Orcas, or killer whales, are the largest mammals to be seen in Vancouver’s waters (except for the odd gray whale, such as the one that swam into False Creek in May 2010). Three pods (families) of orcas, numbering about 80 whales, return to this area every year to feed on the salmon that spawn in the Fraser River starting in May and continuing into October. From April through October, daily excursions offered by Vancouver Whale Watch (12240 2nd Ave., Richmond; tel. 604/274-9565; www.vancouverwhalewatch.com) focus on the majestic whales, plus Dall’s porpoises, sea lions, seals, eagles, herons, and other wildlife. The cost is C$130 adult, C$100 seniors and students, C$75 children 4 to 12. Steveston Seabreeze Adventures (12551 No. 1 Rd., Richmond; tel. 604/272-7200; www.seabreezeadventures.ca) also offers whale-watching tours for about the same price. Both companies offer a shuttle service from downtown Vancouver.
Thousands of migratory birds following the Pacific flyway rest and feed in the Fraser River delta south of Vancouver, especially at the 300-hectare (740-acre) George C. Reifel Bird Sanctuary (5191 Robertson Rd., Westham Island; tel. 604/946-6980; www.reifelbirdsanctuary.com), which was created by a former bootlegger and wetland-bird lover. Many other waterfowl species have made this a permanent habitat. An observation tower, 7km (4 miles) of paths, birdseed for sale, and picnic tables make this wetland reserve an ideal outing spot from October to April, when the birds are wintering in abundance. The sanctuary is wheelchair accessible and open daily from 9am to 4pm. Admission is C$5 adults, C$3 seniors and children.
The Richmond Nature Park (11851 Westminster Hwy.; tel. 604/718-6188) was established to preserve the Lulu Island wetlands bog. It features a Nature House with educational displays and a boardwalk-encircled duck pond. On Sunday afternoons at 2pm, knowledgeable guides give free tours. Admission is by donation.
To connect with local Vancouver birders, try the Vancouver Natural History Society (tel. 604/737-3074; www.naturevancouver.ca). This all-volunteer organization runs birding field trips most weekends; many are free.
During the winter, thousands of bald eagles—in fact, the largest number in North America—line the banks of the Squamish, Cheakamus, and Mamquam rivers to feed on spawning salmon. To get there by car, take the scenic Sea-to-Sky Highway (Hwy. 99) from downtown Vancouver to Squamish and Brackendale; the trip takes about an hour. Contact the Squamish Adventure Centre (tel. 604/815-5084; www.adventurecentre.ca) for more information.
The annual summer salmon runs attract more than bald eagles. Tourists flock to coastal streams and rivers to watch the waters turn red with leaping coho and sockeye. The salmon are plentiful at the Capilano Salmon Hatchery, Goldstream Provincial Park on Vancouver Island, and numerous other fresh waters.
Stanley Park is home to a heron rookery and you can see these large birds nesting just outside the Vancouver Aquarium. Ravens, dozens of species of waterfowl, raccoons, skunks, beavers, gray squirrels, and even coyotes are also full-time residents. For more information, drop by the Lost Lagoon Nature House.