The birds around Victoria B.C. on Vancouver Island capture the imagination of many visitors. Bald eagles, great blue heron and black oystercatchers are confident, skilled hunters, and can be reliably seen feeding before our very eyes during whale watching trips.

You’ll watch belted kingfishers hit the water like smart bombs while common murre dive beneath the surface creating bubble trails behind them like underwater jet planes as they pick apart a frightened school of fish. The commotion attracts other hungry predators and soon the cluster of thrashing predator and prey is visible from a mile away. Year round, resident bird species include the bald eagle, harlequin duck, great blue heron, pigeon guillemot, rhinoceros auklet, Wilson’s phalarope, and the black oystercatcher. There are also many gull species, and a wide range of inter-tidal/coastal birds including the kill deer, greater & lesser yellow legs, black & ruddy turnstone, sanderlings, etc. It is an ornithologist’s dream!

Below you will find basic information about the marine birds in our area. For more detailed info please see our Marine Bird Guide Online or for a colourful, printable version our Marine Bird Guide PDF.

Bald Eagles

bald eagles

  • apex predators at the top of the bird food chain
  • second in size only to California condors and about the same size as golden eagles
  • wingspans range between 1.8 and 2.3 m (5.9 and 7.5 ft)
  • body length varies between 70–102 centimeters (28–40 in)
  • mass is usually between 3 and 6.3 kilograms (6.6 and 14 lb). Females are about 25 percent larger than males, averaging 5.8 kg (13 lb), and against the males’ average weight of 4.1 kg (9.0 lb)
  • have lived up to 48 years in zoos, although their life span in the wild is likely an average of between 21 and 25 years
  • they mate for life
  • have incredibly acute eyesight – a 3 km (2 mile) visual radius
  • the largest nest in the Pacific Northwest measured 5 m (15 ft) across by 7 m (21 ft) deep weighing approximately 1500 kgs (5000 lbs)
  • recently removed from the endangered species list in the USA

Double-crested Cormorant

Double Crested Cormorant - Clint Rivers

  • solidly built black cormorant with an orange/yellow throat patch and very long neck
  • approximately 76–89 cm (30-35″ tall)
  • the largest and easiest to identify of the cormorants in the Pacific Northwest
  • feathers lack a lot of the typical oil, they soak up water like a sponge
  • after a dive the cormorant must ‘dry off’, with their wings stretched out from side to side drying themselves off like clothes on a clothesline
  • some records indicate that these birds can dive to depths of 70 m (210 ft)
  • In some parts of the world cormorants have been raised and trained to fish for their owners because of their skilled hunting abilities
  • clutch size for this species is 3–5 chalky, pale blue-green eggs in a well-made platform of sticks and seaweed,
  • the nest is a condominium-like structure placed in a tree or on a cliff or rocky island, nearly 1–1.5 m (3–5 ft high)

Turkey Vultures

turkey vulture

  • large blackish brown birds,
  • the underside of flight feathers are silvery grey
  • their heads are described as featherless, which allows dried blood to flake off, so easier to keep clean
  • the adult turkey vulture has a red head while the juvenile has a black head
  • weak talons; they prefer carcasses to have been already opened by other scavengers
  • five foot wingspan 175 cm (69 in), and about 4 lb
  • usually lay 2 eggs (can be 1–3), both parents incubate the eggs. Incubation lasts 38 to 41 days
  • they fledge (leave the nest) at about 66 to 88 days
  • are immune to botulism and other organisms in carrion (rotten flesh) that would kill other animals.
  • urinate on legs & feet, which helps cool them. Uric acid also kills any clinging bacteria from carrion
  • soars above the ground for most of the day, searching for food with its excellent eyesight (comparable to an eagle’s) and highly developed sense of smell
  • the only bird with a sense of smell
  • defense is vomiting. They cough up a lump of semi-digested meat. This foul smelling substance deters most creatures intent on raiding a vulture nest

Pigeon Guillamot

  • approximate size is 30–36 cm (12-14 in)… pigeon-sized
  • Pigeon guillamot with lunch in mouthbreeding plumage, black with large white wing patch interrupted by 2 black stripes
  • in winter, head and upper parts lighten slightly, giving dusky mottled effect; underparts are white with buff-coloured barring on flanks and dusky wing linings
  • all seasons, feet and bill lining brilliant red
  • 1 or 2 whitish or greenish, dark-spotted eggs in a crevice or burrow
  • rather comical bird. Having extremely large bright red feet, it often has a very difficult time acquiring flight…running along the surface of the water before achieving airborne status
  • high thin whistles and squeaks

Common Murre

FEATURE - Common Murre flying quickly along the oceans surface - photo Clint Rivers

  • approximate size is 43 cm (17 in), like a crow
  • head and upper parts brownish black, white below; long pointed bill
  • winter birds have extensive white on the face, with a dark line behind the eye
  • 1 blue-green egg, with black marks, on a bare rock ledge
  • like all alcids, they use their wings for swimming and diving, and seem to fly through the water
  • when half grown, young murres jump 9 to 15 meters (30 to 50 feet)  into the sea
  • a seabird that can dive twice the length of a football field 200m (600 feet) straight down below the surface of the sea
  • travels up to 6000 km a year in migration, covering up to 1000 km of that distance by swimming
  • leaps from cliffs up to 500 m high with half-grown wings at three weeks of age
  • can live up to 25 years of age

Tufted Puffin

Tufed Puffin

  • pigeon-sized, they are approximately 37–39 cm (14.5–15.5 in).
  • breeding plumage: stubby body black, face white, down-curved yellowish tufts hang behind eyes
  • parrot-like bill enlarged, bright orange-red
  • nests on vertical sea cliffs, in colonies or alone
  • feeds at sea, does not need land for months at a time and in fact over-winters well offshore
  • 1 white egg, often spotted, in a burrow on an island or coastal cliff. Nests in colonies
  • both parents take turns incubating the egg and feeding the puffling
  • it takes five years for puffins to mature and breed
  • usually return to the same burrow and nest with the same mate year after year
  • has adapted a burrowing strategy for nesting. It typically digs a tunnel from 0.5 to 3 meters (2 to 9 feet) into a turf-covered slope
  • referred to as the “sea parrots”, they can live for up to thirty years
  • can dive at least 38m (80 feet) deep
  • can fly about 60 km (40 miles) an hour, and will beat its wings about 300 to 400 times a minute.
  • quite rare around the Pacific Northwest. They have high populations around the Cape Scott area (northern tip of Vancouver Island)