Cape Roger Curtis Bird life

By Billie Gowans and Alan Shatwell, Discovery Magazine—Spring 2005

At the south-western tip of Bowen Island lies a large tract of private property encompassing 263 hectares of some of the most valuable and relatively untouched land in the lower mainland region. Established trails and old logging roads provide easy access to view several kilometres of unique coastal landscape. The diversity of continuous forest and riparian habitat, ecologically sensitive coastal bluffs and rocky marine coastline, combine to make Cape Roger Curtis rich in bird life. Approximately 99 species of birds spend some portion of the year foraging or nesting there. The Cape’s large size and diverse interior terrain provide both coniferous and deciduous habitat areas to meet a variety of ecological needs for wide-ranging raptors through to small passerines. Patches of older mature forest on the south side are critical habitat for some species. The gently sloping western hemlock and Douglas-fir forests on the west side are bounded by beaches, arbutus-clad headlands and moss-covered bluffs which provide frequent vantage points for viewing with binoculars or a spotting scope. Southern areas are steep and rocky with exposed bluffs.

Cape Roger Curtis provides winter feeding grounds to approximately 85% of all species recorded in annual island Christmas Bird Counts. Of these species, 60% are aquatic and mainly frequent the most sheltered western bays. Overlooking these waters, one may have clear observations of foraging Harlequin Ducks, Common Murres, Pigeon Guillemots, Marbled Murrelets and occasionally Rhinoceros Auklets. Many Double-crested as well as Pelagic and Brandt’s Cormorants hug the shoreline and there are distant views of Western and Red-necked Grebes in Collingwood Channel. Great Blue Herons and a variety of shorebirds forage in the intertidal zones. Large rafts of Surf Scoters mixed with Barrow’s Goldeneyes and Black Scoters are common. A lone Long-tailed Duck was also seen feeding on these mussel-rich shores early this winter. A minimum of seven gull species demand practice in advanced identification skills.

In summer there is a diverse complement of resident and migrant breeding birds. Bald Eagles, once nesting along the western shoreline, now nest along the more remote southern coast. The moss and grass covered bluffs provide foraging habitat for many ground-feeders and are occasionally visited by Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch. Canada Geese nest along the rocky outcrops. Inland, the mixed tree canopy is frequented by large flocks of Pine Siskin, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Chestnut-backed and Black-capped Chickadees interspersed with Red-breasted Nuthatch and Brown Creepers. Red Crossbills are often seen in the conifers and the arbutus are alive in the fall with feeding Band-tailed Pigeons, American Robins, Cedar Waxwings, Steller’s Jays and Black-headed Grosbeaks. Many species of warblers, vireos, flycatchers and thrush provide an orchestra of territorial breeding songs. In addition, the abundance of snags is important feeding and nesting habitat for at least five species of woodpeckers, including Pileated Woodpeckers. The dense vine maple and red huckleberry understory provide habitat for towhees, sparrows and wrens. Blue Grouse can be heard giving their subtle hooting display. Barred and Saw-whet Owls are often observed in the late evening light.

The accompanying bird list has been compiled from archival data collected by members of the Bowen Nature Club during Christmas and Breeding Bird Counts, monthly coastal waterbird surveys, unstructured forest surveys, documented incidental observations and avian rescue records. Structured inventories are needed to provide a comprehensive record and assure documentation of rarer species. Although the list is not extensive it is sufficient to demonstrate the critical importance of this area to a wealth of resident and migratory birds including several red and blue-listed species.

Birds observed at Cape Roger Curtis

The following is a list of birds observed at Cape Roger Curtis on Bowen Island from 1988 to March, 2005. The list has been compiled from archival data collected by members of the Bowen Nature Club during Christmas and breeding bird counts, monthly coastal waterbird surveys, unstructured forest surveys, documented incidental observations and avian rescue records and does not represent a comprehensive species account.

Status abbreviations

COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada) status:

  • T: Threatened
  • SC: Special Concern
  • NAR: Not At Risk

BC Status:

  • R: Red listed
  • B: Blue listed


Loons: Gaviidae

  • Pacific Loon Gavia pacifica
  • Common Loon Gavia immer

Grebes: Podicipedidae

  • Horned Grebe Podiceps auritus
  • Eared Grebe Podiceps nigricollis
  • Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena
  • Western Grebe Aechmophorus occidentalis R

Cormorants: Phalacrocoracidae

  • Double-crested Cormorant Phalacrocorax auritus NAR, R
  • Brandt’s Cormorant Phalacrocorax penicillatus R
  • Pelagic Cormorant Phalacrocorax pelagicus

Herons: Ardeidae

  • Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias SC, B

Swans, Geese and Ducks: Anatidae

  • Canada Goose Branta canadensis B (occidentalis subspecies only)
  • Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
  • American Wigeon Anas americana
  • Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris
  • Black Scoter Melanitta nigra
  • White-winged Scoter Melanitta fusca
  • Surf Scoter Melanitta perspicilatta B
  • Harlequin Duck Histrionicus histrionicus
  • Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis B
  • Barrow’s Goldeneye Bucephala islandica
  • Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula
  • Bufflehead Bucephala albeola
  • Common Merganser Mergus merganser
  • Mergus serrator
  • Hooded Merganser Lophodytes cucullatus

