Stanley Park Owls
Many years ago I created a website called OwlsInThePark (later StanleyParkOwls) with the purpose of describing my encounters with the owls of Vancouver's most famous park. Mostly, but not exclusively, Barred Owls. It was intended to follow the various pairs of owls throughout each year as they raised their families.
"After many years of watching owls in Stanley Park I now have quite a collection of photos along with much information on their territories and family life. So I decided to document some of it - which led to the site you now have before you."
That project was too large to manage and was never really completed, but still had lots of valuable information. So rather than waste all the data, I have reformatted key pieces and included them in this website. Many of the photographs of owls taken though the years will eventually be included in the Owls gallery found elsewhere on this site. The two sites mentioned at the top of this page will now bring you here. There was also confusion with a UK football (soccer) team called the Owls (they have a park, apparently).
Below you will find sections for species, family life, territories, statistics (fledgings), conduct/safety and when to visit.
An archive of my old (incomplete) observations can be found here.
I have seen (and photographed) four species of owl in or around Stanley Park - Barred, Great Horned, Saw-Whet and Snowy. The latter was seen at Sunset Beach (a nearby park) during an "irruption" year.
Another five species are possible visitors - as determined from sightings or other reports. These include - Great Grey (seen for two weeks one winter), Western Screech and Pygmy (heard during call-out surveys), Barn and Long-Eared (semi-reliable reports). Sadly, the Western Screech has not been seen for many years, replaced by the Barred.
The Short-eared Owl has not been reported in Stanley Park. It is found elsewhere in the Lower Mainland. The Hawk Owl and Burrowing Owl have not been reported in Stanley Park. They are very rare visitors to the Lower Mainland. One species you will not see is the Spotted Owl - it is close to extirpation in Canada.
For more information see my species page.
The photographs below were taken in Nova Scotia on May 25, 1991. In 2009 these were the only photos I had of an owlet with its parent during the branching stage. At this age they have left the nest (in this case a nest box) but are unable to fly. They are excellent climbers and will venture out on tree branches - hence the name "brancher".
For more information see the various owl related image galleries.
Conventional wisdom has it that there is only sufficient space for one breeding pair of Barred Owls within Stanley Park. However, over time we have discovered that most years there are three pairs actively nesting.
No doubt the reason that the park can support so many owls comes down to food supply. Being a somewhat urban park it has a large supply of squirrels, rodents and small birds - supported, in part, by human activities (some deliberate, some not).
The division between North and West (South) is somewhat variable - based initially upon an encounter with multiple owls near the line indicated. It was clearly one family with young and probably two other adults. Naturally the border will vary from year to year.
Thanks to Peter Woods (Stanley Park Explorer) for the above map.
Since this map was created the Western territory has split (briefly) into Southern and Western. However, that only lasted one year (2009). See the Statistics page for more details. Since (at least) 2018 there has been a breeding pair east of Pipeline road (through the centre of the Eastern Territory) - in the area to the east of the Aquarium. Also, the Northern Territory has not seen any young since 2010 - perhaps that territory has changed such that I missed activity. My observations beyond 2017 are much reduced and should be considered statistically insignificant.
We finally determined that there must be (at least) three pairs based upon sightings of the young. It helped that each family usually had a different number of young (1 to 3) and that there were sightings by different people at the same time (of the young). Full confirmation came for North and South in 2008 when I actually located nest sites and even saw one owlet take its first flight!
Please note that much of this information is likely out of date.
Statistics / Fledging
The table below shows the number of (Barred) owlets fledged by each breeding pair in the years for which I have any reliable data. Note that in the very early years I was not fully aware of the multiple territories and hence was not visiting all the areas.
The last major update this page was in 2009, with the latest data added in 2018. In that time I continued monitoring the owls, but with fewer other people. This does mean that statistically speaking I have a smaller observational set of data, so there is a strong possibility that I am missing more activity in this (final) report. In fact it now seems likely that I missed an entire territory for many years - to the east of the Aquarium (around Brockton Point) - a "far east" territory?
That said, it does seem that there has been a general decline in owls in the park over that period. Whether this is due to human activity it is hard to say. Certainly the human presence in the park's "off trail" areas has grown, especially in the Northern owl territory. But the terrain has also undergone some natural changes - especially after the storm of late 2006. It was after that storm (in 2007) that I conducted a systematic survey and found three nest sites.
Between 2011 and 2018 there have been no young recorded in the Northern territory. However, we did continue to see the occasional single (?) adult owl in that area. It also seems that the Western pair have expanded to the north. But there have been changes in the west too - in 2014 the adult female died after the pair successfully raised three young. That was from natural causes - a disease carried by pigeons (on which the owls preyed).
