Toronto’s streets are filled with many interesting folks — buskers playing tunes, artisans selling wares. Few, however, have become as popular and beloved as Ross Ward, also known as Birdman. Ward is a fixture downtown, where he spends his days carving and selling beautiful, tiny wooden birds to passersby.

His latest spot is outside the Chick-Fil-A on Yonge Street, just south of Bloor, where he’s been since the beginning of the pandemic. Thanks to the busy location, he’s able to catch the eye of hundreds of people each day, many of them eager to stop and peruse his selection of him. “It makes a lot of people happy. If people walking by see me, quite often they smile,” he says. “And children are amazed. I get wows from children, and they stop, and you can see the look of astonishment on their face.”

Ask any Torontonian and there’s a good chance they either own one of Ward’s creations, know someone who does, or have seen him sitting on a sidewalk somewhere, whittling away at his next bird. His creatures of him have winged their way all over the world, settling in countries as far away as Germany, New Zealand, Dubai and China. He’s even inspired a fashion-collection by designer Anson Lee, called Ross Ward Warkworth (the pieces are adorned with embroidery and wooden beads and carvings). And, when Ward was the victim of a random attack last fall, a GoFundMe campaign raised more than $16,000 for his medical care of him.

Carving was once merely a hobby for Ward, who worked as a building operator for many years. “I could carve at work, as long as I didn’t make a mess in the lunchroom.” Ward says. “Everyone else would be sleeping when my boss came in the morning, and I was carving.” He later worked in construction, but after experiencing hearing loss, he’s now been selling his birds on the street full-time for more than a decade.

At first, he headed to Queen West, where he sold average-sized birds, but he found that the time required to make them, and the subsequent higher price tag, just wasn’t feasible in the long term. “If you want to sell something on the street,” he says, “it has to be very reasonable. So here I am.” He switched to carving tiny birds for $15 a pop, and hit street corners further downtown, near places with plenty of foot traffic (like a subway entrance) or where folks were more likely to stand around (like on a line outside a popular food joint).

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Asked what bird serves as his inspiration, Ward figures the closest match is the golden crowned kinglet, one of which alighted in his palm during a walk one day. While the wee kinglets are his specialty, he’s also open to special orders, and has carved blue jays, ravens and bluebirds, his mother’s favorite. There’s one special order he’s never been able to fill, however. “My wife Maria’s favorite bird is the cardinal, but she’s been waiting 27 years for hers,” he says with a laugh. “Every time I do one, someone’ll see it, and they buy it.”

Ward’s output is sustainable as well; he uses materials that would normally end up in a landfill. “I find the wood, or if they’re tearing down an old building, I’ll ask the construction company if I can have some of the wood,” he explains. “You take something that might have been discarded, and you make something out of it. That’s always given me pleasure.”


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