Friends of Victoria Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Victoria Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary (est. 1923): great wildlife in the city and a lot more than birds. "Celebrate biodiversity in the city."

Possibly the best marine environment in urban Canada. Long forgotten but still in the books. Re-wilding and cleaning efforts are yielding tangible results. Some species are coming back.

by Jacques Sirois
Friends of Victoria Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary - 2015

A home for buffleheads, surf scoters, pigeon guillemots, marbled murrelets, rhinoceros auklets, pelagic, Brandt's and double-crested cormorants, Heermann's, mew and glaucous-winged gulls, purple martins, orcas, harbour seals, Steller's sea lions, Pacific Herring, coho salmon, Pacific sandlance, quillback rockfish, giant Pacific octopus, Olympia oysters, bull kelp, eelgrass, Garry oaks, common ringlet, Victoria owl-clovers, etc. in the heart of Greater Victoria, British Columbia.

Despite reduced wildlife populations (drastic for some species), diminished ecological integrity, pollution, sewage, urban and industrial encroachment, but thanks to some cleaning and re-wilding efforts, the sanctuary now features a surprising variety and fair numbers of wildlife for an urban area.

The sanctuary encompasses 1,700 ha., including Portage Inlet, the Gorge, Victoria Harbour, the coastal waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Macaulay Point to Ogden Point, Clover Point, Trial Islands and Ten Mile Point; including Ross Bay, Gonzales Bay, McNeill Bay, Oak Bay, Cadboro Bay. Its limits touch five municipalities: Victoria, Saanich, Oak Bay, Esquimalt and View Royal.

Wildlife habitat includes shallow and fast-moving tidal waters, kelp forests, eelgrass and surfgrass meadows, seaweed gardens, mud flats, tidal marshes, three small estuaries (Colquitz, Craigflower and Bowker), beds of clams, mussels and oysters, fish and krill nurseries, sand and pebble beaches, rocky shores, several islands, some with maritime meadows and Garry Oaks.

In winter, the ice-free Salish Sea is one of Canada's best wintering areas for migratory birds. Thousands of ducks, gulls, auks, cormorants, grebes, loons and shorebirds winter in the sanctuary, including busy Victoria Harbour in the city centre of Victoria. Up to 154 species of birds, a Canadian record, have been recorded in Greater Victoria during a Christmas Bird Count.

Victoria Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary was established in 1923 to curtail hunting in the city and rein in market hunters, a huge problem 100-150 years ago. Market hunters killed countless millions of birds in North America in the past to supply public markets and restaurants. This precipitated the demise or extinction of several species like the Passenger Pigeon, the Eskimo Curlew, and the Buff-breasted Sandpiper, for example. The latter species was actually reported in the sanctuary in 2014.

Ignored for decades, it is still in the books of the Canadian Wildlife Service. Arguably, it continues to be a real asset for the Capital Regional District of British Columbia as it encompasses some of the best marine environment in urban Canada. Where else can you see marbled murrelets, rhinoceros auklets, orcas and Steller's sea lions right off the sidewalk ?

The time may have come to reinvent this urban bird sanctuary with a new, modern-day, meaningful and flexible regional, provincial or federal designation. Some have even suggested that Greater Victoria, with its splendid natural and cultural heritage, be recognized as a UN Biosphere Reserve.

A recent survey by the Victoria Foundation (Vital Signs 2014) found that 47% of residents of Greater Victoria value the natural environment above all. This sanctuary is in the heart of it all.