Only a hop, skip, and jump away from Calgary, British Columbia is a renowned birding destination. Out of all Canadian provinces, BC has recorded the highest number of unique bird species. It’s also part of the Pacific Flyway, an extensive north-south migratory bird route from Alaska to Patagonia in southern South America. This means throughout the year, BC sees all kinds of migratory bird visitors. 

For those that live in Calgary (and the surrounding areas in Alberta), this Field Note will guide you through birding destinations along the BC Bird Trail that would make for exciting road trips this summer.

The Columbia Valley Bird Trail 

Birding at Reflection Lake in Golden. Photo by Bruno Wong.

The Columbia Valley Bird Trail is a convenient spot to see birds who use the Pacific Flyway without having to go all the way to the coast. Spanning from Golden in the north, down to Cranbrook in the south, this trail is nestled between the Rocky and Purcell Mountains. 

Not only is the Columbia Valley a birding haven, but it’s also known for its relaxing hot springs and backcountry outdoor activities. There are wineries to explore, seasonal food to experience, and plenty of golf.

  • From Calgary, Golden is about a 3 hour drive.
  • From Calgary, Cranbrook is about a 4 hour drive.
  • From Banff, Golden is about a 1.5 hour drive.
Columbia River Wetlands near Golden, BC.

The Columbia River Wetlands are one of the longest undisturbed wetland ecosystems in North America, stretching from Golden (north) to Canal Flats (south). It’s also a critical resting and feeding area for resident and migratory birds on the Pacific Flyway. Many of the bird species that live in the Columbia Valley don’t cross the Rocky Mountains into Alberta. Just a short trip to the other side can lead to seeing several different species. 

The wetlands can be viewed from land, with several parks and trails flowing in and around the area, as well as several opportunities for getting out on the river in a canoe or kayak. 

Trails and Parks to Explore

Popular trails and parks ford birding along the Columbia River and wetlands include: 

  • Wilmer Wetlands Hiking Trail
  • Old Coach Trail
  • Hoodoo Trail
  • Tilley Memorial Park
  • Moberly Marsh & Burges James Gadsden Provincial Park
  • Confluence Park in Golden
Exploring the Columbia River on the water is a whole different birding experience.

Columbia River Paddle and Columbia Wetlands Outpost are great options if you’re looking to paddle the river itself in search of birds.

Birds to See in the Columbia Valley

For birds in the area, there’s always something to see. Here is a list of some species that you’re far more likely to see along the Columbia Valley Bird trail than in Calgary:

  • Lewis’s Woodpecker
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Barrow’s Goldeneye
  • Western Kingbird
  • Western Bluebird
  • Cinnamon Teal
  • Hooded Merganser
  • Calliope Hummingbird
  • Rufous Hummingbird
  • Long-billed Curlew
  • Violet-green Swallow
  • Pacific Wren
  • Lazuli Bunting

If you’re camping in the valley or out on the trails for a hike, you’re also likely to see BC’s provincial bird, the inquisitive Steller’s Jay. Their impressive blue plumage is hard to miss!

Beyond The Columbia Valley 

Depending on how far you’re able to venture into BC from Calgary, there is so much more birding to be had beyond the Columbia Valley!

The Fraser Valley Bird Trail

The Fraser Valley Bird Trail is the next stop if you’re heading west, towards the coast. This region also follows an important river: The Fraser River! The communities along the Fraser River Bird Trail offer more opportunities to view wetland-loving waterfowl and a variety of raptors.

  • About a 10 hour drive from Calgary.
Bald Eagles are a common sight in the Fraser Valley.

The South Fraser Bird Trail

Continuing along the Fraser River, the South Fraser Bird Trail is home to plenty of coastal birds. Encompassing the communities of Richmond, Surrey, and Delta, this region is a long drive from Calgary, but not so bad if you’re making a few stops along the way in the Columbia Valley and Fraser Valley. 

  • About an 11 hour drive from Calgary.
  • About a 1.5 hour flight from Calgary to Vancouver.

For birding along the coast, Boundary Bay is an Important Bird Area and a major stop on the Pacific Flyway. It’s known for spectacles of flocks of thousands of shorebirds, sometimes taking over entire beaches or watery farmlands. The South Fraser Bird Trail is also home to George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary, which sees tens of thousands of Snow Geese stopping by on their migration route during the spring and autumn. In the summer, waterfowl, herons, and raptors such as hawks and owls are more common to find. 

If you’re flying into Vancouver, there’s also great birding right next to the airport! Check out Iona Island, a local birding hotspot that has recorded the most unique species in all of Western Canada.

Watch for short-eared owls as they coast above open fields looking for food.

Central Vancouver Island Bird Trail

Accessible by ferry or by plane, the island is known for its quiet pace and easy access to BC’s super, natural outdoors. Rugged beaches, remote coastal communities, and ancient rainforests make the island worthy of a vacation. 

  • About a 13 hour drive from Calgary.
  • About a 1.5 hour flight from Calgary to Victoria.
  • About a 1.5 hour flight from Calgary to Nanaimo.

The estuaries along the Central Vancouver Island Bird Trail are busy with birds all year round. 

There are also several conservation organisations that allow people to learn about and get a close look at birds and other local wildlife. The Raptors in Duncan and North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre (NIWRA) in Errington, close to Parksville Qualicum Beach are two fantastic spots to visit. 

Photo of person holding an owl
Get up close to BC raptors!

We hope this list of birdwatching destinations in BC inspires you to plan a birding excursion from Calgary and to look up, and stay grounded on The BC Bird Trail.

You can follow The BC Bird Trail on socials here:

Be sure to tag us or use #BCBirdTrail or #LookUpStayGrounded so we can share your birding adventures!