Hornby Island Natural History Centre

Local Wildlife Cards for Purchase

We now have beautiful wildlife cards by local photographer Barb Biagi available for sale at the Natural History Centre. The cards of Hornby Island wildlife feature hummingbirds (including the image above), a young barred owl, and a young eagle.  We will also have them at the Farmer’s Market on occasion this summer.

co-op porch table

Natural History’s new wildlife cards for sale on the Co-op porch. Visitors to our table admire the kingfisher.

Upcoming Events

Natural History’s Summer 2016 Events Calendar is now available! 

Join us for nature walks that explore Hornby’s diverse ecology ~ and illuminating talks on bats, whales, raptors, and native plants that inhabit our island and region!


Our Thursday Expert Speakers Series is held in the Community School Library (entrance through the Natural History Centre door). Admission to a presentation is $5.00 per person. Children under 16 attend for free. Read the 2016 speaker biographies and summaries here.

The Nature Field Trips on Tuesdays are an excellent opportunity to discover shoreline and forest ecosystems as well as Hornby’s unique geology.  These field trips are great fun for the whole family and will enhance your visit to our beautiful island.  Pre-registration is essential as space is limited.  For inquiries or to register, email us at hornby.naturalhistory@gmail.com, call 250-335-1021 (please note that the phone is temporarily out of service until mid-July), or come to the Centre.  $10 per person. Children under 16 attend for free.

Membership Draw: Win a Boat Tour!

Sign up for a membership with the Natural History Centre and be entered to win a boat tour with Hornby Island Diving! The draw will be held at the Community Hall on June 4th, during the event with Bob McDonald.

Membership cost is $10 and lasts one year from the sign up date.

There are several options to join:
1) Come to the Natural History Centre during our spring open hours, Thursdays 12:30 – 3:30.
2) Find us at the Co-op porch from 10 – 2 on Saturday May 28th, Friday June 3rd, or Saturday June 4th.
3) Sign up at the June 4th event with Bob McDonald.
4) Send a cheque made out to Hornby Island Community Programs (memo: “Natural History”, 2100 Sollans Rd. Hornby Island, V0R1Z0. Please let us know you have mailed a cheque if you aren’t sure it will arrive by Thursday June 2nd so we can include your name in the draw.

Nature Retreat

Thank you for supporting the Hornby Island Natural History Centre.

Photo of sea lions at Norris Rocks by Barb Biagi.

Beach Cleanup Day

As part of their Earth Day activities, the Hornby Island School held a beach cleanup at Big Tribune Bay. Natural History Centre volunteers joined the group and helped lead learners in the cleanup. Sadly, there were many bags of garbage collected: large chunks of styrofoam, glass/plastic bottles, and many other items that can harm to our beaches and wildlife.

This was the second beach cleanup with the school kids. It is great to see this event becoming a yearly tradition. Below are some photographs of the groups in action. As you can see, the kids accomplished a lot in a short time!

Thank you to Barb Biagi for photographing the event.

Click here for photos and the story from last year’s shoreline cleanup.

Clever Corvids: The Northwestern Crow

Northwestern crow in the Natural History Centre's exhibit.

Northwestern crow in the Natural History Centre’s exhibit. Photo by Barb Biagi.

This month’s featured treasure is our Northwestern crow, pictured above. This species lives along the BC and Alaskan coast, while a similar species, the American Crow, lives in the BC interior. Crows are generalist scavengers, eating marine invertebrates, other bird’s eggs, carrion (dead/decaying flesh of animals), and human food they find lying around. Crows mate for life and the females lay 4-6 greenish eggs, nesting in trees or sometimes the ground.

Crows are highly intelligent. They have many vocalizations and can learn to repeat words. They can even make tools! For instance, one crow was observed bending a wire with their beak to make a hook. The cognitive ethologist Marc Bekoff says that crows with “tool workshops” meet in one area to practice making tools. Occasionally, on Hornby Island among other places, crows are seen dropping hardshelled nuts onto a street, and then waiting for passing automobiles to crack them. In some places, they drop mussels and other shellfish onto rocks to crack the shells and expose the flesh.

Crows are also very social creatures. They live in close-knit family groups and work together when scavenging for food. Reports of “crow funerals” tell of hundreds of crows gathering around a dead comrade, all cawing loudly. At some unknown signal, they all become silent. Then, after a few moments, they fly away.

It is suggested that crows will gift fortunate humans who leave food out for them. This video tells the sweet story of crows who leave gifts for a young girl who feeds them.



