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BC Bird Guide for Paddlers - Paddlebirding

Updated: Dec 6, 2022

Ok, so I may have made up a new word ever so slightly but trust me, it’s going to make sense soon enough! In this BC Bird Guide for Paddlers we focus on bird watching on Vancouver Island in places like bird sanctuaries, provincial parks, and estuaries.

Expect to learn about which birds you can see from your stand up paddle board, which birds are seasonal, get access to some resources and I'll be sharing my very own paddlebirding checklist.

What is Paddlebirding?

Picture this - you are out on your paddleboard taking in the scenery and birds are all around you. It’s picturesque, it’s tranquil, it’s wonderful.

In today's digital environment, more often than not we are unaware of our surroundings. We actually practice blocking out the noise to focus on our screens! We aren’t listening or watching to our fullest capability. That’s why I want to introduce my Blue Jellyfish SUP community to Paddlebirding.

I’m going to be giving you the basic knowledge so you know what to look out for when you are out paddleboarding.

Paddlebiriding is going to become as popular as quickly as paddleboarding did (trust me!). To really immerse yourself in the ocean life and learn about which are ocean birds in comparison to coastal birds, and what are common as opposed to seasonal birds is the whole object of paddlebirding - As well as enjoyment of course!

Need a paddlebirding buddy? You can either join our Women's SUP Group on Facebook or book a private lesson and Pam will take you out to see birds!

What birds can you expect to see?

Vancouver Island and British Columbia Canada have a big variety of birds - lucky us! It is important for us to be able to recognize the different birds we may encounter when out on the ocean. Here are the top ten most common you will expect to see.

Laysan Albatross
Laysan Albatross Photo:

Albatrosses - A large seabird that inhabit the Southern Ocean and North Pacific. The kind of Albatrosses that are in and around the area are the Laysan, Black-footed, and Short-tailed Albatross.

Shearwater. Photo:

Shearwaters - Shearwaters are pelagic birds, meaning that they don't venture near the shore, but you can still sometimes be lucky enough to see them. They often follow whales and fishing boats hoping for a catch of fish.

Storm Petrels - Storm Petrels are seabirds with a "tube-shaped" nose Storm petrels are similar, but have a more fluttering flight and don't fly as close to the waves as shearwaters often do. We have two small storm petrel species that frequent our waters: the Fork-tailed and Leach's Storm Petrel.

Cormorants - Cormorants stick close to shore, and it's believed that these large birds may have once been freshwater birds at some point in history. Their hooked bills are very distinct, and they catch fish by diving from the water's surface. Cormorants found around the area include the Double-Crested, Pelagic, and Brandt's Cormorant.

Bald Eagle | Photo: Ron Ridout | Source:

Raptors - There are a number of ‘sea eagles’ around the world but the only one that frequents Vancouver island waters is the Bald Eagle. Other raptors that frequent the shores include Peregrine, Falcon, Osprey, Turkey Vulture, and Red-Tailed Hawk.

Arctic Tern | Photo: Peter Candido | Source:
Arctic Tern | Photo: Peter Candido | Source:

Terns - Terns are related to gulls and skimmers. They can be slimy with long tails and short legs. Terns are long-lived and long-distance migrants. Three terns you might see around Vancouver Island are Arctic, Common, and Caspian.

Semipalmated Plover | Photo: Catherine Jardine | Source:
Semipalmated Plover | Photo: Catherine Jardine | Source:

Plovers - Plovers are wading birds that feed on insects. They actually pretend to have a broken wing in order to catch their prey! Plovers you might see on Vancouver Island include the Pacific Golden Plover, American Golden Plover, Black-Bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, and Killdeer.

Solitary Sandpiper | Photo: Alan Burger | Source:

Sandpipers - Sandpipers wade along the shorelines hunting for invertebrates in the mud and sand. Their long bills are sensitive, allowing them to feel beneath the surface for food, and are different lengths so that several species can feed in the same area without competing with one another. Vancouver Island is home to many different species of sandpipers and close cousins, some of which include Godwits, Turnstones, Shanks and Tattlers, Dowitchers, and Calidris.

