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

Humpys, Orcas, Stellars and California Sea Lions all in one afternoon

Every day is a unique adventure out on the Salish Sea but today’s trip stood out. We launched at Pedder Bay Marina in Metchosin to place us close to Race Rocks. As the California and Stellar Sea Lion bulls were entertaining us from their perches on the rock formations we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by a dozen or so of these mamoths swimming, diving and porpoising. Then the incredible happened. One of the stellars suddenly sprang out of the water not 40 feet from us with a huge salmon which it had just caught as it breached the surface. The salmon was squirming it the sea lion’s mouth. Just as quickly as the stellar had surfaced he dove again and repeated this motion 2 more times. All the while a dozen or so of his very excited mates were porpoising almost in unison as a group. In 12 years being out here on the ocean that was a first for me. This was just the begginning of our adventure. We had heard reports of 4 to 6 humpbacks in the general vicinity over the past week. As we networked with our colleagues we heard 6 transient orcas were nearby. We spent a bit of time enjoying the orcas before heading out in the direction of the shipping lanes where soon we spotted 4 humpbacks. They put on quite a show for us including some excellent tail flukes. The humpbacks were also very vocal. All this in the space of 4 hours on one of those special autumn days when the seas were calm and the sun was out.