Ducks, Geese, Swans

Brant or Brent Goose:

The Pacific (Black) Brant Goose is well known on Vancouver Island as there is a festival named after it. The Brant uses Vancouver Island as a stopover on the way to Alaska and the Canadian arctic from California and Mexico. The geese start appearing in late February and the last of them come through in early May, peaking in late March. These geese are a part of the thousands of other birds feeding on the herring spawn that happens annually in March. They are easy to spot as their under-tail is pure white and the tail is short and black while the rest is dark to light black. Over the course of its life, the Brant is believed to fly over 135,000 miles, making enough frequent flier miles to make even the most avid traveller envious. The term Brant is derived from the Norse word ‘brand’, meaning burnt. The bird was given this name because of its charcoal complexion.

Duck (Harlequin)

Harlequin ducks are sea ducks that spend a good part of the spring and summer molting and breeding. By late August most birds have left the nesting grounds. Breeding areas include both fresh and saltwater water habitats with a concentrated breeding happening between Courtenay and Campbell River including Mitlenatch Island. During the herring spawn in March the birds can be located amongst the thousands of other feeding birds.

Duck (Long-tailed)

The Long-Tailed duck is not only complex in colour patterns, it also has 3 different plumages over the year. Like many birds, it spends the summer breeding and feeding in the Arctic and the winters are spent along the coast from Alaska down to California. The Long-Tailed duck spends most of its time underwater compared to time swimming on the surface. When looking for food it can dive down as far as 200 feet. The Long-Tailed Duck is seen around the Pacific Herring Spawn and is more common on the east side of Vancouver Island during winter months.

Ducks (Northern Pintail)

These elegant looking ducks have a beautiful display of feathers on the top of their back. One of the best places to photograph these ducks is Esquimalt Lagoon. They arrive late summer and stay until late spring and often hang around public feeding areas waiting for food. When feeding in the wild, it is likely you will see them upended with the tail up and head down, feeding on grasses and seeds.

(Ducks) Ruddy

The Ruddy Duck has a low lying black cap that comes just below its eyes and a spiked tail used for mating displays. Around 200 winter at Quamichan Lake near Duncan, however in other places on Vancouver Island they are uncommon. They don’t mix much with other ducks and feed on insects, seeds, roots and grasses.

Goldeneye (Barrow’s)

No, it wasn’t named after a James Bond movie. Rather, this bird was named after Sir John Barrow. Often seen migrating in late fall and early spring this breed is often grouped together in cold waters. The majority of Barrow’s Golden eye breed in the BC interior. During the winter some can be seen on either coast of Vancouver Island, though it would be more likely to see them on the east coast.

The adult males typically have a dark head with a purplish gloss and a white crescent at the front of the face along with a black bill. Adult females have a mostly yellow bill to differentiate. The barrow typically forages for food underwater and nests in tree cavities.

Goldeneye (Common)

Ranging across most of North America, this goldeneye is more numerous and can sometimes be seen in large flocks. Along with its namesake Iris, the adult males have a dark head with a greenish gloss and a circular white patch below the eye, a dark back and a white neck and belly. Adult females have a brown head and a mostly grey body. It has also earned the nickname “Whistler”, for being fast in flight. Even though it migrates in the late fall and early spring it is not unusual to see the Common Goldeneye, on or near Vancouver Island year round.

Merganser (Common)

This large fish-eating duck is the largest of the Mergansers and typically resides along rivers and lakes of Vancouver Island, veering away from the coastal regions except in migration season. As these duck are foraging for food underwater, gulls will wait around until they surface hoping to steal the prey. The Merganser is a fish predator and has serrated edges on their bills making it hard for their prey to escape.

Besides eating fish, the goosander (as called by the British) also nests in holes in trees. Even though it migrates in small groups, they tend to congregate together. Migration season usually takes place in late fall and early spring, but because of the Islands unusual climate, most mergansers can be seen year round.

Merganser (Hooded)

The Hooded Merganser is the smallest and prettiest of our three Mergansers and can be seen year round on Vancouver Island though are more common during winters on the east coast. This duck is agile in the water which is where it is most comfortable. Nesting females often lay eggs in other Merganser’s nests. Once the eggs have hatched the mother takes the chicks away from the nest so there is a reasonable chance you will see small chicks following behind the mother.

Merganser (Red-breasted)

The Red-breasted Merganser is found on Vancouver Island during winter months. It likes saltwater more than the other mergansers and feeds mostly on fish. It migrates further north than the other mergansers and may leave sooner and come back later.


The Greater Scaup is a year round resident of Vancouver Island. Numbers have been declining in North America the last few decades and scientists are not sure why. They can be found in lakes, rivers and estuaries.They can be seen feeding in large flocks and will mingle with other birds when the food supply is increased dramatically.

Scoters (Black or American)

The male is all black with a  mostly yellow bill and the female’s colour is brown. They are easy to see in the winter, when they form large flocks on coastal waterways. Like all scoters, they will swallow shellfish whole, shell and all.


Surf Scoters can be seen in winter and spring months, especially around the herring spawn. Surf Scoters breed in northern Canada and Alaska during summer months, but are known mostly as a sea duck on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts outside the breeding season. Surf Scoters are a diving duck and feed on aquatic insects, small fish, and mollusks.

(White Winged)

White-winged Scoters are also diving ducks and feed mostly on mollusks, but will also eat small fish, aquatic insects and crustaceans. They spend the winter months on Vancouver Island and take off in the summer to breed in the Canadian Arctic.