One of the best places to enjoy nature outdoors in Metro Vancouver is at the Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary in Delta, especially if you like bird watching.
BIRD SANCTUARY & COVID-19
The Reifel Bird Sanctuary closed in the spring of 2020 due to the coronavirus. It reopened in the summer with new precautions. People wanting to visit must now make reservations online.
As of mid-April, 2021, the venue is open, but operating at a reduced capacity.
For information about the current status of the venue see the Reifel Sanctuary website.
Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Even if you aren’t a bird watching fan, the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary is a highly recommended place to visit. Especially in the spring and fall at the peak of migration seasons, the place is amazing.
Millions of birds, ducks and geese visit the sanctuary each year, as do thousands of birdwatchers with their binoculars and cameras.
Reifel Bird Sanctuary Location
The bird sanctuary is bordered by ocean to the west, the Fraser River to the north and east, and the rest of Westham Island to the south.
Admission to the Bird Sanctuary
The sanctuary’s hours are usually from 9 am until 4 pm every day, including holidays.
General admission is $5 for adults and $3 for both children (ages 2-14) and seniors (age 60+). Annual memberships are also available. They cost $25 per person, $50 for a family and $500 for an individual for life. Memberships allow you free admission and are a good deal if you love birds and plan to visit regularly.
What to Expect at the Sanctuary
Expect to see lots and lots of birds – thousands of them, especially at peak times of the year. You can also expect to see a good number of photographers and avid bird watchers.
When you arrive and pay your admission you’ll receive a trail map and information. There are over 5 km of trails through the forest and marshlands. Folks at the gate can tell you what’s been seen recently and where.
Types of Birds at the Sanctuary
Fall Fowl: A wide variety of birds make both their permanent and seasonal vacation homes at the Reifel Bird Sanctuary. As many as 70,000 snow geese pass through the area between early October and April, with many of them taking up full time residence during that period.
Also, in late summer and early fall, there are migrant shorebirds such as the Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Long-Billed Dowitchers and Western Sandpipers.
Spring Peeps (and other fowl): Spring is when millions of Western Sandpipers pass through the surrounding area, and hawks, eagles and osprey also make the place home.
Summer Feathered Settlers: Summer time brings Mallard Ducks, Canada Geese and Sandhill Cranes to the sanctuary to raise their families. Mid-May until June is the best time to see baby ducklings and goslings, as well as summer flowers.
Winter Wings: During the winter, in addition to the Snow Geese, other common residents include Mallard Ducks and Black-Capped Chickadees, as well as birds of prey like hawks and owls between December and March.
Year-Round Regulars: Many species can be found during much of the year, and others for long stretches of time at different periods. Swallows, Robins, Bushtits, Marsh Wrens, Gadwalls, Hummingbirds and Blackbirds are all frequent residents, as are Horned Owls, Barn Owls and Bald Eagles on occasion.
What to Take to the Bird Sanctuary
When visiting the bird sanctuary don’t forget to take your camera and binoculars. The place is a photographer’s paradise. You’ll be surprised at the size of some people’s lenses!
Take good walking shoes as it’s a big place, and good footwear for puddles if it has rained lots in the previous day or two. A water bottle is also a good idea, and a hot drink and lunch if you want them.
If going in the summer, a hat can be good as there isn’t much shade in many areas. And finally, a bird book can also be useful (or an app on your phone). It’ll add to the experience and, if you don’t have one, the gift shop has books you can purchase.
What NOT to Take to the Sanctuary
You can’t take your dog, ride your bike or smoke at the Reifel Bird Sanctuary. It’s a bird sanctuary and fowl don’t like dogs, people on bicycles or second-hand smoke. They also don’t like loud noises or being chased, so respecting the birds in their habitat is greatly appreciated and expected.
The local inhabitants do love bird seed though, and bags are available for sale at the entrance.
Tips and Advice
Below are some tips to help enhance your experience at the bird sanctuary.
TIP #1: Spend the extra $1 for the bag of bird seed. The birds will love you for it, as will any children you happen to bring along.
TIP #2: Visit the Reifel Bird Sanctuary at different times of the year if you can to see what’s new in town, but at the very least get there at least once in your life in the fall on a sunny day. Even non-birdwatchers will be impressed.
TIP #3: The best time to see the famous Snow Geese is from October until December, with mid-November being the peak of the Snow Goose season.
TIP #4: Don’t expect to see as many Snow Geese and as close as in the photo below, but it’s not impossible. More likely you’ll hear and see them in the distance, so don’t forget your binoculars and zoom lens for your camera.
TIP #5: Expect crowds and a full parking lot on sunny weekends and statutory holidays. The place is most beautiful in the sunshine, but, to avoid the crowds, weekdays are best. Also, of all four seasons, interestingly, summer is arguably the most beautiful but also the quietest.
For more information about the sanctuary, visit the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary website.
For a list of birds that have been recently spotted at the bird sanctuary, see the venue’s Weekly Species List.
Other exceptional places for bird watching include the following:
- Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve in Chilliwack
- Maplewood Flats in North Vancouver
- Minnekhada Regional Park in Coquitlam
For a list of more amazing places in the outdoors (although with far fewer feathered creatures), check out Vancouver’s Best Places in Parks and Nature.
And for an interesting video of Snow Geese taken in Richmond in the spring of 2012, see our Millions of Snow Geese Video.