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A Guide to Bird Sanctuaries and Birding Spots in Vancouver

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A Guide to Bird Sanctuaries and Birding Spots in Vancouver

Ever found yourself captivated by the sight of a bird in flight or the soothing sound of its songs? We've been there too, and that's why we're excited to share our guide to the Reifel Bird Sanctuary and other birding spots in and around Vancouver

Whether you're a seasoned birdwatcher or simply curious about this rewarding activity, join us as we uncover the best places to connect with nature around the city and observe the beauty of birds.

What is the Reifel Bird Sanctuary?

The George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary is one of BC’s seven migratory bird sanctuaries. Located on Westham Island in Delta, this sanctuary spans around 300 hectares, drawing millions of birds in search of both respite and nesting grounds.

Historically, it belonged to the Reifel family, whose patriarch acquired the land in 1927 and transformed it into a successful farm featuring waterfowl habitats, and a recreational retreat for the family. 

Since the 1960s, the family had partnered with the provincial and federal governments and other organizations in managing the area, until in 1972, they transferred ownership to the federal government to support efforts of creating a protected area for waterfowl.

For nearly 60 years, the Reifel Bird Sanctuary has been operated and maintained by the British Columbia Waterfowl Society. It has been recognized as one of Canada’s top bird-watching sites, attracting bird enthusiasts, families, photographers, and the like. 

What is the Reifel Bird Sanctuary
(Image by hpbfotos on Shutterstock)

How to Get to Reifel Bird Sanctuary

How to Get to Reifel Bird Sanctuary
(Image by Danita Delimont on Shutterstock)

The Reifel Bird Sanctuary is located at 5191 Robertson Road in Delta. From Vancouver, it will take around 40 minutes to drive up to the sanctuary.

You can take either Knight St. or Howe St. as long as you head toward BC-99 to River Road in Delta. From there, follow the road toward Westham Island until you get to Robertson Road where the sanctuary is situated.

For a more hassle-free experience, we recommend going there by car as there is no available public transit out to Reifel Bird Sanctuary.

Things to Expect on Your Visit to Reifel Bird Sanctuary

Things to Expect on Your Visit to Reifel Bird Sanctuary
(Image by Bee Calder on Unsplash)

With 298 bird types documented at the Reifel Bird Sanctuary, visitors can expect to enjoy an extensive variety of birds, along with the well-kept trails where the bird species can be observed.

From October to early December, you can witness waterfowl migration in action as they rest and feed in the sanctuary. Look out for the Fraser-Skagit flock of Lesser Snow Geese from Russia, with their impressive flights and foraging in the marshes and fields.

During the calm winter months, you can spot Mallards, Sandhill Cranes, and Black-Capped Chickadees enjoying birdseed offerings. Keep an eye on frozen sloughs for River Otters and open water for diving ducks like mergansers.

March and April bring back bird migration, featuring the northward movement of ducks and Snow Geese, along with the journey of shorebirds. See Western Sandpipers refueling in managed ponds and warblers heading towards northern forests. 

The Fraser River mouth next to the sanctuary attracts fish-eating birds due to the presence of salmon and eulachon.

By April, the sanctuary becomes a nesting ground for Mallards, Gadwall, Canada Geese, and Sandhill Cranes. Nest boxes are favored by various species, including Black-Capped Chickadees, Tree Swallows, and Rufous Hummingbirds. 

Late summer and early fall present the southward migration of arctic-nesting shorebirds and offer opportunities to spot rare species.

Do’s and Don’ts when Visiting Reifel Bird Sanctuary

Do’s:

  • Decide on your date of visit and reserve your slot, as bookings are obligatory to manage visitor numbers.
  • Opt for suitable footwear, especially comfortable walking shoes, for traversing the sanctuary’s trails.
  • Walk cautiously and respectfully on the designated trails and structures to ensure safety during your exploration.
  • Plan your visit between 9 AM and 4 PM, with the last entry at 3 pm. Allocate about 1 to 1.5 hours for your trip.
  • Be mindful of admission fees: $8 for Adults, $6 for Seniors (65+), and $6 for Children (2-14). Consider annual memberships for frequent visits.

Don’ts:

  • Uphold the sanctuary’s integrity by staying exclusively on marked trails. Refrain from straying off paths or disturbing vegetation.
  • Leave pets at home, as dogs and other animals are strictly prohibited, except for wheelchairs and strollers.
  • Abstain from using bicycles, skateboards, or similar devices. Drones are also not allowed.
  • Refrain from chasing, handling, or attempting to pick up birds. Keep a secure 2-meter distance from nests.
  • Follow posted signs and heed advice from staff and volunteers. Complying with regulations safeguards bird inhabitants and visitors alike.