Vultures: Cathartidae

  • Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura

Hawks, Kites, Falcons, and Eagles: Accipitridae

  • Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus
  • Cooper’s Hawk Accipiter cooperii
  • Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis

Partridges, Grouse and Turkeys: Phasianidae

  • Blue Grouse Dendragapus obscurus

Lapwings and Plovers: Charadriidae

  • Black-bellied Plover Pluvialis squatarola

Oystercatchers: Haematopodidae

  • Black Oystercatcher Haematopus bachmani

Sandpipers and Phalaropes: Scolopacidae

  • Black Turnstone Arenaria melanocephala
  • Surfbird Aphriza virgata

Skuas, Gulls, Terns and Skimmers: Laridae

  • Heermann’s Gull Larus heermanni
  • Bonaparte’s Gull Larus philadelphia
  • Mew Gull Larus canus
  • Herring Gull Larus argentatus
  • Thayer’s Gull Larus thayeri
  • Glaucous-winged Gull Larus glaucescens
  • Glaucous-winged X Western Gull Larus glaucescens x L. occidentalis
  • Black-legged Kittiwake \Rissa tridactyla

Auks, Murres and Puffins: Alcidae

  • Common Murre Uria aalge R
  • Pigeon Guillemot Cepphus columba
  • Marbled Murrelet Brachyramphus marmoratus T, R
  • Rhinoceros Auklet Cerorhinca monocerata

Pigeons and Doves: Columbidae

  • Band-tailed Pigeon Columba fasciata B

Typical Owls: Strigidae

  • Barred Owl Strix varia
  • Northern Saw-whet Owl Aegolius acadicus

Hummingbirds: Trochilidae

  • Rufous Hummingbird Selasphorus sasin

Kingfishers: Alcedinidae

  • Belted Kingfisher Ceryle alcyon

Woodpeckers: Picidae

  • Northern Flicker Colaptes auratus
  • Red-breasted Sapsucker Sphyrapicus ruber
  • Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens
  • Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus
  • Pileated Woodpecker Dryocopus pileatus


Flycatchers: Tyrannidae

  • Olive-sided Flycatcher Contopus cooperi
  • Western Wood Pewee Contopus sordidulus
  • Hammond’s Flycatcher Empidonax hammondii
  • Pacific Slope Flycatcher Empidonax difficilis

Vireos: Vireonidae

  • Red-eyed Vireo Vireo olivaceus
  • Hutton’s Vireo Vireo huttoni
  • Cassin’s Vireo Vireo cassinii

Crows and Jays: Corvidae

  • Steller’s Jay Cyanocitta stelleri
  • Northwestern Crow Corvus caurinus
  • Common Raven Corvus corax

Swallows: Hirundinidae

  • Violet-Green Swallow Tachycineta thalassina
  • Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica

Chickadees and Titmice: Paridae

  • Black-capped Chickadee Poecile atricapilla
  • Chestnut-backed Chickadee Poecile rufescens

Creepers: Certhiidae

  • Brown Creeper Certhia americana

Nuthatches: Sittidae

  • Red-breasted Nuthatch Sitta canadensis

Wrens: Troglodytidae

  • Winter Wren Troglodytes troglodytes
  • Bewick’s Wren Thryomanes bewickii

Kinglets: Regulidae

  • Golden-crowned Kinglet Regulus satrapa
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet Regulus calendula

Thrushes: Turdidae

  • Townsend’s Solitaire Myadestes townsendi
  • Swainson’s Thrush Catharus ustulatus
  • Varied Thrush Ixoreus naevius
  • American Robin Turdus migratorius

Waxwings: Bombycillidae

  • Cedar Waxwing Bombycilla cedrorum

Wood Warblers: Parulidae

  • Orange-crowned Warbler Vermivora celata >
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler Dendroica coronata
  • Black-throated Gray Warbler Dendroica nigrescens
  • Townsend’s Warbler Dendroica townsendi
  • MacGillivray’s Warbler Oporornis tolmiei
  • Wilson’s Warbler Wilsonia pusilla

Tanagers: Thraupidae

  • Western Tanager Piranga ludoviciana

Sparrows and Towhees: Emberizidae

  • Spotted Towhee Pipilo maculatus
  • Fox Sparrow Passerella iliaca
  • Savannah Sparrow Passerculus sandwichensis
  • Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia
  • White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys
  • Dark-eyed Junco Junco hyemalis

Cardinals and Grosbeaks: Cardinalidae

  • Black-headed Grosbeak Pheucticus melanocephalus

Blackbirds: Icteridae

  • Brown-headed Cowbird Molothrus ater

Finches: Fringillidae

  • House Finch Carpodacus mexicanus
  • Red Crossbill Loxia curvirostra
  • Pine Siskin Carduelis pinus

Billie Gowans is a Registered Professional Biologist with expertise in bird ecology. Current research interests include bird-habitat relationships, wildlife/bodiversity conservation, impacts of urban development on wildlife habitats and local nature studies. She has lived and studied birds on Bowen Island for 20 years, and is the president of the Bowen Nature Club.

Alan Shatwell is an architect and has lived on Bowen Island for 22 years. A local naturalist, he was a founding member of the Bowen Nature Club to which he has belonged for 20 years, and is the Chair of the Bowen Island Parks and Recreation Commission. His interests are bird-watching and conservation, camping and hiking.