10 Amazing British Columbian Birds

British Columbia is the most geographically-diverse province in Canada, where seemingly endless rocky coastlines give way to ancient forests, tall peaks, arid deserts and grassy plains. Within it's million square kilometre boundaries, this variety of habitats make way for great bird diversity - with nearly 550 different species recorded. Below are a few of my favourite birds found right here in B.C.

Tufted Puffin

Found throughout the North Pacific, this comical-looking seabird can be seen along British Columbia's rocky coasts. They select steep cliffs and islands for breeding in order to avoid predation. Their ideal breeding habitat also has soft soil in which they dig their nesting burrows. During the winter months, nearly all of their time is spent out at sea.

Taking a whale or birdwatching trip from Tofino during the summertime is your best shot at seeing this spectacular species here in BC.

Red-breasted Sapsucker

A small woodpecker found in coniferous and mixed forests - mainly west of the Coast Mountains. As their name entails, they feed on tree sap. An anticoagulant is found in their saliva which helps keep the sap flowing and allows them to feed multiple times without having to re-chisel the holes. Hummingbirds also benefit from this as they will at times take advantage of this energy-rich food source. 

Stands of Bigleaf maple and western hemlock in lower elevation forests are a good place to search for this vibrant bird. 

White-tailed Ptarmigan

Our smallest grouse - one of the most cryptic birds in B.C. Found in the alpine, their plumage perfectly camouflages them during each season, making them very difficult to find. They spend their entire lives at or above tree line, in one of the harshest environments on the planet. Feathered toes and the habit of burying themselves in the snow as a form of insulation help protect them from the cold. White-tailed Ptarmigans feed primarily on the seeds of tiny alpine plants but also eat insects, leaves and small fruits during the summer months.

Terrain where short, stunted trees and shrubs give way to the rocky alpine where only small herbaceous plants and lichens grow is the best place to search for this species. Taking the gondola up Whistler or Blackcomb Mountains during the summer and exploring the myriad of hiking trails may yield an encounter with this awesome alpine bird! 

Great Grey Owl

The world's largest owl by length and surely one of the most spectacular birds in the world. Here in British Columbia, we're fortunate to share the forest with this regal raptor. These owls are generally crepuscular (most active during the morning and evening hours) but can also be seen hunting during the middle of the day. Despite their large size, they have relatively small talons which they use to hunt voles and other small rodents. Using their incredibly acute hearing, they are able to locate prey buried beneath several feet of snow. 

One stronghold of this species in BC is found on the interior plateau, east of the Coast Mountains. Look for them especially during the winter time, hunting from perches at the edge of forest clearings and meadows in the Cariboo Region and similar habitat in higher elevation areas of the Okanagan and Thompson Regions.

Ruddy Duck

This colourful, cartoonish species of waterfowl boasts a bright blue bill and a stiff, propped up tail. Males compete for the attention of females by beating their bills vigorously against their breast feathers, resulting in an impressive display of ripples and bubbles on the water's surface.

Some spend the winter on lakes, ponds and shallow estuaries along our southern coast. However, they're far easier to find during the breeding season when they move eastward over the Coast Mountains. Ponds throughout the grasslands of the province's dry southern interior, generally surrounded by rushes, are the best places to find these birds. 

Black Oystercatcher

Our wave-battered coastline is home to this conspicuous shorebird. Often found in small groups, they forage for mussels and limpets in the intertidal zone.

This species can be found quite easily along our coast. Typically avoiding sandy beaches, check out rocky shorelines, especially at low tide when they will be more actively feeding. The waterfront of West Vancouver, Victoria and Howe Sound are great places to look!

A feature species on my Winter Birds of Vancouver Photo Workshop.

American Avocet

A large, striking and easily identifiable shorebird with a thin, upturned bill. Avocets sweep their touch-sensitive bills through shallow water in a scythe-like motion to capture small invertebrates.

They breed in ephemeral wetlands and alkaline lakes rich in their brine shrimp prey. Their distribution in British Columbia is limited to a few locations in the arid interior. Keep your eyes open for these unique waders if exploring the Okanagan Valley during the spring or summer.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

A tiny yet extremely energetic and hardy songbird, some of which spend the entire year here in B.C. At only 10cm in length, it's amazing that these insectivores can survive the sub-zero winter temperatures that lock much of the province in an icy grip during the winter months.

During the spring, listen for the surprisingly loud, accelerating whistling of this species as they stake out territory in stands of spruce trees in the mountains and atop high elevation plateaus east of the Coast Mountains. Come winter, the best place to search is in thickets and deciduous forests at low elevation throughout the southern part of the province - especially the Lower Mainland and southern Vancouver Island.

This species is easily found during my Ultimate Loons - Birds and Wildlife of the British Columbia Interior Photo Workshop.

Steller's Jay

Our provincial bird. This charismatic and colourful species is found mainly in coniferous forest. While quiet and discreet during the breeding season, they become very conspicuous during the fall and winter - often forming nomadic flocks.

Steller's Jay are often encountered throughout dense forest - from our temperate rainforests, up into the subalpine - but they are also a common sight throughout residential areas. Their raucous calls, vibrant plumage make them a favourite of many, especially those with backyard bird feeders.

Sooty Grouse

These large, forest-dwelling birds can be found throughout the Coast Mountains of BC. During the spring and early summer, their booming calls resonate deeply through the dense coniferous forests they call home. During the winter months, Sooty Grouse have the odd habit of moving to higher elevations where they sustain themselves by feeding on the needles of fir trees.

