tofino birding - on the edge for rare birds in tofino

Tofino birdwatching: On the Edge for Rare Birds in Tofino

by Adrian Dorst & George Bradd, Tofino


Among birdwatchers, Tofino has a reputation for rare and unusual birds wandering from far away lands. Our unique location on the edge of the west coast gives us storm blown rarities from Asia, northern species from Alaska, oceanic species from offshore, and birds from southern US. A series of factors combine to contribute to the consistent occurrence of rare birds in Tofino. Tofino is located where fierce storms often wash up scores of birds migrating offshore. During one big storm last winter, many exhausted Northern Fulmars were washed up on Tofino beaches. The Fulmar is normally found far from shore.

Tofino is the only place in Canada where you can hope to see a Tropical Kingbird with any degree of likelihood. Nearly half of all Canadian sightings of this Robin-sized bird with a lemon-yellow breast have been in Tofino. This becomes well over half if we include Long Beach and Ucluelet. This bird normally lives in Mexico and Central America. Another desert bird from Mexico, the Ash-throated Flycatcher, has been seen in our area on two occasions. Brown Pelicans, a California bird that in summer migrates as far north as the Columbia River, on occasion reaches the latitude of Tofino. A few years ago, one was seen perched on the dock in front of the Weigh West. More recently, one Mockingbird was seen in town, while simultaneously another was seen perching on Wilf Rocks off Vargas Island! Watching a Mockingbird sitting on a clothesline while washing dishes is normal in Los Angeles, but not in Tofino.

Downtown Tofino with its homes and gardens is a Mecca for rare birds. A Clay-coloured Sparrow from the Okanagan, a Lark Bunting from the Great Plains, a Hooded Warbler from eastern hardwood forests, and an Oriental Turtle Dove, all have been recorded in Tofino. The latter species was in fact a new bird for Canada.

Why do these birds wander so far from their normal range? A bird from the east, rather than flying south to Central America, may mistakenly head west. Instead of finding itself over a mangrove swamp in Nicaragua, it ends up on the west coast. Finding itself over the open Pacific, it returns to the nearest land which turns out to be Tofino. An Asian bird may island hop across the Aleutian chain and follow the Gulf of Alska east and then south to Tofino. Southern birds such as Tropical Kingbird may be swept in a north-westerly direction until they hit the ocean’s edge on Vancouver Island’s west coast. Failing to find the open desert that is their natural habitat, they naturally gravitate to open places such as Tofino.

Global warming is changing bird distribution and nesting ranges. In recent years, Turkey Vultures have become more frequent visitors to the west coast of the island. Several were seen this spring, soaring over Tofino. Anna’s Hummingbird, a bird limited largely to Southern California in the 60’s, is now found year round in Victoria and are seen occasionally in Tofino as well, inevitably in winter. Any hummer in winter is likely an Anna’s, since our migrant Rufous Hummingbirds head for Peru at the end of the summer. Anyone keeping their hummingbird feeder out until Christmas in Tofino may be rewarded with a visit from a hummingbird from Hollywood.

Other storm blown strays arrive from Asia and Siberia. This spring a Yellow Wagtail from Siberia was seen at the airport. Brambling. Rustic Bunting, Falcated Duck, and Red-throated Pipit, all Asian birds, have all been recorded in Tofino. Last October, Sharp-tailed Sandpipers were seen on two occasions. These sandpipers normally breed in Asia and winter in Australia.

Birds of a feather do flock together and rare birds seek the safety of large flocks migrating through Tofino, which is ideally located on the Pacific Flyway. Lost birds seek similar related birds of their same family. A flock of our native Green-winged Teal sometimes contains Eurasian Teal. Little Curlew (Asia) has been recorded at Chesterman Beach, and Falcated Duck on Tofino mudflats. Large protected areas around Tofino provide food and shelter for migrating birds. This area is a crucial refuelling stop for tens of thousands of shorebirds, ducks, geese, and passerines.

In Sept 2002, a Prothonotary Warbler from the hardwood forests of the southeast US was seen at Tofino, and a last summer a visiting Horned Puffin form Alaska was spotted on one of our seabird voyages. If you think that seeing an Albatross over Tofino on Christmas Day is a result of holiday celebrations, think again. It really happened to Rory Patterson, and she has a photo to prove it. Only my friend, who lives in Honolulu, can reasonably expect to see this bird on Christmas Day.

Tofino offers the chance of seeing rare and exotic birds not seen elsewhere in Canada. Who knows what will show up next? Keep your eyes open, and, like Rory Paterson did with the Oriental Turtle Dove, you may just spot a new bird species for Canada.

George Bradd operates Just Birding, a Tofino company specialising in birdwatching tours. For more information, visit his website at

Adrian Dorst is a Tofino nature photographer, author, and birdwatching guide. His photos can be found on his website at

Tofino Birdwatching Articles

Tofino Time Magazine August 2004

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Tofino birding guide Adrian Dorst and Tofino birdwatching expert George Bradd write about the rare birds that visit Tofino and delight Tofino birders.

tofino time august 2004

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