Owen Wilson, Steve Martin and Jack Black – stars of the British Columbia/Yukon-filmed comedy The Big Year – introduced me to the world of bird watching. In the comedy, Wilson, Martin and Black’s characters travel across North America to see or hear the most bird species in a calendar year during the American Birdwatching Association’s annual “Big Year” contest.
The next day my partner and I played our own version of a ‘Big Morning’, trying to spot as many birds as we could on sunrise walk through Vancouver’s West End. We spotted seven different bird species including gulls, herons, widgeons and mallards. Suddenly we were hooked. The allure of walking around with binoculars to differentiate grebes from cormorants was no longer an activity reserved for our parents or our scientist friends.
It turns out birding, bird watching or ‘twitching’ as it’s called in the United Kingdom, is a pretty popular activity: according to 2006 survey done by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service there are about 48 million birdwatchers in the United States. In Canada, more than 550,000 Canadian adults take part in birdwatching activities annually according to a 2006 study on wildlife viewing activities.
In fact, migratory birds have their own day – World Migratory Bird Day on May 11 – created by the United Nations Environmental Program. The City of Vancouver also declared May 11 Migratory Bird Day to recognize the importance of protecting our plumed pals and their habitats.
“World Migratory Bird Day is amazing because not only does it give you a reason to get out from your winter-slumber, but raises awareness of the diversity of birds around us and the importance of their habitat,” explained Christopher Di Corrado of Bird Studies Canada in an email.
DiCorrado’s excitement is infectious, so I was stoked to learn about Vancouver’s first ever Bird Week taking place May 4-11. Birdwatchers of all stripes and spots will be celebrating our ornithological neighbors during Bird Week thanks to the folks from the Stanley Park Ecology Society, Bird Studies Canada, Environment Canada – Canadian Wildlife Service, City of Vancouver and others.
“[Early May] is one of the best times in and around Vancouver to see the greatest variety of species and understand who visits us for the long winter and who’s only around for those too-few summer months,” said Di Corrado, also a Vancouver resident.
Vancouver Bird Week will feature bird walks in seven different parks and green spaces in Vancouver, plus expert talks at the Vancouver Public Library’s Central Branch.
A tour of Stanley Park’s Heron Colony takes place on May 5. Then, on May 11 early birds (human and bird-alike) can participate in guided bird walks starting between 8:00 and 10:00 a.m. at Stanley Park, Jericho Park, Hastings Park Sanctuary, VanDusen Gardens, Queen Elizabeth Park, Everett Crowley Park and Pacific Spirit Park. Night owls are welcome at Bird Week evening talks by local bird gurus.
On May 8 Dr. Eric Anderson of the British Columbia Institute of Technology and University of Washington will describe the relationship between herrings, gray whales and surf scoter. Then on May 11, Bird Studies Canada’s Dr. Rob Butler will describe the clever habits of crows.
More artistic birdwatchers can admire creative expressions of bird-love at the Artstarts gallery, which will feature an exhibit Botanimalogy: Expressions of Nature complete with papier-mâché bird sculptures courtesy of an Enderby, B.C. grade three class.
Our fair city is part of a global migratory route called the Pacific Flyway. Each year up to 276 species of birds can stop off in Vancouver, with around 136 species seen in the area more frequently. Much of the migrating happens in the spring, fall and winter for waterfowl and shorebirds while songbirds stick around in the summer to thrill us with the sounds of their sweet calls.
Check out the Vancouver Bird Week schedule here for more detailed event listings.
Are you a birder? How will you observe World Migratory Bird Day or Vancouver Bird Week? Leave a comment and tell us below.