Managing Wildlife Habitat: The Marbled Murrelet (Part 2)


Marbled murrelet nesting. Image credit: Lois Miller

Because responsible habitat management is a defining characteristic of private forest stewardship in B.C., we’ve put together a series of posts to help small-forest owners be the best forest stewards they can be.

In the first marbled murrelet post, we introduced some defining characteristics of the species and briefly explained why, as forest owners or land managers, it’s important to pay close attention to the marbled murrelet.

This second post includes information to help you identify nests, as well as better understand the habitat requirements of the marbled murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus).

Where do marbled murrelets make their nests?

The marbled murrelet, like most seabirds, spends the majority of its life on the ocean and comes on land only to breed. Marbled murrelets nest in solitary pairs at very low densities, typically within 30 km of the ocean, but nests have been located up to 50 km or more inland.

Marbled murrelets choose a variety of tree species and stands for nesting, but their preferences are:

  • Coniferous old forest stands (alder and maple are rarely used)
  • Stands typically located within 50 km of marine foraging habitat and below 800 meters elevation
  • Moist conditions of north aspect slopes because they offer abundant epiphytes and moss
  • Steep slopes or broken terrain which allows easier flight access into the canopy

How to recognize a marbled murrelet nest?


Marbled murrelet nest. Photo credit: Alan E. Burger

Typically, marbled murrelets select trees with large diameter branches covered in moss or lichen for nesting.

Murrelets are fast, but not maneuverable flyers. Nesting branches must be accessible from the air because the birds approach the nest with a ‘stall climb’ to reduce speed and enable them to land on the nest branch.

Nest branches usually include a ‘landing pad’ of approximately 1 meter adjacent to the nest (often located next to the trunk of the tree).

Overhead branches are also preferred because they offer visual cover from avian predators like goshawks, crows, ravens or jays.

What do marbled murrelets eat?

Marbled murrelets feed mostly on fish up to 8 or 9 cm in length and on shrimp-like crustaceans such as euphausids and mysids.

Their main prey species are sand lance, smelt and juvenile herring. Larger invertebrates (krill species) are also eaten if fish aren’t abundant. The sand lance appears to be the fish most often carried to nestlings.

Marbled murrelets normally feed in near-shore marine waters, including shallow bays, channels and fjords. Although groups of up to 100 murrelets may be attracted to sites where fish are concentrated, they feed as individuals.

The murrelet’s use their torpedo-shaped body and flipper-like wings to catch their prey underwater.

Marbled murrelet breeding chronology


Marbled murrelet chick. Photo credit: Wikipedia

Marbled murrelets don’t start breeding until they are 2 or 3 years of age and they have low reproductive output. (Again, if it helps to imagine Morgan Freeman’s voice narrating this section, we understand).

Incubation lasts about 30 days and both males and females incubate the egg. Once hatched, nesltings are fed 2 to 4 times per day by both adults. Marbled murrelet parents often fly 60-100 km round trip to gather herring and sand lance to feed their young.

Activity in forest nesting areas is highest from May to August, while marbled murrelets congregate in sheltered waters with abundant prey during winter months.

You can find more information about marbled murrelet characteristics here.

Thanks again to TimberWest biologists, Molly Hudson and Dave Lindsay, for their expertise in helping us put this information together.

Managing Wildlife Habitat: The Northern Goshawk (Part 2)

northern goshawk chicks in a nest

Goshawk nest with chicks. Photo credit: Grant Eldridge.

Responsible habitat management is a defining characteristic of private forest stewardship in B.C. To help small-forest owners be the best forest stewards they can be, we’ve put together a 2-part series titled “Managing Wildlife Habitat: Everything You Need to Know About Northern Goshawks”.

In the first post we introduced some defining characteristics of the species and briefly explained why it’s important to pay close attention to coastal Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis laingi).

This second post includes information to help you identify nests on your property, as well as better understand the timing and chronology of Northern Goshawk breeding.