Of course, given the lifespan of wild Barred Owls it is obvious that more than one pairing must have changed over the 18 years I studied them. The only nest site that may have remained unchanged (since 2007) is that of the Eastern pair - somewhere north of Beaver Lake and fortunately (for the owls) still quite hard to access (for humans).
|2006||1 ?||1||3||n/a||5 ?|
|2007||2 ?||2||1||n/a||5 ?|
|2011||1 - 2||0||1 ?||n/a||0 - 3|
|2015||3||0||1 ?||n/a||3 - 4|
|2016||3||0||1 ?||n/a||3 - 4|
|2017||3||0||1 ?||n/a||3 - 4|
2001 - I saw adults in all territories, but was not active in the Western or Southern areas. There may have been more than one juvenile in the North. First year I was aware of juveniles (photo records).
2002 - The Northern young were to the south of their territory. Is it possible that there was no north-west/south split prior to this? The Eastern owls were seen most often around the Miniature Railway.
2003 - This may have been the year that I observed a territorial dispute between Northern and Western owls (of whose existence I remained unaware for another year). My records are "sketchy" on the actual year of the encounter!
2004 - At the time I was not aware of the existence of a Western territory, so was not monitoring the area.
2005 - The Eastern owlet was found dead near Beaver Lake on June 30th.
2006 - The first year that I was fully aware of the Western territory. Additional people were monitoring that year.
2007 - Early in the season 2 juveniles were observed in the east, but later only one, then it was found dead near Beaver Lake on October 5th. The body was taken to the Ecology Society and initial examination revealed malnutrition.
2008 - The Northern juvenile was rescued after a fledging accident. Later released and observed feeding. Only the occasional adult was seen in the east - suggesting breeding failure (or none tried).
2009 - There were 3 healthy owlets in the park (August 19) - actively hunting for themselves yet still being fed by parents. The owls at the Southern (new) and Eastern sites appear to have fledged no young this year. Also, the Southern pair did not last long - one owl was hit by traffic.
2010 - An excellent year for Barred Owls. There were also 2 Great Horned Owls in the Northern area for Spring and Summer, but they have not been seen since. Though individual owls are reported most years - post breading dispersal?
2011 - Observations were scarce this year.
2012 - Only an adult seen in the North this year. The other territories did OK.
2013 - A relatively poor year for breeding success.
2014 - A good year but unfortunately one adult (Western pair) died late in the season.
2015 - The Western male appears to have found a new mate, but at a new nest site? One of the Eastern owlets was found dead near Beaver Lake, July 18. It had been seen with its siblings the previous day - all flying well. Possibly hit by a bicycle?
2016 - The Western owlet was not seen until very late in the season (August 29).
2017 - The Western owlet was not seen until very late in the season (august 27). I only have photographic records of 2 in the East but my notes indicate 3.
2018 - Not much monitoring this year. I heard owlets call the first week of June (Beaver Lake / Eastern territory) but could not locate them. A sighting was reported to the Nature House on June 12. My first sighting was July 5 (later than usual). An owlet was also seen to the east of the Aquarium - later confirmed to be a different family. So this represents a new territory (confirmation of one around Brockton Point). This probably existed for many years prior, so not really "new", just unmonitored.
2019 - I have no formal records for this year (I moved from Vancouver to Victoria in August) but owlets were seen around Beaver Lake (Eastern territory) and to the east of the Aquarium ("far east" territory). A changing landscape.
I welcome any observations from others that could augment (or correct) these statistics.
Conduct and Safety
If you decide to visit the Owls yourself, there are some general things to be aware of, for both your safety and that of the owls (and other park residents).
Code of Conduct
Please see my suggested guidelines under the main menu.
Stanley Park is a generally safe park in a generally safe city. That said, you should be aware that assaults do occur in the park and you are more at risk as the light fails or when on your own. Some areas are more "at risk" than others - this includes large parts of the territory of the Southern breeding pair (of owls).
Common sense would suggest taking someone familiar with the park as a guide. Time of day makes a great difference - if you find an owl towards dusk, just make sure you know your way out of the park.
There have been claims of owls attacking people. Mostly this is a case of mistaken identity - a pony tail at dusk may look like small food, say. Barred Owls are not likely to attack, Great Horned Owls have a greater tendency to do so, especially if you disturb their young. Once again, "be aware, be cautious", and you should have a great time in this wonderful park.
When to Visit
It is illegal to feed wildlife in Stanley Park - subject to heavy fines.
I hope the information on this site has generated curiosity about the owls in Stanley Park, or perhaps in parkland local to where you live. You may even be planning your own "owl prowl". If so, then I would like to offer some advice...
During the summer months you do not have to venture out at night to have a good chance of seeing owls. At this time they will have young mouths to feed, so late afternoon can be an excellent time to go. June through August is probably the peak time.
You do not need to venture off the trails - owls know that humans feed wildlife either deliberately or by carelessness, bringing squirrels, rats etc. to the trails. So they typically sit in trees near well travelled human routes. Of course you should not feed the owls - they are here to eat the critters that you may be feeding!
You may want to join your local Nature or Ecology Society - many will have regular nature tours - an excellent way to enjoy our wildlife, safe in the knowledge that you are causing no harm.
Finally, I will of course be glad to hear of your observations of these intriguing creatures see contact information on the main menu.