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.

BC Birding in 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.

Turkey vultures have an excellent sense of smell that they use to detect carrion. Watch for them soaring high above on warm air thermals.

Fall Birds to Watch For

As one of the busiest times in BC for bird migrations, every region on the BC Bird Trail has exciting visitors. turkey vultures are a common sight during fall birding in BC, as well as trumpeter swans along the Central Vancouver Island, Fraser Valley, and Columbia Valley Bird Trails.

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. You may also spot common, hooded, and red-breasted mergansers. Other ducks you could see include northern shovelers, northern pintails, wigeons, canvasbacks, ring-necked ducks, scaups, and gadwalls.

Songbirds, warblers, and raptors are sticking around all over BC until the winter, so keep be sure to keep your eyes on the skies and watch for movement in the trees.

Columbia Valley Bird Trail

Fall migration means you’ll see and hear higher numbers of warblers and other songbirds around the Columbia Valley Bird Trails before they head south for the winter. It’s also a good chance to see the many species of waterfowl and raptors before they also leave for the season.

Trumpeter swans are one of the stars of the season and always look majestic as they pose for a photo. Lewis’s woodpecker, a regional highlight, can still be occasionally seen before the weather cools down too much.

Trumpeter Swans are both the heaviest and longest-living birds native to North America! 

South Fraser Bird Trail

Fall migration brings many visitors through the region as a stop on the Pacific Flyway. One of the most amazing bird spectacles in the world can be seen in the South Fraser Bird Trail region: the arrival of the snow geese! In early October, tens of thousands of snow geese that breed on Wrangel Island off northern Russia make their way to the area. The sight of a flock covering an entire farm field on Westham Island (near George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary), or peppering the sky at takeoff, is quite impressive.

Bald eagles are also plentiful and can often be seen casually perched along the road in the farmlands up in trees or on fenceposts. The shorelines come alive at Boundary Bay and Roberts Bank with huge numbers of shorebirds, like dunlin, western sandpipers, and black-bellied plovers.

Huge flocks of snow geese turn fields white like a blanket of snow. Photo by Shayne Kaye.

Central Vancouver Island Bird Trail

Turkey vultures and raptors still dominate the skies as summer turns into autumn on the Central Vancouver Island Bird Trail. Other migrating raptors such as hawks and ospreys are also more abundant throughout the BC Bird Trails.

Bufflehead ducks’ exciting and punctual return to the Central Vancouver Island and South Fraser Bird Trails is cause for small community celebrations held in their honour! A bit off-shore, the waterbirds start to show up in droves. Auks like the common murre or marbled murrelet dot the open water, and you might even get to see long-tailed ducks, possibly the most majestic waterfowl around.

Bufflehead ducks nest in old woodpecker holes, particularly those made by Northern Flickers.

Fraser Valley Bird Trail

Take a stroll through a forest trail along the Fraser Valley Bird Trail in fall and follow your ears to find one of our local woodpecker species drumming away on a tree. From the large, red-capped pileated woodpecker, to the hairy woodpecker and its smaller lookalike, the downy, their sounds echo through the trails. There’s even the northern flicker, a woodpecker often found foraging on the ground, which has delightful polka dots on its front. Other active park residents include kinglets and chickadees, ensuring that a walk through the trees is rarely without activity.

In the Harrison River Valley, fall is the time to celebrate The Season of the Wild, which tells the story of the salmon, sturgeon, and eagles in the region. Every year, the salmon swim up the Harrison River and come to rest in tributaries to lay their eggs. The spawning season, along with the cooling temperatures in the North, contributes to the large gathering of the bald eagles seen from October to January; with the peak eagle viewing in November.

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

Sea to Sky Bird Trail

Every fall, Squamish and Brackendale become a hot spot for bald eagles as they decend on the area to feast on salmon in the Squamish River. On average the area gets 1,300 bald eagles each year, but the record for the area was in 1994 when there were 3,700. The Eagle Run Dike and viewing shelter is a great spot to watch the eagles, which are visible with or without bicnoculars. There is an accessible ramp at the south end that is cleared by volunteers in the winter when possible. The best time to see the eagles is in the morning, from October until early January.

Along the Sea to Sky Bird Trails, corvid’s such as Steller’s Jays and Canada Jays are a more common sight during this time of year. Rainbow Falls Trail is a good place to start in Whistler. You’ll likely hear a Steller’s Jay before you see it, as they can be quite shy, but they are inquisitive and may keep a watchful eye on you from the safety of the trees. At higher elevations, like the trails accessed via the Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish, Canada Jays will be very active, and particularly curious. They may even land on your hand or head, but please be aware of the signs asking people not to feed the birds.

Canada Jays are known to be pushy when they want snacks, but please do not feed wild birds!

Langford Bird Trail Outpost

While out on the Langford Bird Trails, watch for chestnut-backed chickadees. They look very similar to the more common black-capped chickadee except that their backs are chestnut coloured. Chickadees are incredibly smart, and every Fall their hippocampus grows so that they can remember where their seed caches are through the winter. Fall is a great time to observe these birds and their behaviours, as they are very busy prepping for Winter.

An unassuming bird to look out for is the brewer’s blackbird. This bird can often be overlooked because they’re little black birds and can also confused with starlings and red-winged blackbirds. You will usually see them on the ground, foraging for grasses, seeds, and insects.

And of course, Fall is the best time for viewing bald eagles at Goldstream Provincial Park. Kinglets such as ruby- and golden-crowned, fox and golden-crowned sparrows, as well as varied thrushes will also be hanging around the trees of the forest trails, so be sure to look up and listen for their calls.

Male Brewer’s Blackbirds are a glossy black with a greenish irirdescence.

Osoyoos Bird Trail Outpost

Being the only desert in Canada, Osoyoos is home to a very special ecosystem. There are many birds along the Osoyoos Bird Trails that you can’t find in other parts of the province, or even the rest of Canada. The Burrowing Owl is one such bird that lives underground in burrows, often using deserted prairie dog or ground squirrel homes. They are active during the day and night, but they are rare sight, so try looking in open areas with low ground cover. As part of good practice for ethical owl watching, be sure not to share specific owl locations to avoid a flurry of photographers and birders going to the spot and disturbing the owls.

Osoyoos is an important stopping area in the migration corridor for sandhill cranes. These birds mate for life and like to hang out in bogs and wetland areas, so check out the Osoyoos Oxbows Trail for a chance to see these majestic birds.

The trails in Sẁiẁs Provincial Park are a good spot for catching California quails, who like to dart in and out of bushes and run along trails and roadsides. They look similar to chickens, with one, funky forward-drooping head plume.

While California Quail are quick on their feet, so keep a close watch to the sides of the trail ahead.

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.