Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
The Bald Eagle is a massive bird of prey found near lakes, reservoirs, rivers and the coasts of North America. They are very distinctive birds with their white feathered heads (they aren’t actually bald!) contrasting with their dark brown bodies and wings. They also have very bright yellow hooked beaks and legs. When it comes to feeding, Bald Eagles are extremely opportunistic and will pretty much eat anything including roadkill. They will also often steal fish from other birds by harassing them midair until they drop their catch.
Bald Eagles will mate for life and the pair will always go back to the same nest every year to have their young. These birds build the largest nest of any North American bird. Each year they return to their nest, they will add to it and end up creating a massive structure way up in a tree. The largest Bald Eagle nest ever found weighed an astounding 1 ton and measured 3 metres wide and 6 meters high! Their mating ritual is also extremely fascinating as they perform a bizarre dance way up in the sky. The pair fly upwards, lock talons and fall towards the earth while rotating, separating moments before crashing into the ground. This is definitely quite an unforgettable sight!
BC is home to one of the largest concentrations of Bald Eagles (after Alaska and Florida) Look for these beautiful and impressive birds soaring overhead, flying for a long time without a single flap of their wings.
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)
The Great Blue Heron, a very majestic bird, is the largest Heron in North America, with a wingspan over 2 meters long. They are very tall birds with a long neck and subtle blue-grey plumage. When in flight; their long neck will fold into a tight “S” shape, allowing for a more aerodynamic flight profile. Great Blue Herons are very patient birds, often standing motionless for hours scanning the water and waiting for its chance to catch a fish. When they finally spot something, they strike like lightening to snap up a fish or even sometimes a rodent. They are amazing hunters, both during the day as well as at night, having developed specially adapted eyes which help them to see in the dark.
Great Blue Herons have specialized feathers on their chest that are constantly growing and then fray, creating a shaggy appearance. These fraying feathers on their chest are like a “powdery” down, and by using a fringed claw on their middle toes they will comb their chest, and then use the down like a washcloth to remove fish slime and other oils from their feathers. The heron will then apply the powdery down to their underparts, creating a protection against slime when they wade into swamps to feed.
These large, slow-moving birds are seen in Victoria BC regularly. During their six months presence in Beacon Hill Park (a beautiful park located just east of downtown Victoria) each year–February to August–visitors can observe a wide range of heron behaviours, including courtship displays, nest building, mating, and the feeding of demanding, noisy young birds. Bald Eagles regularly attack the nests with dramatic results.
Pigeon Guillemot (Cepphus columba)
The Pigeon Guillemot is a seabird of the North Pacific which is most often found along rocky coasts between Alaska and California. They are quite small, stocky birds with rounded wings and bodies. Mature adults are solid black with white wing patches. They also have very distinctive bright red feet.
The Pigeon Guillemot is one of the few members of the Auk and puffin family to lay two eggs, where nearly all the other species will lay only one egg. When they’re nesting, they will scrape a shallow hole in sand or gravel and lay their eggs or they will lay them in a crevice along a cliff face. Pigeon Guillemots will actually scale vertical rock faces by vigorously flapping their wings and using the sharp claws on their webbed feet. A rock climbing bird would certainly be a strange sight!
Being a sea bird, the Pigeon Guillemot is an amazing swimmer and diver. They spend a lot of their lives floating at sea, and are often seen comically running along the surface of the water as they try to take off. These small birds can dive to an impressive 45 meters deep; however they mostly dive to about 10-20 meters deep.
Race Rocks Ecological Reserve (just 17km south of Victoria) is a popular place to spot these birds as they come here in large numbers during May and June every year.
Rhinoceros Auklet (Cerorhinca monocerata)
This interesting bird got its name for the vertical white plate at the base of its beak, and similarly to the Pigeon Guillemot, it is also closely related to puffins. Rhinoceros Auklets are found along coastlines and on the open sea of the North Pacific. They are a medium-sized stocky bird, and dark grey in colour except for a white belly. Along with its white “horn” coming out of its beak, it also has 2 thin white plumes just above its eyes. It is a very distinguished looking bird! Only mature breeding males and females have the horn, and interestingly, the function of it is not known. The horn does shed every year, and they grow a new one.
Rhinoceros Auklets are mostly pelagic (which means they spend most of their time at sea) and will make burrows for their nests on islands. Strangely, they will only deliver food to their babies at night. This behaviour may be an adaptation to prevent gulls and other predators from stealing their hard yearned food.
Black Oystercatcher (Haematopus bachmani)
Black Oystercatchers are large, conspicuous and very loud birds that can be seen along rocky shores from Alaska to Mexico. They are easily recognizable with large black bodies and a very bright red beak. Oystercatchers often mate for life, and the pairs forage together, stalking rocky shores for mussels, limpets and other shellfish at low tide. Strangely enough, despite their name, Oystercatchers rarely eat oysters! But they are amazing hunters and have developed the perfect technique for removing mussels from their shells but keep the shell in place. They have two different methods: in one, finding a mussel with its shell slightly open, the Oystercatcher will sneak up onto the mussel and quickly jab its beak into the opening, cutting the muscles and then cleaning out the contents. In the other method, the bird will simply hammer on the shell until it breaks open.
If disturbed, Oystercatchers will take flight with loud, piercing whistles which can be heard even above the sound of waves crashing. These distinctive (and somewhat obnoxiously loud) black birds are a very common sight along the beautiful rocky shores of the Gulf Islands and the shores around Victoria. We regularly see and hear these critters on our tours!
If you are a keen Bird Watcher then Vancouver Island is the place for you. At SpringTide we run tours year round. So no matter what time of year you join us you will be guaranteed a whole lot of great Bird Watching!
If you loved this blog check out our recent photo album Birds of BC on our Facebook page. Thanks for reading 🙂