Where do Northern Goshawks make their nests?

Norhtern Goshawk nest with chicks

Goshawk nest near Upper Quinsam River. Photo credit: Rick Merriman.

In general, the Northern Goshawk laingi subspecies select nesting habitat based on stand structure rather than stand age and species composition. Common characteristics of nest stands include:

  • Mature forests (45+ years)
  • Closed canopies
  • Good flyways and understory spacing
  • Relatively large diameter trees

Goshawks select nest trees with structural attributes strong enough to support their relatively large stick nests. Douglas-fir (Fd), western hemlock (Hw) and red alder (Dr) are the most common tree species used for Northern Goshawk nests, but you can also find nests in balsam (Ba) and bigleaf maples (Mb).

Goshawks build large stick nests in the lower levels of the live canopy (at about 2/3rd stand height). Often, a fork or crook in the tree is used as a base, but a sturdy branch whorl can also be used to support a large nest.

It’s common for Northern Goshawks to reuse old nests. Alternate nests (from previous years) can usually be found 100–200 metres away, within a range of 50m-800m.

Northern Goshawk breeding chronology

(If it helps to imagine Morgan Freeman’s voice narrating this section, we understand.)

Courting and breeding (late February to April)—males perform aerial displays to attract females, pairs mate and nests are built.

Incubation (May)—the female incubates the eggs in the nest while the male of the pair provides her with food.

Nestling (late May to late June)—the chicks hatch and remain in the nest where they’re fed by the adult birds. The male forages far from the nest, while the female remains close by.

Fledgling phase (late June to July)—this is when the chicks learn to fly and hunt, but they stay close to the nest and are still mostly fed by the adults.

Dispersal (August to early September)—by now the fledglings’ feathers have hardened and the juvenile and adult birds disperse from the nest area.

What do Northern Goshawks eat?  

Norther Goshawk plucking post

Example of a plucking post with prey remains.

Goshawks are opportunistic and eat a variety of prey. Squirrels, rabbits, hares, crows, grouse, jays, thrushes, woodpeckers and other medium-sized birds and mammals are among the main items in the Northern Goshawk’s diet.

A robust prey population is important for the species. Snags, course woody debris and diverse ecosystems are known to support an abundance of prey species.

Generally, hunting is carried out under the forest canopy—where the Northern Goshawk can move unnoticed through dense cover and overcome its prey in mid-air with a burst of speed—but Northern Goshawks can also hunt in open areas.

Once captured, the Northern Goshawk plucks its prey on a convenient flat surface (plucking post) near the nest, often an old stump or large snag.

How to recognize a Northern Goshawk nest?

You can easily see plenty of evidence below an active nest, but you might also find signs of nesting throughout an occupied territory.

signs of a Northern Goshawk nest above

Image of feathers, whitewash and pellets suggesting a goshawk nest above.

Obvious signs of an active nest include:

  • Molted adult Northern Goshawk feathers
  • Whitewash and pellets
  • Bones and feathers of prey

Ground searches around a Northern Goshawk nest late in the breeding season (July-August) will often indicate if and when the nest has been active.

A large robust nest with abundant whitewash and a littering of bones, feathers and pellets below has likely supported juvenile goshawks, whereas a nest with only older bones and feathers can indicate a successful nest a year or two earlier with whitewash and pellets washed away by heavy precipitation.

Minor amounts of prey remains and whitewash could indicate an unsuccessful nest, while a dilapidated nest that’s falling apart suggests the nest is more than 1 or 2 years old.

Beware: Northern Goshawks are fiercely protective

The Northern Goshawk is well known for fiercely defending its nest. Northern Goshawks occasionally attack people and other animals that approach their nests too closely. When agitated or disturbed during nesting season an adult Northern Goshawk will dive bomb and alarm call “ke-ke-ke-ke”.

Another big thanks to Molly Hudson, biologist with TimberWest, for her expertise in helping us put this information together.

