common in yards or landscaped areas.
  • Papery bright white bark that peels off in sheets.
  • Small horizontal black lines on bark (lenticels).

They tend to bloom very early in spring and have soft fuzzy tufts that are named for their resemblence to cats' paws.

How you can find it:  

  • Look for the soft fuzzy buds that have begun to appear for spring.

This tree can be tapped for syrup, but produces a darker, stronger-tasing sap than sugar maple.

How you can find it:  

  • Red buds that swell late in winter and form clusters of tiny red flowers in spring long before the leaves.
  • Sometimes last year's characteristic leaves still cling to the tree.

This is a native tree to our region of Quebec and is very commonly growing along our streets.

How you can find it:  

  • Disctinctive shaggy bark.
  • Tiny green flowers appear early in spring, before red maple flowers (soon!)
  •  Large ones are very common in neighbourhood around Loyola.

Native to this region and slow growing, Cedars are among the oldest trees in Quebec — some are over 800 years old.

How you can find it: 

  • Often planted as a shrub in the city, and used as a hedge.
  • But they can also form large trees when planted alone.

Quebec's provincial tree, its twigs smells like peppermint if you scratch them.

How you can find it:  

  • Not as common in Montreal as outside the city, look in more "natural" areas.
  • Very distinctive peeling, golden tinted bark.

Among the first to flower in spring, and they are beginning to peep out in Monreal.

How you can find it:  

  • Can be yellow, white, or purple.
  • Like to grow in sandy, well-drained soils in sunny locations — like park grounds or dry garden beds with southern exposure.

Wild bergamot or bee balm is a widespread and abundant native plant in much of North America. With showy summer-blooming pink to lavender flowers, it is often used as a honey plant, medicinal plant, and garden ornamental.

How you can find it:  

  • Pink and lavender flowers that attract butterflies, bees and hummingbirds the most!

  • They are around 60-150 cm tall 


Among the first to flower in spring, even when there is still snow on the ground.

How you can find it:  

  • White flowers that can grow in partial sun but prefer light shade, and prefer rich well-drained soil rich in organic matter.
  • They tend to grow best close to larger trees and hedges.


Crows are all about family! They mate for life and the young stay around for at least a year to help the parents raise siblings. Sometimes they gather in huge groups ("a murder of crows") at dusk and spend the night in trees in these huge groups but the family groups split from the main "murder" and go their own way during the day. American Crows are native.

How you can find it:

  • They often hang out in twos or threes in adjacent trees.
  • Listen for their "caw caw caw" calls.

These beautiful yellow native birds use spiderwebs to hold their nests together and have a bubbly flight song.

How you can find it:  

  • You'll mostly find them in trees.
  • Look for them in flight when you hear a bubbly song.

If you listen, this native bird could wake you up with its morning song. Like many birds, they travel in flocks in the winter but defend individual territories in the spring and summer.

How you can find it:  

  • In open grassy areas, singing from trees or bushes.
  • Listen for its whistling song, especially in the morning and early evening.

They nest in holes in trees and can sometimes be enticed to eat seeds or apples from your hand in the winter. Although they're tiny, they also have a mobbing call that brings all kinds of other birds out to defend against a larger predator like a larger bird, squirrel, or cat.

How you can find it:


These geese are great partners, extremely devoted and protective of each other. Adults also "babysit"-- they often watch over each other's young.

How you can find it:  

  • Flying overhead in V formation during this time of year as migrate back home from the south.
  • In parks, near water.
  • Listen for their forlorn-sounding honks.

These European birds are invasive here in North America. They'are also really smart: they can learn the calls of at least 20 other species of birds!

How you can find it:  

  • In trees, bushes, on transmission wires, in fields, and in grass/lawns/parks.
  • Often in large groups.
  • Listen for its trilling, staccato song.

These birds are declining in their native Europe due to illness, but are invasive here in North America.

How you can find it:  

  • In bushes and vines and the eaves (or underhangs) of buildings.
  • Listen for their sharp cheeping sounds.