Hornby Pollinators Workshop

On March 5th the HINHC hosted a Pollination Workshop for the public with forty people in attendance at the New Horizons facility. We were fortunate enough to have six biologists who shared their knowledge of Hornby pollinators, and their ever shrinking habitat on our island, giving 3 separate presentations:

First, Jennifer Heron, invertebrate specialist from the Ministry of the Environment gave an overview and discussed pollinator diversity and their importance to all of us. Next, Kristen Miskelly, native plant expert, talked about native plants and their importance to pollinators for habitat as well as food. Finally, Bonnie Zand, pollinator expert, summarized the results of the Pollinator Survey that she conducted on Hornby Island in the fall of 2015 and presented samples. She advised us on how to enhance our land to help pollinators by not being overly tidy by clearing away debris and cutting grass all at once, but leaving a pile for pollinators to use, and leaving some long grass for reproduction habitat.


All those in attendance received excellent handouts which summarized what we learned and will help us remember and disseminate the content to our fellow land stewards.

Native plants seeds

Native plants seeds

A number of the attendees signed up to participate in a possible Spring and Summer Pollinator Survey for 2016.

Hornby Island Bees

Hornby Island Bees

Helliwell Walk
The morning of the workshop, Kristen and James Miskelly took the NHC stewards for a walkabout in Helliwell Provincial Park where we examined and discussed native plants of the Garry Oak Ecosystem, many of which are in danger of being extirpated from Hornby due to diminishing habitat, thus affecting the well being of our pollinators. Below are photos taken during the walk by Barb Biagi.

The events of the day left us with a positive feeling that there are simple things we can all do to enhance conditions for pollinators and plants to ensure that they can continue to function normally. In turn, these acts help us and all who depend on pollinators and plants.

Thank you to Barb Biagi for photographing the event.

Students Build Bee Houses

Hornby Island students worked with the guidance of Natural History volunteers to make their own bee homes. A “bee house” provides an important shelter young for bees. Since many native bee species are wood dwelling, yet unable to make their own nesting holes, caring humans can provide bee boxes for our neighborhood pollinators to lay their eggs.

During the Mason Bee Project, Stewards talked with students about the essential role pollinators play in nature. The group dismantled a mason bee house to have a look inside and discuss the needs of these solitary bees, and noted differences to communal bumble and honey bees. They discussed various stages of development beginning with the female laying an egg in the hole, leaving a supply of pollen as food, and enclosing the hole with mud to create a protected space in which it can incubate into larva. Students examined larvae in the bee house and the dormant pupae cocoons born from last year’s eggs. They discussed the timing of the emergence of the fully formed bees from these cocoons and ways in which we can help them survive. Stewards then helped students assemble their own mason bee houses using tin cans to contain segments of bamboo and horsetail in which bees can lay eggs—then they attached a wire to hang the can. A handout with a brief description for installation was sent home with each house

As well as making bee houses, we can also ensure that our yards offer nesting materials: dead wood, leaves, and undisturbed soil. The Lifecycles Bee Project offers detailed instructions and pictures on helping bees and making a bee home. Download Home for Bees.

The gallery below shows the various stages of the students’ project.


Bob McDonald: “Canadian Spacewalkers”

On Saturday June 4th, you are invited to join us for an evening with Bob McDonald, the host of CBC’s Quirks and Quarks  and award winning science journalist and author, as he relates the stories of Canadian Spacewalkers. This event will be held at the Hornby Island Community Hall and is a fundraiser for the Natural History Centre. Doors open at 6:15pm. Presentation begins at 7:00pm. Refreshments and Bob’s book Canadian Spacewalkers will be available for purchase.

Poster - McDonald (1)

Tickets: $15 • Advance Tickets: Special of 2 for $25 • Under 18 years are admitted FREE but must obtain a ticket to ensure seat availability. Tickets at the door subject to availability.

Advance tickets are sold through the Gas Bar and the Natural History Centre at the School during open hours. You can also reserve your tickets by mailing a cheque to Natural History Centre, 2100 Sollans Rd. Hornby Island, BC V0R1Z0. Please make cheque out to Hornby Island Community Programs with the memo “Natural History”.

Herring Life Cycle Display

Our featured treasure for March is the herring life cycle display at the Natural History Centre.

Each year the herring spawn turns the ocean a magnificent turquoise and announces that spring is around the corner. Birds and marine mammals are seen and heard lining the shores in anticipation of the bounty. Eagles soar from trees to fish the herring, while sea lions fill up on the feast, and gulls remain at the shoreline for days after the spawn.

In celebration of this event that is fundamental to our marine ecosystem, the Herring Life Cycle Display is the featured treasure for the month of March. The display features videos of the spawn, life size replicas of the herring at each of their life stages, and an eagle carving by Hornby Island artist Glen Rabena.

Eagles in a stream during the 2016 herring spawn. Photo by Barb Biagi.

