IBA Squamish River Area
Squamish, British Columbia
Site Summary
BC023 Latitude
49.752° N
123.159° W
0 - 50 m
48.79 km²
coniferous forest (temperate), mixed woods (temperate), rivers/streams, tidal rivers/estuaries, urban parks/gardens, other urban/industrial areas
Land Use:
Nature conservation and research, Fisheries/aquaculture, Forestry, Hunting, Tourism/recreation, Urban/industrial/transport, Water management
Potential or ongoing Threats:
Disturbance, Deforestation, Extraction industry, Recreation/tourism, Urban/industrial development
IBA Criteria: Globally Significant: Congregatory Species
Conservation status:
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Site Description
This site includes the rivers and shorelines of the Squamish, Mamquam, and Cheakamus rivers, and is centred roughly on the village of Brackendale, which is located about 8 km north of Squamish, BC. The site includes the Cheakamus River from the confluence with the Squamish River, upstream to Paradise Valley. The three rivers flow through narrow but relatively flat floodplains in deep mountain valleys. The surrounding mountains are of the granitic Coast Range, with the valley bottoms consisting of gravel outwash from rivers and glaciers. The rivers are lined with riparian stands of large cottonwood and adjacent forests of Western Redcedar, Western Hemlock, Douglas-fir and Red Alder. The Brackendale area is thinly built up with housing, while the BC Rail Line and Highway 99 (running from Vancouver to Whistler) run through the area. These rivers have an important winter run of Chum and Coho Salmon.
This area attracts large numbers of Bald Eagles from December through February, which feed on the spawning Coho and Chum Salmon. Peak numbers of eagles generally occur in mid-January, although this varies from year to year. Christmas Bird Counts usually occur before this peak, and single-day eagle counts often miss the peak as well, but it is likely that about 3,000 eagles are present at the annual peak period. This is about 3% of the global population. Single day counts have been as high as 3,700 (1994). This concentration of eagles is the largest in Canada, and along with the Chilkat River, near Haines, Alaska has the largest concentrations of Bald Eagles in the world.

These rivers host other birds in winter, some of which are attracted to the salmon runs: American Dipper (approximately 100 birds), mergansers, goldeneyes and ravens. A small wintering population of Trumpeter Swans (30 to 50 birds of the Pacific population) uses the Squamish estuary. A pair of Peregrine Falcons also use the Squamish estuary as hunting grounds.

IBA Criteria
SpeciesT | A | I Links Date Season Number G C N
Bald Eagle 1994 - 1996 WI 2,784 - 3,700
Glaucous-winged Gull 2001 - 2013 WI 4,313 - 5,156
Great Blue Heron 2001 - 2014 FA 34 - 50
Great Blue Heron 1999 - 2018 SP 34 - 43
Great Blue Heron 2003 - 2019 SU 35 - 55
Great Blue Heron 1999 - 2017 WI 34 - 45
Iceland Gull (Thayer's) 2003 FA 600
Iceland Gull (Thayer's) 1996 - 2006 WI 124 - 504
Trumpeter Swan 2019 SP 264
Western Screech-Owl 2018 SU 2
Western Screech-Owl 2003 WI 2
Yellow-breasted Chat 2013 SP 1
Note: species shown in bold indicate that the maximum number exceeds at least one of the IBA thresholds (sub-regional, regional or global). The site may still not qualify for that level of IBA if the maximum number reflects an exceptional or historical occurrence.
Conservation Issues
Concerns for the eagles at this site centre on habitat alteration. Trees that are used by the eagles for roosting are being removed, and the riverine ecosystem, crucial for salmon spawning, is being damaged. The eagles are also being disturbed by too many eagle-watchers, some of whom approach too closely. An airport proposed near the site may increase disturbance as well.

The IBA Program is an international conservation initiative coordinated by BirdLife International. The Canadian co-partners for the IBA Program are Birds Canada and Nature Canada.
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