When the Ontario government decided in the late 1980's that it needed to monitor the wildlife living in its vast Northern Ontario crown lands, it was Ministry of Natural Resources scientist Dr. David Hussell who thought that a bird migration monitoring station in the Thunder Bay area would fill a big gap between stations at Delta, Manitoba and Whitefish Point, Michigan (near Sault Ste. Marie). He surmised that migratory birds from the forests of Northwestern Ontario would pass by the western half of Lake Superior on their way south in the fall and north in the spring.
The suitability of the site was assessed in the fall of 1991 with encouraging results. From August 15 to October 12, 182 species were recorded and 4390 birds representing 92 species were banded. Fourteen species rare to the District of Thunder Bay were recorded, six of which were considered rare for all of Northern Ontario. A scouting trip from the Kabeyun trailhead out to Thunder Cape was undertaken in May 1992 by the Sleeping Giant Provincial Park Superintendant of the time Cam Snell, and David Shepherd (who would become the first Chief Bander). Accompanying them were observation tower architects Walter Kuch and Greg Adams. Beginning in 1992, both spring and fall migration have been monitored at Thunder Cape, and where once stood a lighthouse, there now stands a cabin, beside it a sauna and further back a wooden tower rises above the treetops
A string of dedicated Chief Banders have run programs at Thunder Cape including the following:
- David Shepherd (spring 1991 to spring 1995)
- Jul Wojnowski (fall 1995 to fall 1997)
- Graeme Gibson (spring –fall 1998)
- Audrey Heagy (spring –fall 1999)
- Bruce Rodrigues (spring 2000 to fall 2001)
- Jody Allair (fall 2002)
- John Woodcock (spring 2002, fall 2003 to fall 2013)
- Rinchen Boardman (spring 2014 to present)
Over the years, hundreds of volunteers from as far as England and India have assisted at Thunder Cape Bird Observatory.