Birdwatching Spots in and around Vancouver

Stanley Park

Address: Vancouver, BC V6G 1Z4, Canada

Phone: +1 604 681 6728

Operating Hours: Daily 9 AM – 5 PM

Website

Stanley Park in Vancouver is a prime spot for its impressive population of birds, including nesting bald eagles and abundant waterfowl. 

The park hosts a Pacific Great Blue Heron colony, one of North America’s largest, despite also being at risk in Canada. In 2022, the City of Vancouver documented 90 occupied heron nests, with approximately 60% successfully raising fledglings. 

If you’re visiting Stanley Park to see the herons, head to the English Bay entrance for a chance to witness their nesting cycle. They repair nests in February, welcome chicks in April, and see them leave the nest by August.

For those intrigued, the high-definition “Heron Cam” of the Vancouver Park Board provides an intimate view during the breeding season in summer.

The City also encourages people to adopt one of the nests and support the efforts of the Vancouver Park Board and the Stanley Park Ecology Society to protect the species.

Pro tip:

The Stanley Park Seawall is among the best trails for birdwatching within the park. The trail also offers scenic views that make for an amazing backdrop for birdwatching.

Pacific Spirit Regional Park

Address: 5495 Chancellor Blvd, Vancouver, BC V6T 1E4, Canada

Phone:  +1 604 224 5739

Operating Hours: Daily 7 AM – 10 PM

Website

The Pacific Spirit Regional Park covers 763 hectares, including a foreshore that lies along the Point Grey Peninsula and a forest that separates UBC from Vancouver. It has a trail with minimal uphill climb and that could give you a peek at the birds in the area.

You’ll see or hear these birds along the trails: woodpeckers, barred owls, sea birds, bald eagles, warblers, wrens, and chickadees. Among other animals to see in the forest are squirrels, skunks, coyotes, salamanders, garter snakes, and tree frogs.

There are also a couple of interesting places within the park: the Camosun Bog, for instance, is a protected wetland that serves as an important area for research. There’s also the Wreck Beach, a clothing-optional beach accessible through the steep Trail 6.

You can get to Pacific Spirit Regional Park in around 10 minutes by car from Vancouver. But it’s also easy to access by public transit along Chancellor Blvd, University Blvd, 16th Ave., and Southwest Marine Drive.

Pro tip:

Street parking is available along W 16th Ave and Southwest Marine Drive. If you’re walking or biking, though, there are entrances to the park in the UEL/UBC area, Point Grey, Dunbar, and Southlands neighborhoods.

Queen Elizabeth Park

Address: 4600 Cambie St, Vancouver, BC V5Z 2Z1, Canada

Phone:  +1 604 873 7000

Operating Hours: Daily – 6 AM – 10 PM

Website

Queen Elizabeth Park spans 52 hectares of land at 125 meters above sea level, making it the highest point in Vancouver. Aside from the stunning views, the park also houses the Bloedel Conservatory, a favored spot for bird watchers.

The park hosts 177 species, including warblers, vireos, and thrushes, as observed by birdwatchers logging on eBird.org. Spring (late March to May) seems to be the best time to do birdwatching, particularly during or right after storm fronts.

Inside the Bloedel Conservatory reside over 100 exotic birds and 500 plants and flowers. In this domed and temperature-controlled environment, you can see the citron-crested cockatoo, pin-tailed whydah, owl finch, Chinese pheasant, and more.

Pro tip:

You need to get admission tickets for Bloedel Conservatory. For August 2023, adults (ages 19-64) get their tickets at CAD 8.29, while preschoolers ages 4 and below can visit for free.

Fraser River Park

Address:  4000 SW Marine Dr, Vancouver, BC V6N 2B8, Canada

Phone: +1 604-873-7000

Operating Hours: Daily – 5 AM – 7 PM

Website

Covering 4,899 hectares of land the park has a trail that’s relatively easy and allows visitors to observe bird species common to Vancouver. Among the 130+ species observed by August 2023 are the crested myna, evening grosbeak, and ring-billed gull.

However, to many, the Fraser River Park is mostly a dog park. The park allows dogs to tag along and explore the trails with their humans – you may have seen a lot of dogs off-leash but officially, they should always be on leash.

If you are to bring a dog on your birding trip, it’s best to steer clear of the backcountry areas to avoid running into bears and other wild animals.

Pro tip:

With its massive space, the Fraser River Park could become a local favorite. But perhaps because of its location, tucked away from the rest of Vancouver in the southwest, this park is not as crowded. 

So, the setting provides ample room for both birdwatching and relishing the tranquil surroundings.

Musqueam Park

Address: 8705 Angus Dr, Vancouver, BC V6P 6G2, Canada

Phone: +1 604-873-7000

Operating Hours: Daily – 24 hours

Website

The Musqueam Park is mostly dominated by forest, and includes a destination walk with an elevation gain of 20 meters and a distance of 5 kilometers. 