We’ve included a few more images of Northern Goshawk nests in different tree species below for your reference.

Northern Goshawk nest  rsz_20140610_-_uphar3_3

Northern Goshawk nest

CAFO Participates in the National SARA Forestry Roundtable

Canadian Association of Forest Owners logoPFLA continues to enthusiastically support the Canadian Association of Forest Owners (CAFO) to ensure PFLA member interests are sufficiently represented in Ottawa.

Managing Director, Chris Lee, is encouraged to report that CAFO members are making steady progress working with like-minded and influential organizations across the country to effectively carry a united and consistent message to Ottawa.

CAFO is actively participating in the National SARA Forestry Sector Roundtable process. An initiative led by the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC), the roundtable brings together FPAC member companies, provincial forest industry associations and CAFO.

After a number of conference calls, the group met face-to-face in Ottawa last week. The goals of the meeting included:

  • Provide participants with information about the Species at Risk Act (SARA) and the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC)
  • Discuss progress on recovery documents
  • Compare experiences with different provincial approaches to species recovery

Chris Lee provided the group with an update on the work CAFO is doing with Environment Canada to include forest certification as a means of demonstrating protection under the Species at Risk Act.

The meeting also included a half-day session devoted to discussing how to move forward as a sector and how to engage with the new federal government.

CAFO is also working closely with the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) and the Canadian Federation of Woodlot Owners (CFWO) to finalize a letter to the newly appointed Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna.

Chris Lee explains, “The letter from the national organizations representing forest owners, land managers and farmers across the country requests a meeting with Minister McKenna to discuss how we can best support her to deliver on priorities related to species at risk and migratory birds.”

CFA, CFWO and CAFO have agreed on three priority areas to work on with the Minister and her department:

  1. The two-step process for identification of wildlife habitat (first on public land and second on private land).
  2. Allowances for incidental take under the Migratory Birds Convention Act.
  3. Recognition and support for valuing the provision of ecological goods and services provided by landowners to Canadians.

Chris Lee sees these activities as “valuable relationships that help CAFO bring forward our issues with important key partners—other landowners and other forest managers.”

To learn more about CAFO, please visit the CAFO website or contact Chris Lee.

You might also be interested in highlights from PFLA’s trip to Ottawa earlier this year.

New Member Spotlight: North Cowichan Community Forest

North Cowichan Tree Farm tour: learning about the planting, tending and harvest of timber crops on private forest land.

Photo: Darrell Frank hosting a tour of the North Cowichan Community Forest as part of a Managed Forest Council workshop (2011).

PFLA is an interactive grassroots organization that thrives on forest owner participation. We’re excited to extend a warm welcome to our newest members. This month, we shine our new member spotlight on the North Cowichan Community Forest.

The North Cowichan Community Forest is located on Vancouver Island, north of Duncan and south of Ladysmith, and includes about 5000 hectares of forested area.

The mission of the North Cowichan Community Forest is: “To maintain and enhance North Cowichan’s valuable municipal forest resources for all users through sustainable forestry, ecological stewardship and sound fiscal management.”

Established in 1946, the North Cowichan Community Forest remained un-managed until the 1960s when the land was divided into ten woodlots that were then harvested by local operators who used diameter limit cutting to harvest all the trees greater than a specific diameter.

The land continued to be managed this way until 1981 when the municipality established a forestry department overseen by a committee of three elected officials, six appointed volunteer foresters and three municipal staff.

Today, the North Cowichan Community Forest includes six major land holdings: Mount Prevost, Mount Sicker, Mt. Tzouhalem, Stoney Hill, Mount Richards and Maple Mountain.

Over the last thirty four years, the land base has been managed intensively. Logging practices are now patch cut with green tree retention and all harvested areas are replanted. The new crops of third growth trees are juvenile spaced and pruned to ensure future higher value.

The working forest is managed for multiple uses, including: harvesting of forest crops, recreational uses, forest education, domestic water supplies, visual landscape, economic development and revenue source.

