Best Birdwatching Hot Spots in the Lower Mainland

Break out the binoculars, it's time to birdwatch! Here are five must-visit spots in BC's Lower Mainland to spy ducks, songbirds, owls, and more

If you’re hoping to spot swans, Snow Geese and swallows, BC’s Lower Mainland has a number of breathtaking locations. So grab your camera and binoculars and get started!

Fall and winter are the prime time to view the millions of migratory birds that travel down the Pacific Flyway to the Fraser River delta. And don't forget about the plenty of resident bird species that are worth viewing.

Considered an “Important Bird Area” by the federal government, the Fraser River estuary attracts overwintering birds and those looking to stop and rest on their way to warmer climates.

Here are five great birding spots to visit with your family.

Reifel Bird Sanctuary, Ladner

Both visitors and birds alike flock to the Reifel Bird Sanctuary located in Ladner, B.C. To get there, cross over the century-old swing bridge to Westham Island and follow the road to the end, turning left at the sign and following it until you reach the parking lot.

The Reifel Bird Sanctuary is a family-friendly destination and is open from 9 am to 4 pm every day. Encompassing 850 acres, the sanctuary has a number of different trails to explore, as well as a gift store, washrooms, a warming hut and picnic tables.

Two lookout towers (one of which is wheelchair accessible) provide ideal viewpoints of ducks dabbling in the shallow ponds and Snow Geese and Trumpeter Swans in the intertidal marshes.

Admission fees are reasonable and birdseed can be purchased if you wish to feed the birds. The best time to view the Lesser Snow Geese is from mid-October to mid-December, when they stop by the Fraser River Estuary on their annual migration. Flocks of up to 20,000 Snow Geese can be seen from the two-story observation tower and surrounding farmer’s fields.

You can usually hear them before you see them! Herons, Sandhill Cranes, Canada geese, and birds of prey such as eagles and hawks can also be spotted here.

Keep an eye out for Northern Pintails, Shovelers, and colourful Wood Ducks in the ponds.

Boundary Bay, Delta

Composed of a network of trails and dykes, Boundary Bay is located in South Delta and is internationally recognized as an Important Bird Area on the Pacific Flyway. In recent years, winter has seen the arrival of a number of Snowy Owls who have flown down from the Arctic in search of food.

Last year, over 20 Snowy Owls were spotted at the foot of 72nd Street off Highway 10 in Ladner. The Snowy Owls will most likely be back again this year, so keep an eye out for their arrival in December or January. They are truly a beautiful sight to see; their pearly white coats set against the sepia tones of the bog make for a stark contrast.

Be sure to observe posted signs as this is a sensitive habitat. Too many people trying to get a closer look have disturbed the owls, causing them to fly off, using stored up energy unnecessarily. Boundary Bay is also home to many birds of prey. If you don’t spot any Snowy Owls, you will probably see eagles and hawks as you go for a walk.

Stanley Park, Vancouver

Stanley Park is home to an abundant bird population in the winter. From the seawall, overwintering birds can be spotted in the intertidal and offshore areas. Surf Scoters can be seen bouncing around on the waves in flocks of hundreds.

Buffleheads, Harlequins and Barrow’s Goldeneyes are also spotted here in the wintertime. Inside Stanley Park, follow the trails to Beaver Lake to observe more ducks. American Coots, Wigeons, Canvasbacks, and Northern Shovelers can be seen here. As you walk the forest path, keep your eyes peeled for Varied Thrush and Fox Sparrow.

If you bring birdseed, some cheerful Black-capped Chickadees will be eager to eat out of your hand.

Consider stopping at Wild Birds Unlimited to purchase seed.

Iona Island, Richmond

Iona Island is located just north and west of YVR and is home to Iona Beach Regional Park, an important bird habitat. With over 280 species of birds spotted here, this area is a great family-friendly place to spend some time in nature. The parking lot is rarely full, and washrooms and picnic tables are also available.

Walk or bike down the 4-km jetty to view water birds such as Double-crested Cormorants, Western Grebes, Barrow’s Goldeneye and even some loons. Or explore Iona Beach, keeping an eye out for shore birds or raptors flying overhead.

At the north end of the parking lot, walk past the gate in order to reach the trails that go to some of the inner ponds. Enjoy these peaceful paths as you listen to the songbirds and spot dabbling ducks, such as American Wigeons, Mallards, and Gadwalls.

Volunteers with Wild Research operate the Iona Island Bird Observatory and are often out on the trails on the weekends, monitoring the migrating and winter bird populations. The public is welcome to observe and ask questions of the biologists and volunteers who are involved.

Maplewood Flats Conservation Area, North Vancouver

Maplewood Flats Conservation Area is managed by the Wild Bird Trust of B.C., a non-profit society dedicated to the preservation of wild birds and their habitat. Located east of the Second Narrows Bridge along the Burrard Inlet, Maplewood Flats features 3 km of trails over an area composed of marshland, mudflats, woods, shoreline and grassland.

Free interpretive walks are held at 10 am on the second Saturday of each month with naturalist Al Grass. Winter Wrens, owls, Green-winged Teal, and Bushtits can be found here. From shore, see if you can spot nesting osprey, Double-crested Cormorants and Western Grebes.

While birds are the main draw here, other wildlife, including deer, coyotes, raccoons, sea otters, and the occasional bear, have been seen.