This is the oldest Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) in Pacific Canada. It was established by the Government of Canada on October 27, 1923 to assert federal jurisdiction over migratory birds and tidal waters in a bird sanctuary initially created (date unknown) by the Province of British Columbia to control hunting. Its establishment addressed concerns like declining bird populations, the market hunting of Brant (then a favourite Christmas meal) and the safety of hunting in the city. Declining populations of coastal waterbirds remain a concern to this day.

Today, it is valued for harbouring birds, rare species of animals and plants, species-at-risk, biodiversity and nature in the city, and its natural beauty. It is part of one of the best natural environments in urban Canada.

It encompasses 1840 hectares and 30 km of coastal waters, shores and islands including Portage inlet, the Gorge Waterway, the Selkirk Water, Victoria Harbour, Ross Bay, Gonzales Bay, McNeill Bay, Oak Bay and Cadboro Bay.

It is surrounded by five municipalities: Victoria, Saanich, Oak Bay, Esquimalt and View Royal, several urban parks and historic sites. It is home to the Public Port of Victoria, a seaplane airport, a shipyard and other industries, several marinas, paddling and rowing clubs.

It is located in the Pacific Flyway, the Salish Sea and Juan de Fuca Strait, near the southern tip of Vancouver Island, a busy, natural corridor for wildlife.

It is contiguous to the Chain Islets and Great Chain Island Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) near Oak Bay.

It is associated with three Ecological Reserves of British Columbia: Trial Islands, Oak Bay Islands and Ten Mile Point.

It contains Critical Southern Resident Killer Whale Habitat, the Trial Island Rockfish Conservation Area and a Closed Area for Harvesting While Diving between Holland Point and the Ogden Point Breakwater, as defined by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

It features habitat like kelp forests, beds of eelgrass and patches of surfgrass, beds of clams, tidal flats and marshes and six small estuaries: Colquitz R., Craigflower Cr., Hospital Cr., Gorge Cr., Cecelia Cr. and Bowker Cr., the first two are salmon-bearing. Its shores and islands feature rare maritime meadows and now-rare coastal Douglas-Fir and Garry Oak associated ecosystems.

It has 30 eBird Hotspots over its length and viewpoints like Cadboro Beach, Cattle Point, Kitty Islet, Clover Point, Ogden Point Breakwater, West Bay and Songhees  walkways, Selkirk Trestle, Esquimalt Gorge Creek, Gorge and Gorge Waterway parks (Saanich), Craigflower Bridge, Portage Inlet Linear Park, Seabird Park and Cuthbert Holmes Park.

It features ~270 species of birds with relatively high numbers and diversity in winter, including Glaucous-winged Gull, Mew Gull, Heermann’s Gull, Rhinoceros Auklet, Marbled Murrelet, Pigeon Guillemot, Pacific Loon, Red-necked Grebe, Black Brant, Canada Geese, Harlequin Duck, Bufflehead, Mallard, American Wigeon, Pacific Great Blue Heron, Black Oystercatcher, Black Turnstone, Black-bellied Plover, Dunlin, Bald Eagle, Cooper’s Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, Barn Swallow and Western Purple Martin.

It also features:

– 30 species of mammals including Southern Resident and Bigg’s Killer Whale, Humpback Whale, Grey Whale, Minke Whale, Pacific Harbour Seal, Steller Sea Lion, California Sea Lion, Northern Elephant Seal, River Otter, Sea Otter (rare), American Mink, and Townsend’s Vole. Black Bear, Cougar and coastal Grey Wolf have also been sighted.

– More than 20 rare plants including Victoria’s Owl-clover, Golden Paintbrush, Bear’s-foot Sanicle, Seaside Birds-foot Lotus, Dense-flowered Lupine, Coastal Scouler’s Catchfly, Macoun’s Meadow-foam and Seaside Juniper.

– Coho Salmon, Cutthroat Trout, Pacific Herring, Pacific Sandlance, Surf Smelt, Bay Pipefish, Quillback Rockfish, Cabezon, Lingcod, Wolf-eel and many other fishes.

– Giant Pacific Octopus, Giant Nudibranch, Washington Butter Clam, Puget Sound King Crab, Spiny Pink Scallop, Olympia Oysters, Northern Abalone and many other marine organisms.

Despite its urban location, disturbance by humans and pets, habitat loss and degradation, water pollution, invasive species and past overfishing of herring, this MBS is benefiting from decades of restoration, cleanup, rewilding and urban renewal. The return of species like Western Purple Martin, Bald Eagle, Rhinoceros Auklet, Northern Elephant Seal and Humpback Whale is noteworthy.

Victoria Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary is one of 92 MBSs in Canada and one of three in Greater Victoria along with Shoal Harbour (1931) and Esquimalt Lagoon (also 1931). These three MBSs are the founding units of the Greater Victoria NatureHood, designated on July 12, 2017 by Nature Canada, formerly the Audubon Society of Canada. This initiative aims to revitalize the sanctuaries and connect urban Canadians to “Nearby Nature”, where they live.

Jacques Sirois, jjs@telus.net
Chair, Friends of Victoria Harbour MBS – wpb1eap88z-staging.wpdns.site
Partner, Greater Victoria NatureHood – gvnaturehood.com

February 2021

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In homage to J.Fenwick Lansdowne (1937-2008), renowned bird artist and former resident of Oak Bay who drew and painted several birds that occur in the sanctuary. Below: Marbled Murrelets (left) and Brant, in Birds of the West Coast, Vol. 1, J.F. Lansdowne, 1976, M.F. Feheley Pub. Ltd. Toronto