These showy native birds mate for life! Also, the females sometimes sing, just like the males, which actually isn't that common among birds.

How you can find it:  

Northern_Cardinal_Creative_Commons_1 Male cardinals are bright red
Northern_Cardinal_Creative_Commons_2 Female cardinals are duller in colour but still beautiful

These native birds are the fastest animals in the air; they can reach up to 320 km/hr!

How you can find it:  

  • Usually in flight.
  • They nest in tall buildings and structures in the city.
  • If it's a quiet day you might hear their sharp call from up high.

This non-native species secretes "milk" from its crop to feed its young!

How you can find it:  

  • One of the easiest birds to find!
  • Streets, parks, ledges, and electrical wires in the city.
  • Listen for their characteristic cooing gurgle sounds.


Easily the most common duck in the area! They are found in virtually any wetland habitat, no matter where it’s located.  

How you can find it:  

  • Males have a bright green head, thin white collar, dark reddish-brown chest, yellow bill, and a black rump with a white-tipped tail.

  • Females are mottled brown with orange and brown bills.

  • Both sexes have purple-blue secondary feathers on their wing, which is most visible when they are standing or flying.


This native species eats dead animals so actually benefits humans. It sounds gross but they help keep our world clean!

How you can find it:  

  • Look up! You'll often see them circling overhead, even in downtown Montreal.
  • Often seen around highways.


Carpenter ants get their name from their nest building, where they will excavate and form smooth tunnels inside of wood.

How you can find it:  

  • They are large (6 to 13 mm in length), and are usually red and black or brown in color.

Underground, their nests form a series of tunnels and gallieries.

How you can find it:  

  • Easily! They are also known as the sidewalk ant, and can be found on the ground or in the park, on hot sunny days.
  • You can often find their nests which resemble shallow mounds of sand.

Most bumblebees are social insects that form colonies with a single queen. Bumblebees have round bodies covered in soft hair called 'pile', making them appear and feel fuzzy.

How you can find it:  

  • They are medium to large bees (10-20mm), and a very hairy, black and yellow bees, though patterns will differ depending on species


Azures can often be mistaken for Eastern tailed-blue butterfuly and Blue spring moths. Unlike the others, Azures fly strongly up into shrubs and lower tree branches.

How you can find it:  

  • They have blue or purple-blue wings with thin dark and white borders borders

  • Their hindwing fringes are checkered

  • You can typically find them in old fields, clearings and edges of deciduous woods, freshwater swamps, and wooded marshes.

Spring Azure Butterfly

This is among the first butterflies of spring, because it overwinters locally instead of migrating.

How you can find it:  

  • You will find it flitting about on hot, sunny days!

This is a migratory butterfly and is usually among the first to return to Montreal each spring.

How you can find it:  

  • On hot, sunny days you'll find it near early-blooming grasses and flowers.


Red foxes live around the world in many diverse habitats, including in human environments such as urban areas. Red foxes are solitary omnivorous hunters. If living among humans, foxes will opportunistically dine on garbage and pet food.

How you can find it:  

  • Red foxes have long snouts and red fur across the face, back, sides, and tail. Their throat, chin, and belly are grayish-white. 

  • Red foxes have black feet and black-tipped ears that are large and pointy. 

  • One of the most noticeable characteristics of the red fox is the fluffy white-tipped tail. 

  • Red foxes are about three feet long and two feet tall.

Red fox

The Eastern grey squirrel’s most notable physical feature is its large bushy tail. It acts as a rudder when the animal jumps from high places, as a warm covering during the winter, as a signal to other eastern grey squirrels indicating an individual’s mood, and perhaps as a sunshade. 

How you can find it:  

  • Very common in most neighborhoods in the city with lots of trees!

  • There are typical signs that eastern grey squirrels inhabit an area: the gnawed husks and shells of nuts, can be found littering the ground around the base of a tree where the squirrels have been feeding.

  • The eastern grey squirrel’s alarm call is a series of rapid clicking sounds—kuk, kuk, kuk—which warns all other nearby squirrels of danger.

