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Spring migration has birders' hearts aflutter

In the spring, a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of love but when it comes to birds, it’s all about Darwin’s survival of the species. Migrating birds are returning to Vancouver.

In the spring, a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of love but when it comes to birds, it’s all about Darwin’s survival of the species.

Migrating birds are returning to Vancouver. They’re not only looking for mates but also getting ready to settle down for the nesting season.

Avid bird watchers are already consulting the BC Rare Bird Alert to follow some of the sightings that are making their hearts aflutter.

tufted duck
The second-year tufted duck spotted by Daphne Lang and photographed by Brian Stech is a rarity in Vancouver. - Brian Stech/BC Rare Bird Alert

“The huge provincial rarities are a tufted duck in Vancouver at the swimming pool at New Brighton Park and also one in Iona regional park in the sewage lagoons,” says Melissa Hafting, who runs the alert website. “It is exceptionally rare to have two tufted ducks now in Vancouver.”

black headed gull vancouver
Another Vancouver rarity is a black-headed gull. This one photographed by Mike Tabak is a first for Vancouver. - Mike Tabak/BC Rare Bird Alert

“The other provincial rarity we have in Vancouver is a first winter black-headed gull which is on the turf farm on 72nd Street in Delta,” Hafting says. “When he was found in 2016, it was the third black-headed gull in the province that year; the previous ones were at Trout Lake in Vancouver and in Sayward.”

Hafting says lots of spring birds are starting to arrive back in town such as turkey vultures, yellow-headed blackbirds, rufous hummingbirds and swallows (tree, violet-green and barn), including a very early cliff swallow. 

While avid birders are known for their patience and keen eyes (and ears), it’s easy for everyone to celebrate spring by enjoying the return of many bird species.


Dr. Peter Arcese is a professor of forest and conservation sciences at UBC. He says that while amateur bird watchers might find it hard to spot birds in forested areas such as Stanley Park, there are many easy-to-get-to locations where you can take in the spring migration.

“I like to walk the dikes at Boundary Bay, particularly near Delta,” he says. It’s here that you can see diurnal owls (active during the day), birds of prey, shorebirds and waterfowl. “It’s a really lovely spot.”

You don't have to go far to observe fascinating bird behaviour. Vancouver's Wall Centre provides the backdrop for this bald eagle sighting. - Dan Toulgoet

Another favourite is Jericho Beach where “I enjoy watching eagles passing sticks to each other” while they’re building their nests.

The Stanley Park seawall is a good place to observe rocky shorebirds. Herons have arrived at their Stanley Park colony, about a month later than usual.

British Columbia has 75 per cent of the Barrow’s goldeneyes duck population and they’re pairing up right now, he says for anyone interested in following courtship behaviour.

Other popular day trips are the George Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary (named after a Vancouver beer baron) and Burns Bog in Delta.

In the meantime, the man who Macleans magazine once called Canada's top birder and his father have teamed up once again to reveal Best Places to Bird in B.C. The book is written by Russell Cannings, whose fascination with birds started as a young boy in the Okanogan , and Richard Cannings. Richard isa veteran biologist, birder, nature writer, and founding director of the Okanagan Similkameen Conservation Alliance. In 2012 they set a 24-hour bird record for the province in (202 species!), and released the acclaimed Birdfinding in British Columbia two years later.
Eagle at Wall Centre