It’s a beautiful route that allows you to see the different varieties of berries, wildflowers,  and sycamore along the path. Among the growth are more than 30 species of birds seen in West Southlands.

These birds are a mix of large birds, such as Stellar’s Jays, rough-legged hawks, and red-shafted Flickers; small birds like red-winged blackbirds, bushtits, and dark-eyed juncos; and water birds like cormorants, great blue herons, ducks, and grebes.

What’s more is that, the park provides a wildlife corridor for a lot of animals to go from Pacific Spirit Regional Park to the Fraser River dyke trail. Watch out for moles, squirrels, otters, seals, and coyotes in the park.

Pro tip:

A trail conveniently links Musqueam Park and Fraser River Park but you’ll need about 90 minutes to get from Point A to Point B, If you’re already in the area, we suggest you “spot two birds with one scope,” if you know what we mean – wink!

Maplewood Flats Conservation Area

Address:  2649 Dollarton Hwy, North Vancouver, BC V7H 1B1, Canada

Phone: +1 604-929-2379

Operating Hours: Daily – 24 hours

Website

Known to many as simply “the Mudflats,” the Maplewood Flats Conservation Area spans 300 acres of land on Vancouver’s North Shore where over 230 species of birds can be sighted. 

The mix of brushy meadows and deciduous forest is ideal for hawks, owls, songbirds, and woodpeckers, but many others like ospreys and purple martins nest in spring and summer; and falcons and bald eagles appear at various times of the year. 

For a comprehensive list of the birds that could be seen in the conservation area, Wild Bird Trust of BC provides a bird checklist. The list includes even the rarer birds that have been documented in the area over the years.

To preserve the wildlife drawn to or residing in the area, Wild Bird Trust of BC requests visitors to adhere to certain rules while within Maplewood Flats.

One of these rules is to exercise caution to avoid startling or disturbing wildlife, especially nesting birds during spring and summer. Just don’t forget to bring your binoculars so you can maintain a safe distance from the birds.

Pro tip:

Maplewood Flats is located about 2 kilometers east of the Second Narrows Bridge. If you’re driving a car, take Dollarton Highway for approximately 20 minutes. 

If you want to take public transit, you can head over to Phibbs Exchange, locate Bay 5, and take bus 211 to EB Mt Seymour Parkway @ Riverside Drive.

Lighthouse Park

Address:  4902 Beacon Ln, West Vancouver, BC V7W 1K5, Canada

Phone: +1 604-925-7275

Operating Hours: Daily – 7 AM – 10 PM

Website

While not primarily known for birdwatching, The Lighthouse Park offers opportunities to observe bird species within its old growth coastal forest. Plus, aside from the eagles and woodpeckers, visitors can spot cormorants, surf scoters, grebes, and oystercatchers.

For those seeking a bit more activity, consider taking a short hike along the 6-kilometer loop around the park. This not only immerses you in the forest but also provides opportunities to spot various bird species that may reveal themselves along your walk.

Situated at the south end of Beacon Lane, just off Marine Drive in West Vancouver, the park is accessible by catching bus 250 on Georgia Street. By car, you can head over the Lions Gate Bridge, and follow Beacon Lane via Marine Drive.

Pro tip:

The area’s lighthouse holds the status of a national historic site, likely already familiar to you from photographs.

If you’re seeking breathtaking viewpoints, consider visiting East Beach, Arbutus Knoll, or Eagle Point within the park for stunning vistas of downtown Vancouver. For a fantastic view of the lighthouse, you can head to West Beach.

Brackendale Eagles Provincial Park

Address:  Brackendale, BC V0N 1H0, Canada

Phone: +1 519 826 6850

Operating Hours: Monday to Friday – 8:30 AM – 4:30 PM

Website

Brackendale Eagles Provincial Park spans 550 hectares near the Squamish and Cheakamus Rivers and serves as a sanctuary for wintering bald eagles. A drive up to the Sea to Sky Highway (Sea to Sky Highway) for an hour will get you to this park 70 kilometers north of Vancouver.

The park draws approximately 1,300 of these magnificent birds annually, coinciding with the salmon run from late October to early January (or November to February). 

However, the park is closed to visitors from October to March to avoid disturbing the eagles. If you’re visiting within these months, you can head to the Eagle Run viewing shelter, which is open throughout the year.

For the best eagle sightings, keep in mind that November to December is the peak season at Eagle Run. If you prefer an undisturbed view of these majestic birds, consider visiting on a weekday.

Pro tip:

However, there’s one specific advantage to dropping by on weekends (during a specific time frame, at least).

From mid-November and mid-January, as well as during Christmas week, friendly volunteers will be around from 10 AM to 3 PM to show you how to use spotting scopes for eagle watching! 

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