view of the Sanctuary looking north.
at a feeder by the entrance.
signs just inside the entrance.
platform overlooking Southwest Marsh.
observation tower overlooking the estuary.
Snow Geese in a field.
mallard ducklings on a walk.
Barn swallow nest built with mud and straw.
The George C. Reifel Migratory Bird
Sanctuary is situated on Westham Island, just west of the community
of Ladner in the Municipality of Delta, British Columbia, Canada. (more
information on admissions and location). It consists
of nearly 300 hectares (850 acres) of managed wetlands, natural
marshes and low dykes in the heart of the Fraser River Estuary.
For the millions of birds seeking feeding and resting areas during
their annual migrations along the Pacific Coast, the Sanctuary
is ideally located. It is a place where wildlife and their habitats
are protected from harm, and it lies next to miles of flat marshland
and the farmland of Westham Island.
Washrooms and picnic facilities are all located next to the
parking lot. The dykes serve as walkways and are wheelchair
accessible. A two-storey (10 m high) observation tower is located
in the northwestern corner and provides an excellent view of
the shallow ponds, the intertidal marshes of the Fraser River
estuary outside the dykes, the ocean (Strait of Georgia) and
landmarks in the Vancouver area. Another viewing area with wheelchair
access is only 15 minutes walk from the entrance gate, and overlooks
the marshy islands and ponds of the south half of the Sanctuary.
are several small buildings along the trails. These are
"bird blinds" or "hides" and are designed
with small slat-like windows so that visitors can view the birds
outside without disturbing them.
The fall migration period (October to early December) is the
best time to view noticeable large flocks of waterfowl (ducks,
geese and swans) feeding and resting in the estuary and the ponds
of the Sanctuary. Different species have different food requirements,
so food to them can include grasses, remnant farm crops, weed
seeds, parts of intertidal marsh plants, underwater pondweeds
and algae, plankton, other small aquatic organisms or fish.
fall viewing is made most spectacular by the arrival of the
"Fraser-Skagit" flock of Lesser
This particular sub-population of snow geese numbers between
50,000 and 100,000 depending upon nest success in arctic breeding
grounds on Wrangel Island (Russia). These birds start to arrive
in early October and spend the winter at the Sanctuary, in surrounding
parts of the Fraser River Estuary (Delta and Richmond) and in
the nearby Skagit River Estuary in Washington,USA. They depart
for northern nesting grounds in April.
Snow geese are easily viewed by visitors when they are feeding
near the observation tower and in fields around the entrance to
the Sanctuary. (For more on their biology and management, see
Section or download the "Migration
Studies" booklet designed for the school program.
Highlights for winter visitors are the tame Mallards and Black-Capped
Chickadees which will feed from the hands of visitors. The trees
in the Sanctuary also provide winter shelter for many small forest
birds and roost sites for birds of prey such as owls, eagles and
a variety of hawks.Winter visitors often encounter the very small
Saw-Whet Owl roosting in the darker areas of branches overhanging
In spring, millions of Western Sandpipers pass through the Fraser
River estuary, and often feed and roost in the managed shallow
ponds of the Sanctuary. The spring is a particularly good time
to see hawks, eagles, seals, cormorants, ospreys and other fish-eating
wildlife which follow schools of migratory salmon and eulachon
(a small oily fish species) to the mouth of the river.
Many bird species are resident year-round or visit here during
the summer months to nest and rear their young. Mallard Ducks,
Canada Geese, and Sandhill Cranes nest in quiet grassy areas of
the Sanctuary but are often seen walking the trails with their
young families as these become more mobile. American Robin, Barn
Swallow, Bushtit, Marsh Wren, Red-Winged Blackbird, Gadwall, and
many sparrows also nest throughout the Sanctuary. In some years,
Great Horned Owls, Barn Owls and Bald Eagles have nested in prominent
locations near the trails.
In addition, numerous small artificial nest boxes are used annually
by Black-Capped Chickadees, Tree Swallows, Bewick’s Wren,
House Sparrows, Wood Ducks, squirrels and assorted other wildlife.
Rufous Hummingbirds feeding from the flowers and feeders are
often a highlight for visitors.
In late summer and early fall, a wide variety of migrant shorebirds
visit the waters, islets and mudflats of the Sanctuary. This is
a good time to view Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Long-billed
Dowitchers, and Western Sandpipers, and to search flocks for more
Over 280 species of birds have now been recorded at the Sanctuary
Checklist), from the plentiful
Mallard, Canada Goose and (in winter) Snow geese, to the more
uncommon species such as Black-Crowned Night Heron and Gyrfalcon.