Bird Watching in Vancouver
Eagles, herons, snow geese, owls, gulls, jays and sandpipers – you’ll find them all in Vancouver. Whether you’re a casual watcher or a serious ornithologist, you’ll enjoy the region’s abundant bird life. Thanks to an environment that includes temperate rainforest, alpine landscapes, and waterways, as well as a location along the Pacific Flyway, the range of bird life you’ll find, even right downtown, will have you reaching for the binoculars! Here are five great ways to incorporate a little birding in your Vancouver adventure.
Stanley Park’s Herons
At the end of the downtown peninsula, a short walk from most hotels, Stanley Park boasts a vast bird population, including four nesting pairs of bald eagles. In fact, the entire coastline of the park has been designated an “Important Bird Area” by Bird Life International thanks to the high diversity of waterfowl. But a big draw for ornithologists is the park’s Pacific Great Blue Heron colony, one of the largest in North America. While these birds are at risk in many other areas, seeing these majestic creatures swoop across the skies is a common sight in Stanley Park.
The colony is located right by the English Bay entrance to Stanley Park, and the herons return there each February to fix the nests and lay their eggs. The first fuzzy chicks are seen in April, with all the young vacating the nest by around August. The Vancouver Park Board has set up a “Heron Cam” so that the public can watch this natural phenomenon. You can also visit the Stanley Park Ecology Society to learn more about the blue herons and the park’s other birdlife.
George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Located to the south of Vancouver in the suburb of Ladner, the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary is a fantastic spot to view migratory species as they rest on their journey north or south along the Pacific Flyway. Reifel offers 300 hectares (850 acres) of managed wetlands and natural marshes along the Fraser River Estuary. Nearly 300 species of birds have been recorded at the sanctuary, and you’ll find the greatest diversity during spring and fall migration periods.
With a flock of around 75,000, snow geese are a huge attraction, with mid-October to mid-December and then mid-March to mid-April the best times to see them before they head back to Wrangel Island, in the Atlantic Ocean, north of Siberia. Bring a picnic, and don’t forget to visit the gift shop to pick up a copy of the official species checklist.
Bald Eagles in Brackendale
Many visitors to Vancouver, especially those from the US, are amazed at how casually you can spy a mighty bald eagle here, even right in the city. Head down to a park along a beach, look up to the tree tops and you could be rewarded with a glimpse of one of these majestic birds of prey, surveying the surrounding area. Stanley Park is home to at least two nests, with around 18 nests in the City of Vancouver and many more within the metropolitan area – some can be watched via these live cams.
But those serious about eagle watching will want to head to Brackendale, north of Vancouver on the way to Whistler, for the Winter Eagle Festival and Count in January each year. Over 400 eagles were counted in Brackendale in 2016, feasting on chum salmon that had returned to the Squamish River over the winter. While the official count is not open to the public, visitors can watch the birds nesting and fishing from vantage points along the river. Even better, take a float along the river with an outfitter like Canadian Outback Adventures to spot these birds from the water. Another eagle viewing opportunity not far from Vancouver is the Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival. It’s held in November each year, and is about a 90-minute drive east of the city.
Boundary Bay Bird Watching
For many, Boundary Bay is a hidden secret, known only among locals and the most avid birders. As the name suggests, the area is on the water, by the US/Canada border, in the Vancouver suburbs of Delta and Surrey. The area’s system of dykes and waterfront trails make it a fantastic area to observe a diverse selection of migrating waterfowl and even eagles, while enjoying a hike or bike ride. In fact, like the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary, Boundary Bay is a designated “Important Bird Area,” with over 330 species identified in the area.
Vancouver Bird Week
They say that “birds of a feather flock together,” which is why bird lovers of all stripes swoop down on Vancouver each May for Vancouver Bird Week. Inspired by the United Nations’ World Migratory Bird Day, the festival celebrates Vancouver’s birds with workshops, walks, talks, exhibitions, and lectures – all of which are free! There are events for the novice birder as well as the seasoned expert, with options going well beyond just spotting your favourite feathered friends.