Fall Migration Hits the Pacific Flyway

Metro Vancouver Regional Parks play an essential role in the migration of many birds.  They offer a resource-rich resting point for birds traveling along the Pacific Flyway.  Ever heard of it?  It’s a 15,000 km long migration route that extends from Alaska all the way to Patagonia.  For many birds, regional parks such as Boundary Bay and Iona Beach provide a much needed stopover during their arduous journey.

As fall has officially begun we’re now approaching the peak period for fall migration.  Migration typically occurs twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall.  So what is migration?  To start simple, migration is a large-scale, seasonal movement of birds from their breeding grounds to their non-breeding grounds.  Fall migration follows the movement of birds from their breeding grounds in the North to their wintering grounds in the South.

Did you know?

Not all migratory birds are created equal. Some birds are latitudinal migrants, others are longitudinal migrants and even fewer are altitudinal migrants.  However, when we talk about migratory birds in North America we’re often talking about latitudinal, North-South migration.

Why do birds migrate?

Birds, like us, follow the flow of resources.  If your grocery store stopped stocking your favourite products, you’d likely start searching for new places to shop.  Birds go through a similar process.

Western Sandpipers off the coast of Delta                           Source: Ben Nelms 2014

Species in the Northern Hemisphere tend to head North during the spring to take advantage of new plant growth, an influx of insects and an increase in nesting habitat.  This wealth of resources presents ideal conditions for breeding.  During the fall, food sources begin to diminish and the colder temperatures push many birds to the South.

Who can you look out for?

Metro Vancouver Regional Parks support a number of migratory birds.  Notable species to look out for this fall include Lesser Snow Geese (Chen caerulescens caerulescens) and Western Sandpipers (Calidris mauri).  Both species travel in spectacular flocks so you can’t miss them.  Even if you aren’t looking, you’ll likely hear the flock of geese before you see them.  Hot spots like Boundary Bay and Iona Beach will be your best bet to witness the phenomenon of fall migration.

A trio of Snow Geese, Source: Jeff Lewis


Fun fact: Female snow geese are strongly philopatric.  This means that they will return to the same place they hatched to breed.



How can you help?

Please consider donating to Pacific Parklands Foundation in honour of the migratory birds who find refuge in Metro Vancouver Regional Parks.  We will distribute 100% of your donation to the conservation and enhancement of these essential stopover sites.  To make a donation: .


About the cover photo: Western Sandpipers off the coast of Delta, Source: Ben Nelms 2014

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