The days are getting shorter, and it’s starting to get chilly out there, but birding in fall is one of the best times to enjoy the BC Bird Trail!

Why Go Birding in Fall?

Fall is actually one of the best times of the year to go birding because of the large amounts of bird migrations taking place. All four BC Bird Trails are ideally situated along parts of the Pacific Flyway, catching birds flying south seeking warmer climates. Some will stay for the duration of the winter to enjoy the tepid climate and abundance of food, while others only stop by for a break during their long journey farther south. During peak migration, birding can be quite exciting and local birding spots can change overnight, so every outing can offer new surprises.

Barred Owl snoozing in a tree. Photo by Shayne Kaye.

Fall Tips

Don’t let the cooler temperature stop you – there are many advantages to birding in the fall. If you’re not a fan of the summer heat, fall birding offers a great mix of warm-but-cool weather which means you can be comfortable staying out on the trails for longer. Also, since the weather is still pleasant, but not pleasant enough to draw summer crowds, you’ll have all the benefits of quieter trails for birdwatching. Just remember to bring layered clothing if you intended to stay out for a while – nice days can still mean surprisingly cold mornings and evenings. If you can, now is a good time to get back in the habit of keeping a set of warm stuff handy in the car.

Sure, lush green trees are lovely, but they’re not ideal for bird watching. As those gorgeous crunchy leaves fall to the ground, you’ll find an abundance of bare tree branches, far better for spotting our feathered friends, and it’s a great time of year to see woodpeckers for this very reason!

Dressing in layers or having a spare jacket in your car will help in case the weather gets colder. Photo by Jordan Dyck.

Later sunrises and earlier sunsets mean you can enjoy those higher bird activity hours, and golden hours for photography, at a more reasonable time than in the summer. Some other benefits to fall bird photography are that cooler mornings mean more chances of fog and mist adding some cool atmosphere to bird photos, while the fall colours themselves can also add some vibrancy to a shot.

With fall migrations taking place all over the province, be sure to check in with your local nature parks to see what community bird activities they may have planned, like hawk, eagle, or turkey vulture watches. And since kids are back in school, you can check our blog about day trips from Vancouver for ideas for weekend or quick afternoon and evening family bird outings.

Fall Birds to Watch For

Turkey Vultures are one of the stars of fall birding in BC. On the Central Vancouver Island Bird Trail, look for flocks of Turkey Vultures kettling in the sky, waiting to fly south on a thermal updraft. 

Turkey vultures have an excellent sense of smell that they use to detect carrion.

Other migrating raptors such as hawks and ospreys are also more abundant throughout the BC Bird Trails. The increased activity of fall and the annual salmon runs also bring about more raptor activity, with chances to see falcons, kestrels, harriers, and eagles hunting overhead or perched along the riverside.

Bald eagles are especially active during November along the Fraser Valley Bird Trail.

You’ll find newly returned Trumpeter Swans getting ready to settle in for the winter on both the Central Vancouver Island and Fraser Valley Bird Trails. These swans are both the heaviest and longest-living bird native to North America! 

George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary on the South Fraser Bird Trail is a great spot to watch the arrival of thousands of lesser snow geese as they prepare to winter in the Fraser estuary. 

Snow geese turn fields completely white like a blanket of snow. Photo by Shayne Kaye.

The ocean waters also come alive with birds during fall. The exciting and punctual return of Bufflehead ducks to the Central Vancouver Island and South Fraser Bird Trails is cause for small community celebrations held in their honour! Sea ducks like surf, white-winged, and black scoters, harlequin ducks, Barrow’s and common goldeneyes, and the elegant long-tailed ducks are more common to see throughout fall, as well as common, hooded, and red-breasted mergansers. Other ducks you could see include northern shovelers, northern pintails, wigeons, canvasbacks, ring-necked ducks, scaups, and gadwalls.

Bufflehead ducks are often seen bobbing in the water between dives foraging for food.

With higher numbers of songbirds during fall migration means more opportunities to see them while out on the trails. This time also marks the return of lots of sparrows and the last chance to see many types of warblers for a while, before they head south for the winter.

For more information on the science behind bird migration and what to expect on your fall birding excursion, read through this great resource from eBird.

Ready to plan your fall birding adventure? Explore our regional bird trails for inspiration and be sure to tag #BCBirdTrail in your photo posts and stories on Instagram and Facebook so we can share your birding experiences.