Pelagic Sea-Birding Gulf and San Juan Islands and Vancouver Island

Some examples of pelagic birding off Vancouver island include Shearwater, Fulmar, Phalarope, Cormorant, Brown Pelican, Merganser, Harlequin Duck, Grebe, Pacific Loon, Common Mure, Marbled Murrulet.

Common Merganser


Zodiac pelagic birding Victoria, Vancouver Island, BCOur Medline III Zodiac based in Victoria, BC can safely and comfortably take you on a private pelagic birding excursion anywhere on the west coast of British Columbia. While day trips are more easily started from the Victoria - southern Vancouver Island area - we can tow the Zodiac to just about any launch point. We are also open to arranging multi-day trips with on shore accommodations.

Of the approximately 10,000 birds in the world, about 300 are regarded as sea-birds. These are defined as those species whose normal habitat and food source is the sea, whether they may be coastal, offshore or pelagic.

True pelagic birds are those that spend most of their time at sea, beyond the continental shelf, returning to land only to breed.

Black Oyster Catchers at Race Rocks
Black Oyster Catchers at Race Rocks - Photo Credit Jeff Lorton

Sea-birds are one of the bird groups that cause the greatest difficulties with identification. Many of the group fly similarly, are similarly coloured in dull hues like grey and brown and are of a similar size. As well, observing conditions can be challenging. Boats provide an unstable platform in conditions that are often overcast, wet, windy and cold and with distant birds flying close to the waves and appearing and disappearing regularly in the crests and troughs.

For a comprehensive insight - and stunning pictures - we invite you to read Mike Yip’s Birding Journals on his web site at and/or buy his book called Vancouver Island Birds.


common murre tufted puffin

Birds to be seen:

September - May

  • Red-throated Loon
  • Pacific Loon
  • Common Loon
  • Yellow-billed Loon

September - April

  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Horned Grebe
  • Red-necked Grebe
  • Eared Grebe
  • Western and Clarks Grebe
  • Short tailed Shearwater
  • Fork-tailed Stormn-Petrel
  • Northern Fulmar (r)
  • Brandt’s Cormorant
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Pelagic Cormorant
  • Surf Scoter
  • White-winged Scoter
  • Black Scoter
  • Harlequin Ducks
  • Long-tailed duck
  • Bufflehead

October - April

  • Common and Barrow’s Goldeneye
  • Common Murre Pigeon Guillemot

October - February

  • Ancient Murrelet
  • Marbled Murrelet

November - February

  • Cassin’s Auklet
  • Rhinoceros Auklet

June - July

  • Tufted Puffin

Most of these birds would be seen off the southern-most coast of Vancouver Island. Our Zodiac Medline III is perfectly suited to safely observe these birds in these waters. These birds generally follow the tide lines. Renowned Birder and Naturalist, Richard MacDonald is also often available for for our Pelagic Birding Tours.

Oyster catchers at Clam Bay, Thetis Cove

Baby Orca breached!

The open air market on Salt Spring Island was a unique and fun experience. The arts and crafts stores in Ganges were a delight to discover. We enjoyed the fresh air, the natural scenery and the Dahl’s porpoises along the way. The ride back to Victoria was even more scenic as we boated through the channel and under the old wooden bridge between the Pender Islands. Going home the long way through the San Juans and around the bottom of San Juan Island was an excellent choice. We saw Orcas and a recently born baby orca breach out of the water! The boat is very comfortable and Dieter knows the waters like a seasoned mariner. We really appreciated having the zodiac all to ourselves and not being on any schedule. This was the best trip to Victoria ever! See you again next year for another adventure.