Colony Farm Wildlife

The Park supports a diversity of wildlife including barn owls, short-eared owls, great blue herons, several species of bats, river otters, raptors, band-tailed pigeons, a variety of waterfowl, the colourful lazuli bunting and many other beautiful songbirds.

Species at Risk

Oregon Forestsnails 

Helping a handful of endangered snails across the trail and back into the nettle patch (Left); A comparison of Forestsnail shells and Grovesnail shells (Photos: Maddie Edmonds)

Oregon Forestsnails are an endangered land snail, that live in close association with their preferred food source, stinging nettle. They are red-listed, with a restricted range in Canada and poor dispersal capacity.

They are distinguished from the abundant introduced European grovesnail, by a white flared aperture lip and deep central pit.

Oregon Forestsnail shells (left) vs Grovesnail shells (right) (Photo: Maddie Edmonds)

They are most active in spring and fall when temperature is moderate and conditions are moist. They have been found in the nettle near Mundy trailhead and Colony Farm Road Trail. They also have a small population near the pumphouse trail junction on the east of the river.

Colony Farm supports several other species at risk:

  • Barn Owl (BC Red list, SARA – Threatened) – resident in old fields and buildings
  • Short-eared Owl (BC Blue list, SARA – Special concern) – irregular in old-fields
  • Barn Swallow (BC Blue list, SARA – Threatened) – fields, marsh,  
  • Great Blue Heron fannini subspecies (BC Blue list, SARA – Special concern) – resident, staging ground in winter 
  • American Bittern (Blue) – Resident in marsh and ditches
  • Band-tailed Pigeon (Blue)
  • Purple Martin (Blue)
  • Western Painted Turtle (Red) – wetlands and sloughs
  • Red-legged Frog (Blue) – Sheep Paddocks wetlands

Bird life at Colony Farm!

Over 200 species of birds have been documented in the park. Birders can see 50-60 species during a spring visit, or 20-30 species in winter. About a dozen species recorded in the park are threatened or endangered, including 6-7 species that regularly use the park as important habitat.

During the winter months when fish are scarce, great blue herons rely on the Park’s old field habitat for foraging – they hunt for Townsend’s Voles that are abundant in the old field habitat. 

Sora and Great blue Heron (Photo: John and Sheila Lin)

Raptors also forage in the fields for small mammals. Colony Farm supports both the at-risk Barn Owl and Short-eared Owls, and other raptors like Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, Bald Eagle, and Peregrine Falcon.

The wetlands provide habitat for a variety of waterfowl and marsh birds. Pied-billed grebes build floating nests in the Ducks Unlimited pond on the east side of the park. 

Species to look for include Virginia Rail and Sora, which can be found at the pond at any time of the year but most often in spring and early fall. The elusive American Bittern can sometimes be observed in the wetlands.

A variety of songbirds use the hedgerow, grassland, and forest habitat during migration, nesting, and overwintering. Mountain bluebirds typically stop at the Park in March and April during their spring migration.

Lazuli Bunding (Photo: Paul Steeves)

The park has a small population of Lazuli Buntings, a rare species in Vancouver. They breed in the mixed field and shrub area west of the Forensic Institute. 

Summer is also a good time to see large numbers of Black-headed Grosbeaks and Band-tailed Pigeons, which are attracted to Elderberries in the fields.

For more information and a species list see the Burke Mountain Naturalist Bird Brochure for the park and peruse the latest sightings on the eBird page.

Mammals in the park

Bats

There are seven different bat species found at Colony Farm (out of 16 bat species found in BC).  Bats play a critical role in ecosystems, controlling insect populations and cycling nutrients from wetlands to forests. In addition to abundant insects, they need summer roosting habitat and winter hibernation sites, which are provided by tree cavities and old farm buildings in the park. 

In the past they roosted in the Bunkhouse and Manager’s house near the main parking lot, but moved into a bat house when these were boarded up. A new Bat Condo was constructed but has yet to be occupied. 

The Burke Mountain Naturalists monitor the bat population at Colony Farm and welcome volunteers. The bat species most commonly detected include Little Brown Myotis (COSEWIC – Endangered) and Yuma Myotis bats, as well as California, Big Brown, Hoary, Silver Haired, and Townsend Big-eared bats (Blue-listed). 

In addition to habitat loss, little brown bats are threatened by White-nose syndrome, a devastating fungal disease that attacks bats while they are hibernating. It is spreading from eastern North America, and has already arrived in Washington State. Researchers are monitoring the populations at Colony Farm and exploring interventions to help them survive White-nose syndrome.

Other mammals

North American River Otters are often seen in winter months. These playful creatures love to slide and tussle. They are strong swimmers, hunting a variety of aquatic creatures. 

River otters (Photo: Lee harding)

Beavers live in the wetlands, chopping down trees and shrubs for their lodges and food. CFPA stewardship activities include fencing and wrapping trees to protect them from beaver activity.

In the fields and hedgerows you can see deer, coyotes, black bears, and the occasional bobcat. 

Small mammals, especially Townsend’s voles live in the old fields and are food for raptors and great blue herons

Reptiles and amphibians

Western Painted Turtles inhabit wetlands at the Park.  More commonly seen are the invasive Red-eared Sliders, which may compete with native turtles. Unlike painted turtles these have a red ‘ear’ and a bumpy shell. 

Garter snakes are common in the park- watch for them sunning themselves by the trailside in the summer.

Native amphibians in the wetlands include Northern Red-legged frog, Western Toad, Northwestern Salamander, and Pacific Treefrog. Unfortunately, invasive Green frogs and American Bullfrogs are also present. Green Frogs compete with native frogs, and bullfrogs may prey on them. 

Plants

Colony Farm has a variety of native and introduced plants, many of which speak to its agricultural history.

Trees: In the riparian forests and woodlots, the dominant trees are black cottonwood and bigleaf maples. Red Alder is a nitrogen-fixing colonizer that quickly fills in recently disturbed sites.

Shrubs: Thickets and hedgerows have a variety of native shrubs such as Willows, Red-osier dogwood, hardhack, red elderberry, nootka rose, snowberry, thimbleberry, salmonberry, and Black hawthorne. English hawthorne and european mountain ash are naturalized.

Forbs: Along the trails, common flowers include native bigleaf lupine and fireweed, and introduced broadleaf sweetpea, creeping buttercup, and dame’s rocket. Stinging nettle patches provide habitat for Oregon Forestsnaill and serve as a host plant for many native butterfly species.

More information and a species list can be found in the Burke Mountain Naturalist Plant Brochure for the park.

Invasive species

With a history of agriculture and disturbance, Colony Farm has many introduced plants. While some of these have naturalized and coexist with native species, others are invasive and spread aggressively without the natural checks and balances of their original ecosystems.

Reed Canarygrass and Himalayan Blackberry (Photos: Maddie Edmonds)

At Colony Farm, Reed Canarygrass is predominant in the fields and Himalayan Blackberry in the hedgerows.  Other invasive species include Scotch Broom, Policeman’s Helmet, Garlic Mustard, Purple Loosestrife, Yellow-flag iris, Japanese Knotweed, Orange Hawkweed, Sweet Clover, Canada Thistle & Narrow-leaf cattail.  

Colony Farm Park Association and Metro Vancouver work in collaboration to manage invasive species in the park. We aim to eliminate them when they are newly established and control them selectively when they are widespread. Volunteer stewards are a key part of invasive species management in the park, helping to improve habitat for wildlife.