South Polar Skua
South Polar Skua | Source:

Skuas - Skuas are fishers and often chase gulls and other seabirds to attack them and take their catch. Strong and acrobatic, they won't hesitate to dive-bomb intruders who come near their nests. The South Polar Skua, Pomarine Jaeger, Long-Tailed Jaeger, and Parasitic Jaeger all living with the Victoria region.

Glaucous-winged Gull | Photo: Ian Routley
Glaucous-winged Gull | Photo: Ian Routley | Source:

LAST BUT NOT LEAST - Gulls -It is impossible not to mention Gulls. They are the iconic symbol of the sea and their cry is extremely distinctive. Most of the gulls on Vancouver Island fall into the Larus family, with the Western Gull being commonly seen. Other species include the Glaucous-Winged Gull, Slaty-backed Gull, Common (or Mew) Gull, Ring-Billed Gull, Herring Gull, and Heermann's Gull.

To view images of these particular birds and some more in-depth personality traits click this link here.

What bird would you be lucky to see?

Marbled Murrelet | Photo: Glenn Bartley
Marbled Murrelet | Photo: Glenn Bartley | Source:

If you are out on your paddleboard and you happen to see a Marbled Murrelet you are extremely lucky. Over the years their populations have declined dramatically, and are now classed as a rarity. The reason for this decline in population is them losing their habitat which is due to logging in the forests. They are coastal birds and love to be near saltwater. The Marbled Murrelet feeds below the water surface on small fish and invertebrates and can be seen in Canada and up in the Alaskan waters.

Some other interesting birds you might happen to paddle on by in the British Columbia if you are lucky are:

  1. The Hudonian Goduit - Grey with extremely long beaks

  2. Mandarian Duck - Beautiful and bright!

  3. Tufted Duck - Kinda funny looking with no neck but still beautiful.

  4. King Eider - Small and petite.

Why look for birds on Vancouver Island?

Vancouver Island is a very fortunate spot in the world to house a wide variety of birds. It gives us countless opportunities and reasons to get outside and be in nature. Many people are surprised to know that 240 resident bird species habitat throughout the seasonal changes. During the winter months tens of thousands take a break and make the most of the increase in food whilst others migrate to Alaska. This article in Yam Magazine shares more about why Vancouver Island is bird watcher's paradise and they refer to the area as ​​“the capital of birdwatching in Canada.”

Avid bird watchers describe their experience as a spiritual, physical and mental experience. Paddlebirding can give you peace of mind, a tranquil experience with the bonus of a physical workout! I think we can all agree getting out on the water is perfect for our mental well-being.

Once you take the time to look and open your eyes, you will realize, birds are all around us. So it makes sense to take the time and learn about them right?

How to Get Started with Paddlebirding

Luckily for us paddleboarding and bird watching are done in the fresh air and are easily socially distanced which means combining the two together makes for the perfect COVID-19 friendly activity!

Here is a list of our top essentials when it comes to Paddlebirding:

  1. Your regular SUP gear (read our 'What to Wear While Paddleboarding post here or our Beginners Guide here)

  2. Binoculars

  3. Camera - (waterproof)

  4. Cornell University Bird ID App or copy of UBC's The Birds of Vancouver Island’s West Coast

  5. Curiosity!

  6. If you're new to SUP (but a skilled birdwatcher) check out our Learn to Paddle board program or take a lesson.

Paddlebirding Tips and Tricks

Blue Jellyfish SUP prides itself on our love for the ocean and our surroundings. We are extremely passionate about what we do and love to educate people who are willing to learn. Offering our knowledge to you all is our pleasure and we host training guides throughout the year on Paddleboarding. We want to highlight some tips for when it comes to incorporating bird-watching into your paddleboard session.

  • Calm movements

  • Be quiet

  • Work the flocks

  • Be patient

  • Avoid bright coloured clothing - yes it’s true!

Watch other paddlebirders too in your team. When they raise their binoculars or cameras, follow their lead!

Paddlebirding Resources

We may be Paddleboarding professionals but we can admit we aren’t professional bird watchers (if that’s a thing?).

To bring all this useful information to you, it took plenty of time and research and we hope it helped to encourage you to get out birdwatching!

Thank you to all the wonderful people and articles that helped in us gathering information.

We can't wait for you to join us in the new trend of Paddlebirding. Drop a comment below and let us know if you are ready to give it try it!

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