The North Cowichan Community Forest has a secure land base, access to local labour, transportation, and sawmills. The forestry program is flexible, managed on a long-term, sustainable basis and is self-funded with no costs to the taxpayers of North Cowichan.

Revenue from the forestry program also funded the purchase of 35 acres of new lands in 1995 and 26 acres in 1999 near Chemainus Lake.

A warm PFLA welcome to all our new members. And a big PFLA thanks to North Cowichan Community Forest for being in the “New Member Spotlight” this month.

If you’d like to learn more about becoming a member, please visit the PFLA website or contact us directly.

It’s Official! Island Timberlands Helps Set New Tree Planting World Record

Guinness World Book certificate It’s official! Officially amazing according to the certificate handed out, late in September 2015, by the Guinness Book of World Records to announce the new world record for the most trees planted in one hour by small teams at multiple locations.

The official announcement marks the success of multiple tree planting events held May 20, 2015. Organized by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative Inc. (SFI), more than 200,000 trees were planted simultaneously in 28 communities across North America — from coast to coat, Qualicum Beach to New York City and a range of communities in between.

Excited by the opportunity to participate in the SFI initiative, Island Timberlands organized a tree planting event on Vancouver Island. People of all ages and backgrounds — professional tree planters, Alberni District Secondary students, community members, forestry companies and industry associations — gathered to participate in the world record attempt.

At 10:00 a.m. sharp, on Wednesday May 20, 2015, with shovels poised and seedlings in hand, the team joined more than 1,100 participants across four time zones to begin planting trees. By the time the hour was up, groups across North America had collectively planted 202,935 trees, in just one hour, to surpass the previous world record of 40,885 trees, set in April 2012.

Makenzie Leine, Manager, Community and Government Relations with Island Timberlands said, “Not only was teaming up with SFI to go for the world record an exciting endeavor, closely aligned with Island Timberlands’ and SFI’s sustainability goals, but it was also a great opportunity to share the importance of reforestation, teamwork and community spirit with local students.”

group photo of tree planting event with Island Timberlands

Group photo! Students, tree planters, community members and interested groups join Island Timberlands and the SFI initiative, May 20, 2015, to beat the world record for most trees planted in one hour by small teams at multiple locations.

A big congratulations to everyone who came out to make the event a success and the new world record a reality.

To learn more, you can check out an interview with Morgan Kennah, Sustainability Manager with Island Timberlands, on Global News.

Companies & Province Work To Help Vancouver Island Marmot

Vancouver Island MarmotAs update to an earlier post Critical Wildlife Habitat and the Vancouver Island Marmot here’s a related news story reporting on the continued financial support of private forest companies. (Original story posted on

The Province is providing $135,000 to support the recovery of the Vancouver Island marmot over the next two years, with Island Timberlands and TimberWest contributing an additional $35,000 each for 2015. The money will go to the Marmot Recovery Foundation, a charity established to spearhead efforts to restore marmots to stable self-sustaining populations in three areas of their historic range. The funding will assist with the captive breeding program, translocation of marmots from more stable population to areas of need, research and’s a news story

“Through the combined efforts of government working with industry and the Marmot Recovery Foundation we have an excellent opportunity to ensure this iconic species can re-establish itself to the benefit of future generations,” explained Steve Thomson, Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. The Province is providing $70,000 through the Landowner Partners Fund, which has been supporting marmot recovery since 2001. The other partners in the Landowner Partners Fund are forestry companies TimberWest and Island Timberlands, each of which will contribute matching funds of $35,000 for 2015. The remaining $65,000 is being made available under the Province’s Land Based Investment Strategy (LBIS).

The funding will be used by the Marmot Recovery Foundation to hire an additional two field staff this summer to collect additional data, and provide better season-end population, reproduction and mortality estimates. The funding will also assist in the completion of revised recovery plan documents.