Eastern grey squirrel

Red squirrels can be easily identified by their smaller size, 28–35 cm total length (including tail), territorial behavior, and reddish fur with a white venter (underbelly). Red squirrels are somewhat larger than chipmunks.

How you can find it:  

  • They are less common in cities but can be found in the woods.

  • Look up in the trees and listen closely: red squirrels make lengthy, descending trills and chatter of assorted notes and chucks to communicate.

American red squirrel

Adults may measure from 41.8 to 68.5 cm in total length, including a tail of 9.5 to 18.7 cm . Groundhogs have four incisor teeth, which grow 1.5 millimetres per week! Constant usage wears them down again by about that much each week. They are well-adapted for digging, with powerful, short legs and broad, long claws. 

How you can find it:  

  • Groundhogs often burrow under open areas such as meadows and farmlands (or big backyards and a certain Concordia campus!). Their burrows can be as deep as 20 metres.

  • Burrows are where they sleep, raise their babies, and even poop. (They actually have separate bathrooms!)   


Three of the raccoon's most distinctive features are its extremely dexterous front paws, its facial mask, and its ringed tail.

How you can find it:  

  • Raccoons have adapted very well to urban areas.

  • In the evening, raccoons are easy to spot up on Mount-Royal.

  • After a gestation period of about 65 days, two to five young known as "kits" are born in spring, so keep a look out for babies!


The name "chipmunk" comes from the Ojibwe word ᐊᒋᑕᒨ ajidamoo, which translates literally as "one who descends trees headlong."

How you can find it:  

  • The eastern chipmunk lives in deciduous wooded areas and urban parks. It prefers locations with rocky areas, brush or log piles, and shrubs to provide cover.

  • It has reddish-brown fur on its upper body and five dark brown stripes contrasting with light brown stripes along its back, ending in a dark tail. 

  • It has a tawny stripe that runs from its whiskers to below its ears, and light stripes over its eyes.  

Eastern chipmunk

The beaver is the largest rodent in North America, and is semiaquatic. It has a large, flat, paddle-shaped tail and large, webbed hind feet. The unwebbed front paws are smaller, with claws. The forepaws are highly dextrous, and are used both for digging, and to fold individual leaves into their mouth and to rotate small, pencil-sized stems as they gnaw off bark.

How you can find it:  

  • Beavers are mainly nocturnal, so they may be hard to spot. Look for bite mark on trees and dams in aquatic areas, but be sure not to disturb their habitat!

  • Since they’re so hard to spot, we will accept their dams as a submission for the scavenger hunt!

American beaver

The subspecies of white-tailed deer found in our region is the northern white-tailed deer—the largest and darkest of the species.

How you can find it:  

  • The deer's coat is a reddish-brown in the spring and summer. 

  • They can be recognized by the characteristic white underside to its tail. It raises its tail when it is alarmed to warn the predator that it has been detected.


White-tailed deer

Less than 400 right whales are left. The loss of these whales is often the direct or indirect result of human activity such as commercial fishing (line entanglements and ghost gear), vessel strikes, and climate change. At the current rate, the right whale will be extinct in a few decades.

How you can find it:  

  • Right whales have stocky black bodies with no dorsal fins, and their blow spouts are shaped like a “V.” On average they measure 16 metres long.

  • Their tails are broad, deeply notched, and all black with a smooth trailing edge. 

  • If you see a right whale nearby, alert the Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Response Network

North Atlantic Right Whale NOAA Fisheries

The harbour porpoise is one of the smallest species of cetacean.

How you can find it:  

  • The harbour porpoise stays close to coastal areas or river estuaries. 

  • It is about 1.4 to 1.9 m. The females are heavier, with a maximum weight of around 76 kg compared with the males' 61 kg. 

  • The flippers, triangular dorsal fin, tail fin and back are dark grey. 

  • The sides are a slightly speckled, lighter grey. 

Harbour porpoise NOAA Fisheries
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