Seabirds of Newfoundland
For twelve months of the year, the province provides great opportunities to watch seabirds. In fact, Newfoundland and Labrador may just be the world's seabird capital. It is home to the hemisphere's largest gatherings of marine birds. Every year some 35 to 40 million seabirds travel to our waters.
The Major Colonies
All travellers to Newfoundland should make the effort to experience the ocean, the domain of the seabird. There are literally hundreds of picturesque coastal areas and islands where gulls, terns, or black guillemots nest. The major colonies are situated along the northeast and southeast portions of the Newfoundland coast. The following listing is restricted to the major colonies and sites where travellers can view seabirds while causing a minimum of disturbance.
Two of the province's largest colonies, Gannet Island and Funk Island, are not included since they are many kilometres from the nearest road or point of land. Funk Island was home to the now extinct great auk, the first bird to be called a penguin. Today Funk Island is the world's largest murre colony and home to a variety of other species.
Baccalieu Island Ecological Reserve
This island off the northeastern tip of the Avalon Peninsula is Newfoundland's largest seabird island. The eleven types of breeding seabird make it the most diverse colony in eastern North America. The name Baccalieu comes from the Basque word for codfish. The area's rich fishery was renowned as long ago as 1503 when the island began appearing on the first charts and maps of the new world.
Baccalieu Island is the continent's second largest puffin colony. It is also home to black-legged kittiwake, common and thick-billed murres, razorbills, black guillemots, a few northern fulmars, and a small gannet colony. Very few large gulls nest on the island, their presence discourage by a small population of red foxes. Black-backed a herring gulls are found on Puffin Island, just off Baccalieu's western shore.
The most remarkable attribute of the island is hidden during the daylight hours, but at night the grassy slopes and inland forest some alive to the varied songs of what is estimated to be over 3.3 million pairs of Leach's storm-petrel This is the world's largest gathering of these starling-sized, tube nosed, burrowing birds.
Although visitors to Baccalieu will probably not see a storm-petrel, this huge gathering of birds is a special but little known part of the world's marine heritage.
Cape St. Mary's Ecological Reserve
Three hours from St. John's Airport
Here you can view one of our planet's greatest marine spectacles without using a boat. The Cape St. Mary's Ecological Reserve boasts the world's most southerly colony of Northern gannets. This collection of approximately 5400 pairs also happens to be the continent's third largest gannet colony. Between April and October, the sea stack at Cape St. Mary's, known as "Bird Rock", is covered by the brilliant white-and-gold heads of the gannets. The breeding success of the gannets on the stack has forced some birds over to the ledges of the mainland making Cape St. Mary's the only place in north America where gannets nest on the land.
This reserve is a must-see for nature lovers. In season, the gannets are joined by approximately 10,000 pairs of black-legged kittiwake and 10,000 pairs of common murres. Between May and August, the mating behaviours, together with the laying of eggs and feeding of chicks, provide visitors with intimate views in the life of a seabird. The reserve is also home to the world's most southerly breeding site for thick-billed murres about 1000 pairs) and also provides opportunities to view razorbills, black guillemots, herring gulls, black-backed gulls, double-crested cormorants, and great cormorants Ravens, eagles, and other birds of prey are also drawn to the area by the nonstop activities of the nesting seabirds.
During the summer a variety of whales, seals, and visiting seabirds such as shearwaters, add to the richness of this site. Newfoundland bird watchers also seek out the Cape during the winter, when huge rafts of eider ducks mingle with scoters, dovekies, murres, harlequin ducks, old squaw ducks, grebes, loons, and other seabirds along the rugged coastline.
Also during the summer, an interpretation centre at the end of the access road offers information, education programs, and guidance to visitors In the nineteenth century several people died at Cape St. Mary's while attempting to collect eggs from cliff-edge nesting sites. The areas high cliffs, slipper-when-wet rocks, and frequent fog all require visitors to take sensible precautions. The friendly guides at the interpretation centre will provide information about the birds and ensure that your visit is as comfortable and enjoyable as possible. Bird Rock is situated a short distance from the parking lot and visitor centre. Twenty minutes of leisurely walking will take you within eight metres of the gannet stack. Come prepared with warm clothing, binoculars, and lots of extra film for your camera. This site has been described internationally as "the most accessible and best seabird watching spot in the world". The rich musical traditions and hospitality of the Cape Shore can also enhance a visit to unforgettable Cape St. Mary's.
Witless Bay Ecological Reserve
Fifty minutes from St. John's International Airport.
This reserve, located just south of St. John's, is made up of four islands: Gull, Green, Great, Pee Pee. These are home to the continent's largest gathering of Atlantic puffins (over 90,000 pairs) and the world's second largest colony of Leach's storm-petrel. The reserve also features North America's second largest kittiwake colony. In addition, there are a few dozen black-backed gulls, razorbills, and black guillemots. Reports of Manx shearwaters on the reserve together with the establishment of a small Manx shearwater colony, orth America's first, on Middle Lawn Island off the Burin Peninsula lead some scientists to suspect that a few Manx shearwaters may be found in an occasional burrow among the reserve's tens of thousands of puffin burrows.
The colonies listed are among the largest and most important in the world. Newfoundland and Labrador boasts hundreds of additional seabird colonies, as well as many other sites and lookouts where residents and visitors can enjoy quality bird watching. If Manx shearwaters are of special interest, then Middle Lawn Island off the Burin Peninsula is the best location. Small numbers f cormorants nest on several island in Placentia Bay. A few black-headed gulls are nesting on some islands off Newfoundland's west coast. Puffins, storm-petrels, kittiwakes, and numerous other seabirds can be found in dozens of additional colonies.