Turquoise water at the Ford Cove Marina during the 2016 herring spawn. Photo by Barb Biagi.

Little Tribune Bay during the 2016 herring spawn. Photo by Barb Biagi.

View of the Olsen Farm during the 2016 Herring Spawn. Photo by Barb Biagi.


Student Activity: What makes a good display?

In our exhibit, we are often brainstorming ways to capture the imaginations of our visitors and provide valuable education through well-thought out displays. This February we got to share this process with each class at the Hornby Island Community School, where we are located. The School is unique in having a Natural History Centre located on its premises and the students are always welcome to visit.

As part of their current school theme, “How things work,” each class came in and examined the displays. The students identified what attributes drew their attention, what they would change, and how they might put their own displays together. We enjoyed hearing their thoughts and seeing drawings of their favourite displays.

Pollinator Stewardship in your Backyard

pollinator event

On Saturday March 5, 2016, join us at New Horizons for a workshop on Pollinator Stewardship. Coffee and mingle will begin at 1:30 pm with an information session from 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm.

Topics covered include:

  • Pollinator Diversity on Hornby Island – results from the 2015 study.
  • Identifying the pollinators in your backyard – bees, wasps, flies, butterflies and beetles.
  • Identification and enhancing native plants in your backyard.

Please register by March 2nd.
To register, send an email to hornby.naturalhistory@gmail.com

Featured Treasure: Dance of the Grebes

Western Grebe

A Western Grebe at the Hornby Island Natural History Centre.

Happy Valentines Day! To celebrate this day of love, our featured treasure of the month is the Western grebe – a bird whose courtship dances are elaborate and spectacular! In one display, called “rushing,” the pair race across the water side by side, with almost their whole body out of the water and their long necks arched.

The video below shows the exquisite “dance of the grebes”.

In BC there are about 200 breeding pairs, but in winter over 100,000 grebes make our coast their home. Western grebes breed on inland lakes north of Alaska in the summer. They spend the rest of their time on the coast, often in large flocks. They feed on invertebrates and fish by diving from the surface and spearing them underwater. They forage at night, when schools of herring come to the surface. Pairs build floating nests out of reeds, raising 3-5 young. The young ride on their parent’s backs shortly after hatching.

Soon we will see many seabirds, gulls, and visiting eagles assemble along the shores for the yearly herring spawn that begins in March. The Western grebe is one of those who enjoys the bounty of this highly anticipated event that is so important for our marine ecosystem.

The Western grebe pictured above was found on Hornby Island in 1994.

Seasons Greetings to All

Happy Holidays from Natural History

Warmest winter wishes this holiday season!

Students Create Wreaths and Plant Dyed Fabrics

This December, Hornby Island students produced some beautiful wreaths and plant dyed fabrics as part of our student education program.

First, several students participated in plant dyeing. They wrapped various native plants (salal, oak, huckleberry, lichen, etc.) and seaweed in fabric.  After waiting a few days it was time to reveal the results: the fabric had turned beautiful fall colours! We might repeat this project and see what colours are created in the springtime.

How they did it: The silk was pre-mordanted in vinegar. After the bundles were made, they were placed in jars with vinegar, water, and a couple of rusty nails or screws and one or two pennies. The iron oxide was the mordant which worked to draw the pigment from the plants and make it stick onto the fabric. The copper is supposed to brighten the colours. The jars needed to be kept warm for about a week as the heat makes the process work. After removing the bundles from the jars the kids took off the plant material and rinsed the fabric in water and baking soda which removed the vinegar.

Next, the whole school was involved in making wreaths for the holidays. The older kids made two each and gave one to someone they know who is elderly, homebound, or a neighbor. 

Thanks to all the natural history volunteers who gave them time and expertise to make these fun fall/winter activities happen!

Click on any photo to start viewing the slideshow from the plant dyeing process, plant dyeing results, and wreath making days.


Christmas Fair 2015

Natural History Steward Tina Wai Tablling at the Hornby Island Christmas Fair.

Natural History Steward Tina Wai Tabling at the Hornby Island Christmas Fair.

We had a wonderful time tabling in the entrance of the school during this year’s Christmas Fair. Congratulations to Christine Tamburri from Hornby Island, the winner of our 2015 getaway package draw! Our birds in holiday hats taken by Barb Biagi at the Natural History Centre and Hornby Island hummingbird cards by Barb Biagi and Sam Elder were also highly popular. We were delighted to see so many locals–many who had never seen the exhibit before–come through the Centre during the Fair.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by and supported Natural History. Seasons greetings to all!

Hornby’s Giant Ammonite

Occasionally people will inquire about whether ammonite fossils have been found on Hornby Island. Indeed, they have! Our featured treasure for the month of December is this giant ammonite that was found by Stevi Kittleson on the shore past the ferry landing.

