Most people go on a whale watching tour in Campbell River with one goal: to see whales. And yes, whales are incredible to encounter! But there are smaller feathered friends that often go unnoticed on wildlife tours.
Did you know the Salish Sea has 73 different species of birds? And we think they’re all remarkable! When you’re in Campbell River, whether on a wildlife tour or just walking the beaches, keep your eyes peeled for these exciting marine bird species that call this area home!
Breeding male harlequin ducks. Photo by Andy Scheffler.
One of the more striking plumage colourations in marine birds, breeding male harlequin ducks are a sight to behold. Females and young don’t have the same striking colouration, and rather sport a brown plumage with the same white patch behind the eye. These ducks inhabit turbulent waters year-round: whitewater rapids in the summer, and windy rocky coastlines in the winter. Because of this, most harlequin ducks experience multiple broken bones within their lifetime!
Breeding adult pigeon guillemot with its bright red feet. Photo by Andy Scheffler.
Pigeon guillemots are a very chatty species of marine bird, and can be found close to shore in the summer. This makes this very entertaining bird easy to watch! When taking off from the water, they run across the water’s surface to gain speed. In the spring and early summer, they can be seen chasing each other, diving, biting, and leapfrogging – most often in the mornings. It’s very difficult to tell males and females apart. They like to burrow in erosional bluffs (usually in abandoned kingfisher nests) which can be 6ft deep! Fun fact: in the fall after their breeding season, pigeon guillemots are a flightless bird. This is because they moult their wing feathers. For 2 months, they are very vulnerable and will dive if threatened.
Western grebe with it’s striking red eye and long, slender beak. Photo by Andy Scheffler
This is the largest species of grebe in British Columbia. They have striking red eyes with white and black plumage. Their beaks are long and slender. All western grebes found in saltwater environments are non-breeding. All breeding western grebes inhabit freshwater lakes. Do yourself a favour and watch this video of their courtship dance… you won’t be disappointed.
A large, predominantly black marine bird found in coastal areas near Campbell River. They can be sighted nesting on cliffs in the summer months. Three species of cormorants are found near Campbell River year-round. These include:
- Pelagic cormorants
- Smallest of BC’s cormorants
- Adults are a glossy green-black with a white patch on their backs
- Brandt’s cormorants
- Glossy green-black like pelagic cormorants, but have a beige throat
- In the spring, adults have white tufts on their heads
- Double-crested cormorants
- The largest of BC’s cormorants
- Have all black bodies with an orange face
Can you identify the two different species of cormorants on this rock? Photo by Andy Scheffler.
Great Blue Heron
A commonly seen large marine bird of British Columbia. They can be found in estuaries, rivers, lakes, marshes, and at the ocean’s edge. These stoic birds can be seen standing patiently, ready to strike at prey in the water with their bills. They prefer to nest in tall trees in coastal areas and lay 3-5 eggs in April or May, which hatch in about a month.
An iconic species of Canada, and seen in abundance in Campbell River. Juveniles are mottled brown and white, and will begin to develop the signature white head and tail around 4 years old. Their wingspan is 2m and they can see 4-7 times further than a human.
Juvenile (top) and adult (bottom) bald eagles. Photo by Blair Denman.
Bald eagles mate for life and can be seen in mated pairs in tall trees along the coast. Their nests can be 8ft wide and weigh over 1 ton!
From May – July every year, hundreds of bald eagles migrate to Stuart Island to feed on the annual hake migration, named the “Eagle Show”. On strong flood tides, the strong currents push these fish to the surface, making an easy meal for the eagles. Learn more about this incredible event here.
The Eagle Show. Photo by Tony Austin Photography.
Want to see more? Join us on a whale watching tour in Campbell River, BC!