They're found from just above sea level up into the subalpine, particularly on the west side of the Coast Mountains. Cypress Provincial Park in the North Shore Mountains is a good place to search.

This species is one of the many highlights of my Manning Provincial Park - Wildlife and Mountain Vistas Photo Workshop

Back from Peru!

I've just arrived home in British Columbia after completing a month-long trip to the amazing country of Peru where I lead two nature photography workshops. Alongside me for the first trip was my good friend Glenn Bartley.

We started our journey in the beautiful city of Cusco. At 3,400m ASL, it's always nice to spend a little while getting acclimatized and checking out the beautiful city streets and shops. 

Panoramic view of Cusco, seen from the Sacsayhuaman Ruins.

Panoramic view of Cusco, seen from the Sacsayhuaman Ruins.

Plaza de Armas

Plaza de Armas

Before long, we were off to start our adventure into Manu National Park. The amazing thing about this park is the massive elevational gradient - stretching from 4,200m ASL, high in the Andes, to 150m ASL, deep in the Amazon Rainforest. The product of this highly variable landscape is the greatest biodiversity on the planet. Not to mention the staggering number of plants, insects and mammals, 10% of the world's bird species can be found in an area not much larger than the state of New Jersey. 

Our first stop is at 3,000m in a beautiful location just below tree line. At first glance, when compared to the lush, towering forests of the tropical rainforests below, this stunted, shrubby area doesn't seem very conducive to bird photography. However, once you explore further, that couldn't be further from the truth. Living in these elfin forests are some of the most beautiful species in Peru, the Mountain Tanagers. 

A Hooded Mountain Tanager perched on a moss-laden branch.

A Grass Green Tanager poses momentarily.

The clear night skies of the high Andes are truly incredible! 

After a brief but enjoyable stay at our little home in the cloud forest, we descended the world famous Manu road which is an adventure in itself. Switchbacking through the ever-changing forest, our bus squeezing through tunnels and under waterfall car washes, we eventually made our way to our next stop - one of the trip highlights! 

As we walked down a short trail, we could hear the strange vocalizations of Peru's national bird. We were arriving at the "lek" of a bird with an appearance as weird as its name. These vibrant orange creatures are actually a type of Cotinga that lives throughout the low cloudforest of the Andes, from Venezuala to Bolivia. We spent the next few hours observing and photographing approximately 15 Andean Cock-of-the-Rocks. Males gather at leks each day to compete for mating rights - squawking and jostling in their attempt to impress any females which may be nearby. 

A male Andean Cock-of-the-Rock perches in the cloudforest.

Lou and Betty filling their cards at the lek!

Lou and Betty filling their cards at the lek!

Travelling further yet, we soon arrived at what would be our new home for a few days. We were greeted by higher temperatures, humidity and best of all, even greater bird diversity!

A shy Andean Motmot perched on a vine.

A stunning Golden-eared Tanager.

A tiny, vibrant Tropical Parula sings out emphatically from the forest.

A Tufted Capuchin shows off its impressive canine teeth.

After enjoying an assortment of tanagers and hummingbirds, we packed up and headed for the lowlands. A few hours later we arrived in a small town on the shore of the Rio Madres de Dios. A short boat ride followed by a short walk and suddenly we were at our first of two stops in the amazing Amazon Rainforest. 

A pair of Blue-headed Parrots allopreening in the morning sun.

Speckled Chachalacas call out just before sunset.

Roots, vines - understory designs.

A male Long-tailed Tyrant swoops down from a branch, in pursuit of a flying insect.

A Roadside Hawk in the middle of preening and scratching after a torrential downpour.

After our time was up at our first Amazon lodge, we took another boat further yet into the rainforest - enjoying each meandering oxbow of the river and seeing many amazing sights along the way.

A gorgeous sunrise to start our morning commute.

A gorgeous sunrise to start our morning commute.

Lou snaps away as we pass by the last Andean foothills.

Lou snaps away as we pass by the last Andean foothills.

During the following days we would visit a macaw clay lick and several oxbow lakes, providing some of the best photo opportunities of the trip.

A group of Red-and-Green Macaws feed on mineral-rich clay to aid in the digestion of toxic seeds and fruit.

A Hoatzin struts along a fallen tree in evening light.

David offers an apple to a friendly Tapir. Take a look at the jaguar attack scar on its right shoulder!

David offers an apple to a friendly Tapir. Take a look at the jaguar attack scar on its right shoulder!

A Great Egret takes off from a marshy island in a large oxbow lake.

Soon, the long journey back to our home base was underway. In just a few hours we travelled from 250m ASL to a 4,700m ASL pass, cradled by glaciated peaks, and finally back into Cusco.

A Peruvian Hairless Dog seen along the way. Ugly or cute? I still have no idea...

A Peruvian Hairless Dog seen along the way. Ugly or cute? I still have no idea...

No trip to Peru would be complete without visiting the amazing 14th-century Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. Taken during our cultural extension.

Peru is one undoubtedly incredible. It's amazingly diverse landscape, plethora of birds and other wildlife, and rich cultural history, all come together to create one of the most spectacular and unique countries in the world! I can't wait to go back for another adventure next year...

If you'd like to learn more about the trips offered by Glenn Bartley and I, click here.