Vancouver Island

Western Sandpiper Calidris mauri ©Dubi Shapiro Website

Vancouver Island is in the northeastern Pacific Ocean, just off the coast of Canada. It is part of the Canadian province of British Columbia. The island is 460 kilometres (290 mi) in length, 100 kilometres (62 mi) in width at its widest point, and over 32,000 km2 (12,400 square miles) in area. It is the largest island on the West Coast of North America. This area has one of the warmest climates in Canada, and since the mid-1990s has been mild enough in a few areas to grow subtropical Mediterranean crops such as olives and lemons.

The Vancouver Island Ranges run most of the length of the island, dividing it into a wet and rugged west coast and a drier, more rolling east coast. The highest point in these ranges and on the island is the Golden Hinde, at over 2,000 metres (7,000 ft). Located near the centre of Vancouver Island in Strathcona Provincial Park, it is part of a group of peaks that include the only glaciers on the island, the largest of which is the Comox Glacier. The west coast shoreline is rugged and, in many places, mountainous, characterized by its many fjords, bays, and inlets. The interior of the island has many lakes (Kennedy Lake, north of Ucluelet, is the largest) and rivers. There are a number of rivers draining the island, some of which though short are large in volume. Among the more notable rivers are the Somass River in the Alberni Valley, the Nimpkish River in the North Island region, the Englishman River up island from Nanaimo near Parksville, and the Cowichan River whose basin forms the Cowichan Valley region in the South Island region.

The climate is the mildest in Canada, with temperatures on the coast even in January being usually above 0 °C (32 °F). However, the rain shadow effect of the island’s mountains, as well as the mountains of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, creates wide variation in precipitation. The west coast is considerably wetter than the east coast. Average annual precipitation ranges from 6,650 millimetres (260 inches) at Henderson Lake on the west coast (making it the wettest place in North America) to only 640 millimetres (25 inches) at the driest recording station in the provincial capital of Victoria on the southeast coast’s Saanich Peninsula. Precipitation is heaviest in the autumn and winter. Snow is rare at low altitudes but is common on the island’s mountaintops in winter.

©Jeff Gunn CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Vancouver Island lies in the temperate rainforest biome. On the southern and eastern portions of the island, this is characterized by Douglas-fir, western red cedar, arbutus (or madrone), Garry oak, salal, Oregon-grape, and manzanita; moreover, Vancouver Island is the location where the Douglas-fir was first recorded. The fauna of Vancouver Island is similar to that found on the mainland coast, with some notable exceptions and additions. For example, mountain goats, moose, porcupines, chipmunks, and numerous species of small mammals, while plentiful on the mainland, are absent from Vancouver Island. Grizzly bears are absent from the island, but black bears are prevalent. Vancouver Island does support most of Canada’s Roosevelt elk, however, and several mammal species and subspecies, such as the Vancouver Island marmot are unique to the island. The island’s rivers, lakes, and coastal regions are renowned for their fisheries of trout, salmon, and Steelhead. It has the most concentrated population of cougars in North America. Wolves are also present on this island.

Birding Vancouver Island

The climate and the large areas of wilderness make the island great for birding almost any time of the year. Inland lakes and nutrient rich shoreland means that waders and wildfowl breed, pass through on passage and overwinter and seabirds abound.

Heavily wooded the island is good for boreal species from sparrows and warblers through to woodpeckers and owls.

For an overview refer to the main British Columbia page.

Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 472

    (As at May 2024)
  • Avibase

    PDF Checklist
    This checklist includes all bird species found in Vancouver Island , based on the best information available at this time. It is based on a wide variety of sources that I collated over many years. I am pleased to offer these checklists as a service to birdwatchers. If you find any error, please do not hesitate to report them.
  • Victoria Natural History Society

    PDF Checklist
    Victoria & Southeastern Vancouver Island
Useful Reading

  • A Birder's Guide to Vancouver Island

    | By K Taylor | Steller Press Ltd | 2000 | Paperback | 100 pages, Maps | Out of Print| ISBN: 9781894143035 Buy this book from
  • The Birds of Vancouver Island's West Coast

    | By Adrian Dorst | University of British Columbia Press | 2022 | Paperback | 559 pages, 140 b/w photos, 1 b/w map | ISBN: 9780774890113 Buy this book from
  • Rocky Point Bird Observatory

    Observatory WebsiteSatellite View
    Based in Victoria, British Columbia (Canada), Rocky Point Bird Observatory (RPBO) has been a proud member of the Canadian Migration Monitoring Network (CMMN) since 1994. Members of the CMMN track the migration of Canada's birds in the spring and fall each year, adding to our knowledge of population trends, demographics, phenology, and other essential information about the species that pass through each location.
  • Arrowsmith Naturalists

    The Arrowsmith Naturalists was founded in 1970 to know, enjoy, and preserve nature. We are affiliated with B.C. Nature and Nature Canada. Our members are a knowledgeable, committed, and welcoming group who enjoy monthly meetings, field trips, and stewardship activities.
  • Comox Valley Nature

    The Birders Group holds meetings five times per year, on the first Thursday of September, November, January, March and May. Meetings are held at 7 pm in the Soroptimist Lounge at Florence Filberg Center, 411 Anderton Avenue, Courtenay.
  • Cowichan Valley Naturalists' Society (Duncan)

    The opportunities for outdoor activities in the Cowichan Valley are almost unlimited. In addition to the opportunities listed here, there is an excellent resource for the whole island at Discover Vancouver Island.
  • Mount Tolmie Conservacy Association

    The MTCA boundaries are Cedar Hill Road on the west, McKenzie Avenue on the north, Gordon Head Road on the east, Derby Road on the south, and additionally all residents on the north side of Mount Tolmie.
  • Nanaimo Field Naturalists