The LBIS is used to guide ongoing resource investments and short-term targeted investments in British Columbia’s natural resources to realize environmental sustainability and economic prosperity.

“The Vancouver Island marmot is a fantastic example of a conservation story in action. Thanks to the commitment of our partners, this cooperative model for species stewardship has already achieved some critical milestones. These new contributions will carry us forward to 2017, when we intend to update the Recovery Strategy for this species. For this reason, it is particularly important to collect strong field data over these next two years,” said Cheyney Jackson, field coordinator, Vancouver Island Marmot Recovery Foundation.

In 1998 there were as few as 70 Vancouver Island Marmots, making the species one of the world’s most endangered. In 2014, marmot populations were between 215 – 275. The recovery efforts have been successful to date, but require continued focused efforts to meet the population targets set in the Recovery Plan. The funding was announced on the same day as five captive-bred marmots were released on Mount Washington; part of ongoing efforts to recover the population.

Check out the video below to see the release of 5 captive-bred Vancouver Island Marmots from the Calgary zoo into the wild colony at Mount Washington.

Celebrating BC’s Private Forest Stewards

Congratulations to the 2015 Private Forest Stewardship Award recipients.

The 2015 Private Forest Stewardship Awards were presented at PFLA’s annual conference, field tour and AGM in Courtenay, June 3rd and 4th.

The GoudysPFLA founding members, John and Gabrielle Goudy, were presented with a stewardship award for their unwavering support, enthusiasm and dedication to the association and private forestry. Extremely knowledgeable about plants and wildlife, and passionate about their forest, the Goudys epitomize independent forest owners in coastal British Columbia. A big PFLA thanks to John and Gabrielle for all they’ve contributed to PFLA over the past 20 years.

Dave KralRod Bealing also presented TimberWest log buyer, Dave Kral (left), with a stewardship award for his contributions to private forestry over the past 42 years.

That’s right, 42 years. To learn more about Dave Kral’s story, you can read our earlier post 42 Seedlings for 42 Years or check out the video on TimberWest’s YouTube channel.

A big PFLA thanks to Dave Kral for all his hard work.

Howie Griessel One of the highlights of this year’s field tour was a trip to Howie Griessel’s woodlot for an interesting discussion of forest health issues including root rot, Douglas-fir bark beetle, thinning, post-harvest treatments and harvest regeneration sequences.

Howie (right) also went above and beyond the call of tour host duty with his detailed presentation on log prices and getting the best value from your harvest.

Also a founding PFLA member, Rod Bealing took the opportunity to present Howie with a stewardship award for his contributions to the association and his exemplary commitment to forest stewardship. Stay tuned for more on the trip to Woodlot 85.

Sylvan Vale NurseryLast, but definitely not least, twin sisters Iola Elder and Siriol Paquet (photo), of Sylvan Vale Nursery, were presented with a stewardship award for their dedicated support of private forest owners. Established by their parents, in 1980, Sylvan Vale Nursery has grown to an impressive 200,000 square feet of growing space with 46 greenhouses and an expected count of 8 million seedlings this year. A big PFLA thanks to the duo Rod Bealing describes as “twin bundles of awesomeness.”

Each year, PFLA celebrates and acknowledges specific members for their unique contributions to the overall stewardship of B.C.’s private forest lands. The annual Private Forest Stewardship Awards:

  •  Reflect PFLA’s mission to promote responsible forest stewardship on B.C.’s private forest lands
  •  Recognize forest owners and land managers for ensuring environmental stewardship
  •  Generate education and training opportunities for other forest owners and PFLA members

To be eligible for an award you must be a member of the Private Forest Landowners Association. Eligible candidates include landowners as well as the people who work with them and are selected by their peers (also PFLA members).

Nominees must demonstrate:

  • Commitment to long-term forest management
  • Respect for the principles established in the PFLA Best Management Practices and Environmental Policy
  • Awareness of the objectives of the Private Land Forest Practices Regulation
  • Recognition of sound business principles