George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Birds on the shore at dusk at George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Photo: © Warren Cartwright Photography. Birds on the shore at dusk at George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary.

George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) is situated 5 km south of Vancouver, at the northern end of Westham Island in the Fraser River estuary. The sanctuary is named in honour of George C. Reifel, a nature enthusiast and conservationist who purchased land in the 1920s to create a private hunting retreat. Ownership was transferred to the Crown in the 1960s to create the MBS.

The Westham Island foreshore is part of a zone of tidal flats 6 km wide formed at the mouth of the Fraser River. The active delta-front is fed by sediments carried by the river and distributed across the front by a network of dendritic channels. Westham Island itself is a deltaic island diked off from the tides and the Fraser River. The outer portions of the tidal flats are bare but have marshy vegetation at higher elevation near land. Lands inside the dike have changed drastically from “prairie grass and shrub” vegetation due to cultivation and a mixture of fast-growing trees and shrubs that have grown along dikes and internal sloughs.

Importance of the Migratory Bird Sanctuary

As part of the Fraser Delta, the MBS is an important stopover for migratory birds, especially waterfowl and shorebirds. Approximately 200 000 ducks and 25 000 geese use the delta during the winter. Other wintering populations of national significance include 1 000 000 shorebirds, more than 70 000 gulls, and numerous raptors. The delta is also an important wintering and migration habitat for loons, grebes, cormorants, alcids (sea birds), herons and passerines (songbirds).

The most numerous duck species during winter are American Wigeon, Mallard and Northern Pintail. Other common wintering water birds include Common Merganser, American Coot, Bufflehead, Barrow's Goldeneye, Common Goldeneye, Scaups, Canvasback, Ruddy Duck, Green-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal, Gadwall, Pied-billed Grebe, Western Grebe, Common Loon and Double-crested Cormorant. The diving birds frequent the sloughs, while dabblers use the adjoining fields for feeding.

Snow Geese begin arriving from their northern breeding areas in late September and may number up to 20 000 birds by late October. There is a resident flock of Canada Geese numbering around 600 birds that graze extensively on the forage fields. Great Blue Herons are conspicuous during winter, hunting in grass fields and along the ditches for Townsend's Voles. Raptors include owls--Barn, Long-eared,Short eared, Saw-whet and Great Horned--as well as Marsh Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk and Rough-legged Hawk. Bird hunters include Northern Shrike, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper's Hawk, Merlin and Peregrine Falcon. The Bald Eagle and Turkey Vulture function as scavengers patrolling both the diked lands and the foreshore.

Passerines (songbirds) migrate through in spring and in August and September. Warblers and swallows are seen in great numbers. Robins, starlings and Black-capped Chickadees are most numerous through the fall and winter. Belted Kingfishers patrol along the sloughs and ditches, while Ring-necked Pheasants are found in cultivated fields and in the blackberry bushes.

Shorebirds have usually migrated through by the end of October. Black-bellied Plover, Killdeer, Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, Dunlin, and Long-billed Dowitcher are the most significant in terms of numbers observed. Sora and Virginia Rails are found in the cattail marshes in fall and winter. Green Herons and American Bitterns have been reported infrequently in the tidal marshes.

Access and Activities

MBSs are established for the protection and conservation of migratory birds. Activities that could harm migratory birds, their nests or their eggs are prohibited.

MBSs can be and have been established on private, provincial, territorial and federally owned lands. Access to each MBS varies by site and is at the discretion of the landowner and land manager.

Where MBSs are located on federal land, Environment and Climate Change Canada is responsible for the management and protection of migratory birds, nests, eggs and habitat. Where MBSs are located on provincial land, Environment and Climate Change Canada is responsible for the protection of migratory birds and their nests, while the chief game officer of the province is responsible for the management of habitat. Where MBSs are located on private or municipal land, Environment and Climate Change Canada is responsible for the protection of migratory birds and their nests. Habitat management is the responsibility of the landowner.

Public access to George C. Reifel MBS is not restricted. The standard prohibitions under the Migratory Bird Sanctuary Regulations apply to this site: hunting migratory birds is prohibited, and no person shall disturb, destroy or take the nest of a migratory bird or have in his or her possession a live migratory bird, or a carcass, skin, nest or egg of a migratory bird, except under the authority of a permit issued by Environment and Climate Change Canada or unless authorized by the Regulations. Possession of firearms or other hunting appliances is prohibited. Dogs and cats must not be allowed to run at large. Access to the upland portion of the MBS is controlled by the British Columbia Waterfowl Society, which administers wildlife viewing and interpretation to the public under a licence of occupation with Environment and Climate Change Canada.

For more information on entry, activities and permits in MBSs, please visit the Management and Activities section of the Migratory Bird Sanctuaries website. For more information on Environment and Climate Change Canada's protected areas, please contact the regional office.

For greater certainty, nothing in this document shall be construed so as to abrogate or derogate from the protection provided for existing Aboriginal or treaty rights of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada by the recognition and affirmation of those rights in section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

Map of the Area

  • Map of George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Long description for the Map

Map showing the location of George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary relative to British Columbia, Vancouver, Westham Island, the Strait of Georgia and the Alasken National Wildlife Area. The map shows the boundaries of the sanctuary, which covers a portion of the Strait of Georgia and part of Westham Island. The scale of the map is in hundreds of meters.

This map is for illustrative purposes only and should not be used to define legal boundaries. George C. Reifel MBS can also be viewed using Google Maps. Please note that the Google map is a complementary source of information and does not represent the official map or site name.

Summary Table

Summary Table for George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Category Information
Protected Area designation Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory British Columbia
Latitude/longitude 49°05' N, 123°10' W
Size in hectares (ha) 376 ha
Date created (Gazetted) 1967
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management Ia - Strict Nature Reserve
Additional designations
Main habitat type Tidal marshes (65%), tidal mud flats (1%), grasses and forbs (5%), trees and shrubs (5%), cultivated (5%)
Key bird species American Wigeon, Mallard, Northern Pintail, Common Merganser, American Coot, Bufflehead, Barrow's and Common Goldeneye, scaups, Canvasback, Ruddy Duck, Green-winged and Cinnamon Teal, Gadwall, Pied-billed and Western Grebe, Common Loon, Double-crested Cormorant, Lesser Snow Goose, Canada Goose, Great Blue Heron, Barn, Long-eared, Short-eared, Northern Saw-whet and Great Horned Owl, Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Northern Shrike, Sharp-Shinned and Cooper's Hawk, Merlin and Peregrine Falcon, Bald Eagle, Belted Kingfisher, Ring-necked Pheasant, Black-bellied Plover, Killdeer, Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, Dunlin, Long-billed Dowitcher, Sora, Virginia Rail, Green Heron, and American Bittern
Other species Mammals: Townsend's Vole
Listed species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) Great Blue Heron, Barn Owl, Short-eared Owl and Peregrine Falcon
Management agency Canadian Wildlife Service, Pacific and Yukon Region
Landowners Canadian Wildlife Service and Province of British Columbia

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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