Winter Birdwatching: Best Practices

If you’ve lived here a while you know that every winter a spectacular display of migratory waterfowl comes to Burrard Inlet and English Bay: goldeneyes, scoters, buffleheads and grebes. You can’t help but see these wonderful birds if you walk the seawall between Third Beach and Prospect Point. To get closer for a better look, here are some tips:

Surf scoters (Photo: Liron Gertsman)

The secret to getting closer to birds and animals is to watch their behaviour. It’s vital to their survival that we minimize disturbance, so watch for the clues to keep them safe and healthy.

Disturbed birds will raise their heads; any head rising signals you are too close, so back away. Keep movement to a minimum, be quiet, keep your arms to your sides, voices low, and move slowly.  Go only as close as the birds are comfortable.

If you’re on the water do not approach within 100 meters. Those are guidelines commercial guides work with. Be professional and set a good example. Do not enter the feeding area or cross through the flock at any time.

Of course, you know to leash your dog, not let it run into flocks, or chase birds.

Photo credit: Liron Gerstman
Barrow’s goldeneyes (Photo: Liron Gertsman)

With the alarming declines in waterbird populations in Burrard Inlet and English Bay in recent years, it’s more important than ever to birdwatch responsibly:

  • Western grebes decreased from between 2,000 and 15,000 birds in 1980 to 1995, to between 100 to 500 since the year 2000
  • Barrow’s goldeneye in 1990 numbered 7,126. Since 2000, between 550 and 3,672 have been counted in Burrard Inlet/Indian Arm
  • Surf scoters numbered 10,011 in 2007 and today there are fewer than 7,000

In today’s urban areas, it’s important to co-exist with wildlife exposed to threats like increased tanker traffic, pollution, and loss or degradation of natural habitat. Doing your part will help us have goldeneyes, scoters and grebes to watch for years to come.

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