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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.