Esquimalt Lagoon Migratory Bird Sanctuary

The Esquimalt Lagoon Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) is located near Colwood, in British Columbia. It offers a place for many migrating waterbirds to feed and rest.

Importance of the sanctuary: migratory birds and other wildlife

The Esquimalt Lagoon Migratory Bird Sanctuary was established on December 12, 1931 and is located 10 km west of Victoria, British Columbia, at the southern end of Vancouver Island, just west of Esquimalt Harbour in Colwood. The shallow tidal waters of the lagoon support thousands of waterfowl from October through May, making this one of the top birding spots in the region.

The lagoon harbours rich feeding grounds and a sheltered place for birds to rest on their long migrations up and down the Pacific coast. The main bird species observed in this sanctuary include:

Shallow waters:

  • American coot
  • mallard
  • northern pintail
  • green-winged teal
  • American wigeon
  • hooded merganser
  • black oystercatcher
  • pacific great blue heron

Deeper waters:

  • canvasback
  • bufflehead
  • cormorants and many gull species

Regionally rare birds:

  • Eurasian wigeon
  • America golden-plover
  • common tern
  • horned lark
  • western meadowlark

Large numbers of waterbirds including the American coot, mallard, northern pintail, green-winged teal and American wigeon can be seen in the shallow water along the edges of the lagoon and the northeastern end of the lagoon. Deeper waters, particularly on the north side, are where you are most likely to spot diving ducks such as canvasback, bufflehead and ruddy duck.  Rare birds observed in the area include Eurasian wigeon, hooded merganser, black oystercatcher, American golden-plover, common tern and western meadowlark.

Did you know?

The American coot is known to be an awkward and often clumsy flier, requiring long running takeoffs across the water’s surface to become airborne.

American coot
American coot

This area is also known to be an important loafing site. Both waterfowl and gulls are known to loaf on two gravel-bar islands in the lagoon, while a rocky outcrop is a preferred spot for cormorants and great blue heron.


This 134-hectare sanctuary includes tidal waters from the bridge on Ocean Blvd, to Coburg Peninsula west to the toe of the lagoon and includes 100m of the surrounding land. This sanctuary encompasses a beautiful saltwater lagoon that is sheltered from the Juan De Fuca Strait by a long, narrow strip of land known as Coburg Peninsula. The lagoon is connected to the Strait by a channel at its northeastern tip. Several small streams flow into the lagoon year round and support Cutthroat trout, Coho Salmon and other aquatic species. In the lagoon itself bivalves, sand dollars, sea lettuce and eelgrass are abundant. As it provides sheltered water and an abundance of food, this area attracts a lot of bird species. The lagoon provides crucially important habitat for waterfowl, particularly those wintering inland during cold weather when freshwater lakes and ponds freeze. Mudflats, eelgrass and estuary fringe marsh habitats provide excellent foraging and nesting habitats for resident and migratory birds. Two gravel-bar islands and a rocky outcrop near the entrance are important refuge areas for waterfowl. Gulls and herons are often seen feeding here in large numbers.

Esquimalt Lagoon Migratory Bird Sanctuary: landscape

While certain areas around the lagoon have been developed, some of the land along the shoreline remains wooded. These coniferous coastal forests are home to douglas fir, grand fir and western red cedar trees with sword fern, vanilla leaf, trillium and heartleaf foamflower brush.

Did you know?

Among the most beautiful and striking birds in the capital region of BC, the hooded merganser is easily observed close to the shore in salt and brackish water. Hooded mergansers, along with common and red-breasted mergansers, are common wintering ducks in the Salish Sea.

While there remains excellent bird habitat within the sanctuary, disturbance of birds from boaters and off-leash dogs; habitat loss due to urban development pressure, erosion and park use; and contamination entering the lagoon from failing septic systems and road run-off remain concerns. In 2008, the City of Colwood established a dogs-on-leash bylaw to comply with federal MBS regulations and established an off-leash area west of the public washrooms. In 2009, concerned groups worked with boaters and government agencies to establish Wildlife Refuge Areas to provide “disturbance-free” areas for the birds to feed and rest.

Map of the area

Map of Esquimalt Lagoon Migratory Bird Sanctuary
  • Long description

    Map showing the location of the Esquimalt Lagoon Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) in relation to British Columbia, Colwood, Colberg Penninsula, Esquimalt, Esquimal Lagoon, Esquimalt Harbour and Haro Straight. The map shows the boundaries of the refuge, which enclose Esquimalt Lagoon and all nearby banks. The MBS is located south-east of highway 14. The scale of the map is in kilometers. Permanent waters, intertidale zones, roads and highways are shown on the map. An inset shows the location of the shelter in Canada.

Access to the sanctuary

Migratory Bird Sanctuaries, such as Esquimalt Lagoon, are established across the country to protect migratory birds during critical periods of their life cycle. Whether these areas are used for feeding, resting or nesting, they play an important role in the survival of many species. Access to each migratory bird sanctuary varies by site and is at the discretion of the landowner and land manager. Please ensure that you are aware of how you can help protect this sanctuary and please read the restrictions, including those on firearms and hunting, which are in place to conserve the wildlife that call it home. Dogs and cats must not be allowed to run at large inside Migratory Bird Sanctuaries.

If you would like further information on what is permitted in Migratory Bird Sanctuaries, please visit the Management and Activities section of the website. For more information on Esquimalt Lagoon Migratory Bird Sanctuary in particular, please contact our regional office.

Key facts about Esquimalt Lagoon Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Protected Area designation
Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory
British Columbia
48°25' N, 123°28' W
134 hectares
Date created (Gazetted)
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management Category
Additional designations
Main habitat type
Tidal lagoon (90%), marine spit (>5%) and coastal forest (<5%)
Key bird species
American coot, mallard, northern pintail, green‑winged teal, American wigeon, canvasback, bufflehead, ruddy duck, cormorants, great blue heron, Eurasian wigeon, hooded merganser, black oystercatcher, American golden-plover, horned lark, common tern and western meadowlark
Listed species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA)
Great blue heron
Management agency
Canadian Wildlife Service, Pacific Region
Royal Roads University, Province of British Columbia and private

Contact information

Environment and Climate Change Canada - Pacific and Yukon Region
Canadian Wildlife Service
Ecosystem Conservation
5421 Robertson Road
Delta BC V4K 3N2

Toll Free: 1-800-668-6767 (in Canada only)

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