    Nature Nanaimo hosts public meetings eight times per year. A typical meeting starts with announcements, followed by a “Nature Nugget”. Following the Nugget, the invited speaker is introduced...
  • Rocky Point Bird Observatory Society

    Based in Victoria, British Columbia (Canada), Rocky Point Bird Observatory (RPBO) has been a proud member of the Canadian Migration Monitoring Network (CMMN) since 1994. Members of the CMMN track the migration of Canada's birds in the spring and fall each year, adding to our knowledge of population trends, demographics, phenology, and other essential information about the species that pass through each location.
  • Salt Spring Island Trail and Nature Club

    The purpose of the Salt Spring Trail and Nature Club is: To stimulate interest in hiking and related outdoor activities and natural history. To study flora and fauna in their natural habitats.
  • Victoria Natural History Society

    The Victoria Natural History Society offers many field trips and presentations each month for its members.

Abbreviations Key

  • NP Gulf Islands National Park

    WebpageSatelite View
    Gulf Islands National Park protects a portion of BC’s beautiful southern Gulf Islands. The park resembles a patchwork quilt of protected lands scattered over 15 larger islands, a campground on Vancouver Island, and numerous islets, reefs and approximately twenty-six square kilometres of marine areas.
  • NP Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

    WebpageSatelite View
    Lying along the west coast of Vancouver Island in the traditional territories of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve boasts kilometres of long sandy beaches, unspoiled temperate rainforests and adventures that will delight the explorer in all.
  • PP MacMillan Park

    WebpageSatelite View
    Cathedral Grove, located in MacMillan Park, is one of the most accessible stands of giant Douglas fir trees on Vancouver Island. The park protects and preserves an internationally significant representative example of Douglas fir old-growth forest within the Coastal Western Hemlock Biogeoclimatic Zone.
  • PP Rathtrevor Beach Park

    WebpageSatelite View
    Rathtrevor Beach Park in Parksville is one of the premier vacation destinations on Vancouver Island. Rathtrevor offers majestic old-growth woodland, beautiful ocean sunsets, and a wide, sandy beach with campsites nestled among the trees.
Sightings, News & Forums
  • Vancouver Island Birding

    Information and discussions on Vancouver Island birds, recent sightings, birding, Vancouver Island birding sites, bird conservation, birding equipment, and related facets of natural history on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Off-island sightings and locations that may be of interest to island birders may also be reported.
Guides & Tour Operators
  • Kaiyote Tours

    Tour Operator
    Special offer: Included with your trip (one per room) is a copy of “Sibley Birds West: Field Guide to Birds of Western North America” by David Allen Sibley. You will receive this when you reserve your trip so you will have time to study and know the beautiful birds of Victoria ad Vancouver Island.
Trip Reports
  • 2017 [08 August] - Anna Wittmer

    PDF Report
    This was a fantastic Vancouver Island birding tour with a wonderful pair of participants. We found our number one target, Eurasian Skylark, and a nice variety of sea- and shorebirds. Several of the avian highlights were Surfbird, Black-throated Grey Warbler, and American Dipper. We were also treated with marine mammals such as orca, gray whale, Black Sea harbor porpoise, and harbour seal.
  • 2018 [04 April] - David M. Gascoigne

    ...Brant Goose (Branta bernicla) is to be expected at Clover Point and Miriam managed this shot of Brant Geese together with Mew Gull (Larus canus), a species which was a lifer for Franc, Carol, Jim and Francine....
  • 2022 [08 August] - Greentours

    PDF Report
    ...Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), American Crows (Corvus barchyrhynchos), Common Ravens (Corvus corax), raucous Steller’s Jays (Cyanocitta stelleri), an adult American Robin (Turdus migratorius) feeding berries to the young, and a multitude of new flowers, shrubs, ferns and fungi meant that we did not complete the entire circuit, rather electing to return to the parking area and take in the newly-completed Bog Walk, where we were looking at Skunk Cabbage (Lysichiton americanus), numerous unidentified sphagnum mosses, and the delightful, carnivorous, Round-leaved Sundew (Drosera rotundufolia) (photo above)...
Places to Stay
  • Royston House B&B

    The Comox Valley birds are as varied as the locations you find them in, from large predator species to the smallest. At royston house we experience over 50 different bird species throughout the year including the birds that winter near the K'omoks Estuary.
Other Links
  • Birds of Vancouver Island

    Some good places to bird watch include the Tofino Mudflats, Deep Bay Spit, Admirals Lagoon, Sidney Spit, Little Qualicum Estuary, Nanaimo Estuary, Somass Estuary, Englishman River Estuary and Courtenay Airpark. You can also see birds in many of the rocky and sandy beaches along each coast...
  • Marine Bird Guide

    Bird watching is an essential activity on the south end of Vancouver Island, BC, where bald eagles are abundant, and auklets, guillemots, black oystercatchers and common murre are just a few of what you may encounter along the way.
  • Mike Yip - Vancouver Island Birds

    I am neither an authority on birds nor photography, but pictures don't lie. I'm counting on the images to inspire you to get interested in the birds and nature. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it is worth much more when shared with others. In the spirit of sharing and promoting interest in birds, nature, and conservation, it is my pleasure to present VANCOUVER ISLAND BIRDS.
  • Sardisbirder

    Sardis Birder
    I'm retired from wildlife management as a animal care specialist, having worked in Zoological Parks and Fauna Reserves in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and here in Canada. I'm presently volunteering for Bird Studies Canada and I am a past member of the Vancouver Island Woodcarver's Club
Photographers & Artists
  • Photography - Glenn Bartley - Birds of Vancouver Island

    “What a delight! Glenn Bartley has captured the beauty and amazing diversity of the birds of Vancouver Island.” Matt Mendenhall, Birder’s World Magazine

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