Ammonites were shelled squid like creatures, swimming molluscs that were abundant in the ancient oceans. The nearest that we have today is nautilus. At the Natural History Centre a painting by Dan Bowen depicts a mosasaur chasing ammonite, one of their favourite prey. X-ray analysis has suggested that ammonites themselves dined on small organisms floating in the water, such as zooplankton, tiny crustaceans, and even other smaller ammonites.

When ammonite die they get covered up at the bottom of the ocean under sand and the shell is preserved. Learn about how an ammonite becomes fossilized in the following video.

Close up of the giant ammonite shiny and iridescent shell found by Stevi Kittleson at the Natural History Centre.

Close up of the giant ammonite shiny and iridescent shell found by Stevi Kittleson on Hornby Island.

Barred Owls on Hornby Island


This November we are featuring the beautiful barred owl perched in our raptor exhibit. This barred owl was added to the collection in 1998. It was found by John Fletcher on his Hornby farm, “The Apple Orchard”.

Barred owls have dark eyes, brown horizontal bars on the chest, and vertical bars on the belly. Their distinctive call is often “translated” as “Who cooks for you… Who cooks for you-alllll?” If you try calling to one, it likely will call back to you!

These owls are the most common species of owl on Hornby Island and their call is often heard both day and night. They are mainly nocturnal, and prey on small rodents, birds, frogs, insects and fish. They nest in cavities (or holes) in trees. Barred owls lay 2-3 eggs that hatch in about a month. The young owls are fledged in 4-5 weeks. Pairs mate for life, and the young usually disperse only a short distance from their parents’ territory. The only predators of the barred owl are great horned owls and humans.

A young barred owl on Hornby Island is seen in the video below.

Learn about and hear the barred owl’s distinctive call in the following video.

NIDES Student Visit

This October a group of North Island Distance Education Students visited the Natural History Centre. The group participated in a tour followed by a variety of hands-on activities. We enjoyed their enthusiasm and look forward to see them again next year!


Tiny Sea Star

Our featured treasure for October is a small ochre sea star, found in the tidal creatures display at the Natural History Centre. Also known as the purple starfish, sea stars have a special place in the heart of Hornby Islanders. They were even the theme of this year’s fall fair. Although their population has declined over the years, increasing sightings of sea stars recently suggest it may be climbing once again.

Sea stars are some of the most common tidal creatures in the Pacific Northwest. The greatest variety can be seen at low tide on rocky beaches. In fact, there are 2,000 species of sea stars worldwide. Roaming the intertidal consuming all types of prey, these invertebrates have very few natural predators. Sea stars are also known for their ability to regenerate limbs. As long as the portion of their central disk remains, the sea star can repair the damage inflicted by predators and even create a whole new arm.

Removing sea stars from beaches contributes to their decline. You can help the population by leaving sea stars on the beach and asking others to do the same.


Sea stars in the tidal creature display at the Natural History Centre.

Request for Specimens

natural history crow

A taxidermy crow at the Natural History Centre. Photo by Barb Biagi. The Natural History Centre is asking locals for animal and bird specimens to help expand our collection.

In order to develop our collection and educational displays, the Natural History Centre is asking locals for assistance in obtaining animals who have died of natural causes and are in good condition for taxidermy.

How you can help
If you find an animal that has died very recently, preferably within one-hour, please place it in two bags and into a freezer as soon as possible. Then call the Natural History Centre and we will pick it up. Contact Neil Wilson 335-1232 or Barb Biagi 335-1299. Each year we have several animals mounted to become part of the educational displays. The most recent were a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and a Turkey Vulture. Our collection is especially lacking shore and sea birds and we have no ducks.

We are also looking for a large walk in freezer that could be used for 2–4 weeks of the year to freeze our animal and bird specimens. This allows us to protect the collection without using harmful chemicals. In return for your generosity, you will receive a free admission ticket for 2016.

Tips to help wildlife

The changing light of the season can increase the effect of a window being mirror-like and fooling birds’ senses. To prevent window collisions, try using netting or decals. Two or three inch paper stars and/or crescents to the most problematic windows works well. You can also check out the numerous products created for bird safety. To prevent hitting wildlife in your vehicle, observe Hornby and Denman Islands’ speed limits. When possible, anywhere, driving under 60kmh will certainly reduce the carnage.

If you come across an injured animal, please contact one of the following numbers for assistance:
Local Volunteer Barbi Biagi: 250-335-1299
Mountainaire Avian Rescue: 250-337-2021
Saltspring Seal Pup Rescue: 250-537-0777

April-October 15 2015 281

Hornby Island residents Norma and Neil Wilson use paper stars and crescents on select windows to prevent bird collisions.