Bird-watching is popular throughout western Canada, thanks to the approximately 500 resident bird species and the millions of migratory birds that follow the Central and Pacific Flyways each year. All it takes is a pair of binoculars, a good book detailing species, and patience.
A wide variety of raptors are present in western Canada—some call the region home year-round, while others pass through during annual spring and fall migrations. British Columbia is home to a quarter of the world’s bald eagles. Golden eagles migrate across the regions, heading north in spring to Alaska and crossing back over in fall en route to Midwest wintering grounds. Ospreys spend summers across western Canada, nesting high up in large dead trees, on telephone poles, or on rocky outcrops, but always overlooking water. They feed on fish, hovering up to 50 meters (160 feet) above water, watching for movement, then diving into the water, thrusting their legs forward and collecting prey in their talons.
Falcons have adapted to the prairies and northern treeless landscapes. Most widespread is the prairie falcon, whose territory extends from the prairies to the foothills. Other falcons present include the American kestrel, which is commonly seen perched on fence posts and power poles throughout the prairies; the merlin, which tends to nest close to populated areas; and the rare peregrine falcon, which has been clocked at speeds of up to 290 kilometers (180 miles) per hour when diving for prey.
Hawks have adapted to hunting in wooded areas by developing short, rounded wings and long tails. The rust-colored ferruginous hawk, the largest hawk in North America, inhabits the treed areas of the prairies. The marsh hawk is widespread through the prairies and parkland, and as the name suggests, lives around areas of wetland. Farther north, the red-tailed hawk resides in the aspen parkland and southern extent of boreal forest.
Distinct from all previously listed species are a group of raptors that hunt at night. Best known as owls, these birds are rarely seen because of their nocturnal habits but are widespread throughout forested areas of the mountains. Most common is the great horned owl, identified by its prominent “horns,” which are actually tufts of feathers.
Shorebirds, Seabirds, and Waterfowl
Nationalistic in name, the Canada goose is one of the most common and distinctive birds of western Canad]. In the same family, trumpeter swans, whistling swans, and the endangered whooping crane are also present. In the duck family, mallards are present everywhere and pintails can often be seen feeding on grain in farmers’ fields. The wood duck is much less common; identified by a distinctive crest, it can be spied around wetlands.
Other widespread waterfowl species include loons, grebes, and three species of teal. Shorebirds present along the Pacific coast include plovers, sandpipers, dowitchers, turnstones, gulls, terns, and herons. Many shorebirds migrate vast distances through western Canada to nesting grounds in the Northwest Territories and Alaska, including the arctic tern, which makes an annual journey from Antarctica.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition