Migratory Birds

Other PEMT sensitivity layers in Easten Arctic:
Polar Bear | Bowhead Whale | Toothed Whale | Anadromous Arctic Char |
Migratory Birds | Species of Concervation Concern | Traditional Harvesting | Commercial Fishing

Summer
Migratory Birds - Summer

Winter
Migratory Birds - Winter

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You may also be interested in Polar Bear information in other PEMT regions:

BSMD | High Arctic

Valued Component Features

Rationale for Selection

Migratory birds are of high socio-economic value in Nunavut and are sensitive because they nest in colonies and occur in large congregations. Ecological and population processes are affected by large-scale climatic fluctuations, and top predators such as seabirds can provide an integrative view on the consequences of environmental variability on ecosystems. Seabirds are also a key offshore indicator of anthropogenic disturbance. Seabirds have strong cultural significance and are often featured in carvings.

Key habitat

Key Migratory Bird Marine and Terrestrial Habitat Sites

The CWS has identified key marine and terrestrial habitat areas that are essential to the welfare of various migratory bird species in Canada (Mallory and Fontaine 2004b; Latour,et al.. 2006b). These sites are lands that CWS has identified where special wildlife conservation measures may be required and act as a guide to the conservation and land use planning efforts of other agencies (e.g., Nunavut Planning Commission) having interests in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut (Latour, et al.. 2006a). As such, not all sites are targeted to become protected areas (Mallory and Fontaine 2004b). The locations within the study area are featured on Figure 4-13. A short description is provided below.

Migratory Bird Sanctuaries

There are eleven Migratory Bird Sanctuaries in Nunavut. The Migratory Birds Convention Act prohibits activities in Migratory Bird Sanctuaries. These sanctuaries are for the purpose of protecting migratory birds and their habitat. Migratory Bird Sanctuaries can have a marine component, which often are nearshore areas used by migratory birds for feeding or other activities. Prohibitive measures can be placed on what and how activities can take place in these sanctuaries and are set out in the Bird Sanctuary Regulations. Although important fish habitat could be protected through a MBS, it is not an effective measure unless there is valuable bird habitat associated with the area that coincides with important or critical fish habitat.

There are no Migratory Bird Sanctuaries in the Eastern Arctic study area.

Important Bird Areas

Important Bird Areas (IBAs) are created to identify, conserve, and monitor a network of sites that provide essential habitat for threatened birds, birds restricted by range or by habitat, and congregatory species. The IBA program is an international conservation initiative co-ordinated by BirdLife International. The Canadian co-partners for the IBA program are Bird Studies Canada and Nature Canada (Formerly the Canadian Nature Federation). The locations of the IBAs found in the study area are featured on Figure 4-13. A short description of each IBA featured can be found below. Each IBA is also identified as being either globally, continentally or nationally significant. Further information on the Canadian IBA Sites Catalogue can be found at http://www.bsc-eoc.org/iba/IBAsites.html.

Biological Hotspots

Parks Canada sponsored an Arctic Marine Workshop which hosted over 30 experts on the Canadian Arctic (Mercier, et al. 1994). Together they identified marine areas of high biological diversity (hot spots), which are as areas of high productivity, with high species diversity and/or high species abundance. While detailed information is not available for each hotspot identified, for the purposes of this report they are treated as important to migratory birds.

Key Terrestrial and Marine Sites

North Water Polynya

The NOW Polynya is the largest (27,000 km2) polynya in the Canadian Arctic and is located in northern Baffin Bay between Ellesmere Island and Greenland. This polynya remains open water year round and is considered one of the most productive polynyas in the northern hemisphere (Stirling 1980; Hobson, et al. 2002). The NOW Polynya is a key marine habitat site for the millions of seabirds that breed nearby and many of these (about 14 million) migrate north along shore leads in the spring (Renaud et al. 1982). Various important species that using this area include the Black-legged Kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla) (16% of the Canadian population), Thick-billed Murres (Uria lomvia) (12% of the Canadian population), Northern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis) (1% of the Canadian population), Ivory Gulls (Pagophila eburnea) (14 colonies, 30% of the Canadian population), Black Guillemots (Cepphus grille) (2% of the Canadian population) (Mallory and Fontaine 2004a).

Within the NOW Polynya is Coburg Island which is an International Biological Programme site (Nettleship 1980) and has been protected since 1995 as Nirjutiqavvik National Wildlife Area and includes waters within 10 km of the high tide line. Both Coburg Island and the Inglefield Mountain Ivory Gull colonies (Nunataks) are considered Important Bird Areas in Canada (CEC 1999).

Eastern Jones Sound

The Eastern Jones Sound site occurs between southern Ellesmere Island, Coburg Island, and northeastern Devon Island and contains two key terrestrial sites (Coburg Island and eastern Devon Island). Over 500,000 breeding marine birds are found in this area and include Black-legged Kittiwakes (16% of the Canadian population), Thick-billed Murres (12% of the Canadian population), Northern Fulmars (1% of the Canadian population), Ivory Gulls (4 colonies, 4% of the Canadian population), Black Guillemots, Glaucous Gulls (Larus hyperboreus), Long-tailed Ducks (Clangula hyemalis), Common Eiders (Somateria mollissima), and Atlantic Puffins (Fratercula arctica).

Within Eastern Jones Sound, Coburg Island is an International Biological Programme site (Nettleship 1980) and has been protected since 1995 as Nirjutiqavvik National Wildlife Area and includes waters within 10 km of the high tide line. Both Coburg Island and Devon Island contain Ivory Gull colonies (Nunataks) and are considered Important Bird Areas in Canada (CEC 1999). Devon Island is considered globally significant for congregatory species and nationally significant for threatened species and species with restricted ranges (BirdLife International 2008 Internet site).

Eastern Lancaster Sound

Eastern Lancaster Sound site is a completely marine area and often forms as an early, open water feature during spring ice breakup. There are six major breeding colonies in this area and most of the birds inhabiting these colonies use Eastern Lancaster Sound during migration or use it for feeding (McLaren 1982). Large proportions of the Canadian population of Black-legged Kittiwakes (35% of the Canadian population), Northern Fulmars (57% of the Canadian population) and Thick-billed Murres (27% of the Canadian population) occur in this area (Nettleship 1980). In addition to the resident breeding colonies, millions of non-breeding birds spend the summer in the area and numerous migrants pass through on their way to breeding areas in the central Canadian High Arctic and northwest Greenland (McLaren 1982).

Eastern Lancaster Sound is an Important Bird Area in Canada (CEC 1999). This area is considered to be globally significant to congregatory species as well as for concentrations of colonial waterbirds and seabirds (BirdLife International 2008Internet site).

Cape Hay

Cape Hay is located at the eastern entrance to Lancaster Sound and is one of the five largest Thick-billed Murre colonies in Canada (over 10% of the Canadian population). A variety of bird species occur in this area including Black-legged Kittiwakes (over 10% of the Canadian population), Northern Fulmars, Black Guillemots and Dovekies (Alle alle). Cape Hay is an important area for marine birds and significant concentrations of them may be found throughout the region depending on annual fluctuations in ice breakup and distribution of prey (McLaren 1982; Dickins, et al. 1990; Riewe 1992a). According to the coastal atlas of environmental protection, the shoreline around Cape Hay is listed as being ‘highly sensitive' to oil spills from May to October, the offshore area is listed as being ‘highly sensitive' from May through August and ‘moderately sensitive' from September through April (Dickins, et al. 1990).

Cape Hay is a Canadian Important Bird Area (CEC 1999) and an International Biological Programme site (Nettleship 1980). Cape Hay is considered to be globally significant for congregatory species and concentrations of colonial waterbirds and seabirds. It is continentally significant to congregatory species (BirdLife International 2008 Internet site). Additionally, it is part of the Bylot Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary (established in 1965) and the Sirmilik National Park (established in 2001).

Cape Graham Moore

Cape Graham Moore is a completely marine site approximately 70 km north of the Pond Inlet community. Both the Thick-billed Murres and the Black-legged Kittiwakes occur in Cape Graham Moore and their numbers represent more than 1% of the Canadian population (Mallory and Fontaine 2004a). A wide variety of species is drawn to the leads and polynyas in this area during spring break¬up and include fulmars, kittiwakes, murres, and guillemots. Also present are Dovekies and Ivory Gulls.

Cape Graham Moore in an International Biological Programme site (Nettleship 1980) and a Canadian Important Bird Area (CEC 1999). This IBA is considered globally and continentally significant for congregatory species and globally significant for concentrations of colonial waterbirds and seabirds. Since 1965 the Cape has been part of the Bylot Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary and is also located just outside the boundary of Sirmilik National Park which was established in 2001. According to the coastal atlas for environmental protection, the shoreline around the Cape is listed as ‘extreme sensitivity' from May to October for impact of oil spills. The offshore area is listed as being of ‘high sensitivity from May through August and ‘moderate sensitivity' from September through April (Dickins, et al. 1990).

Cape Searle (Qaqulluit) and Reid Bay (Minarets; Akpait)

Cape Searle and Reid Bay are primarily marine sites (2,747 km2 marine vs. 94 km2 terrestrial). Qaqulluit contains Canada‘s largest Northern Fulmar colony at 22 – 27% of the Canadian population (Nettleship 1980; Alexander, et al. 1991). Other numerous birds at this site include Glaucous Gulls, Iceland Gulls (Larus glaucoides) and Black Guillemots (Nettleship 1980). One of Canada‘s largest Thick-billed Murre colonies (about 10% of the Canadian population) occurs at Akpait along with about 4% of the Canadian population of Northern Fulmars (Nettleship 1980; Alexander, et al. 1991). Additionally Black-legged Kittiwakes, Glaucous Gulls and Black Guillemots also nest there. Numerous other species use the area for feeding including Common Eiders, Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) and Common Ravens (Corvus corax).

Cape Serale and Reid Bay are International Biological Programme sites (Nettleship 1980) and Important Bird Areas in Canada (CEC 1999). Cape Serale is recognized as globally significant for congregatory species (BirdLife International 2008 Internet site). Reid Bay is considered globally and nationally significant for congregatory species and globally significant for colonial waterbirds and seabird concentrations (BirdLife International 2008 Internet site).

Cumberland Sound

The Cumberland Sound area contains a recurrent polynya at its mouth and is located approximately 250 km from two major bird colonies; Cape Searle and Reid Bay (see description above). Numerous species occur within the Sound including Common Eiders, Iceland Gulls and Dovekies. The largest breeding colony of Iceland Gulls in Canada occurs on the islands in Cumberland Sound. Additionally, there are Black Guillemots (over 1% of the Canadian population), Black-legged Kittiwakes (1% of the Canadian population), Thick-billed Murres (10% of the Canadian population) and Northern Fulmars (27% of the Canadian population).

Frobisher Bay

Frobisher Bay contains both marine and terrestrial areas. The area contains a large annual polynya and many small polynyas among the islands. Numerous species of birds use this area including Thick-billed Murres (3% of the Canadian population), Black-legged Kittiwakes (1% of the Canadian population), Glaucous Gulls, Northern Fulmars, Razorbills (Alca torda), Dovekies, Black Guillemots, Common Eiders, Iceland Gulls, Ivory Gulls, Harlequin Ducks, Canada Geese, Long-tailed Ducks and various gulls (Larus spp.)

Hantzsch Island within Frobisher Bay is an International Biological Programme site (Nettleship 1980) and a Canadian Important Bird Area (CEC 1999). Hantzsch Island is considered globally and continentally significant for congregatory species and globally significant for colonial waterbirds and seabird concentrations (BirdLife International 2008 Internet site).

Susceptibility to Oil and Gas Activities

Hydrocarbon Release

It has been well documented that seabirds can be dramatically affected by anthropogenic changes in the environment such as oil spills. The Exxon Valdez oil spill in the Gulf of Alaska in 1989 was responsible for the death of an estimated 100,000 to 300,000 birds (Piatt et al. 1990). Those species most severely affected by the spill were murres, other alcids and sea ducks (Piatt, et al. 1990).

The intensity of the effects of an oil spill on seabirds depends on several factors including the size of the local bird population, their foraging behaviour, whether these populations are aggregated or dispersed at the time of the spill and on the type and persistence of the oil spilled (NRC 1985). Birds suffer from contact with oil from direct fouling of feathers which reduces their insulative properties in addition to the direct toxicological effects of ingestion. Species that spend a large amount of time swimming on the sea surface and those that form large aggregations are the most vulnerable.

Potential Effects of Climate Change

Climate changes will affect seabirds in a variety of ways both directly and indirectly. Direct effects include a rise in air and sea temperatures, changing ice distribution and rise in sea levels, while indirect effects include changes in prey distribution. A rise in sea level may damage essential shoreline nesting areas. Direct mortality from predation and storms are the two primary natural threats to seabirds. Increasing temperature may bring increasing storms which could increase general mortality and during the breeding season could inhibit nesting effort or destroy eggs and chicks. Climatic changes will affect the habitat of seabirds which may shift their distribution and abundance.

Because seabirds are dependent on the marine environment for high quality prey, they are good indicators of change in the marine food web (Montevecchi 1993). The marine prey of seabirds is directly affected by a variety of physical and biological characteristics including changes in sea temperatures, extent of sea ice and primary productivity in the ocean (Springer, et al. 1996).

Arctic seabirds have evolved under the influence of ice and snow and show many life-history characteristics to reflect this. Changes due to global climate change are expected to increase air temperature which will influence the presence and amount of ice and snow. The species that are the most reliant on the presence or amount of ice and snow are expected to be the first affected by climate change. Timing, location and length of migrations may all be affected by climate change.

Sensitivity Ranking

Sensitivity ranking for migratory bird habitat in the eastern arctic study area is summarized in Figures 4-14 (winter season) and 4-15 (summer sensitivity).

High Sensitivity (5)

Habitat given a rating of high sensitivity includes areas globally important migratory birds because they meet any of the following criteria:

  1. Supports 1% of the North American population (following the IBA guidelines)
  2. Supports a very significant (i.e. 10%) portion of the Canadian population of a migratory bird species at any time during the year and/or an endangered species (e.g., breeding areas for the endangered Ivory Gull)
  3. Has been identified as being either globally or continentally significant Important Bird Area
  4. Is legally protected (e.g. national or territorial park, marine protected area, migratory bird sanctuary, critical habitat for VEC under the Species at Risk Act).

In the study area these areas include:

  • NOW Polynya
  • Eastern Jones Sound
  • Eastern Lancaster Sound
  • Cape Hay
  • Cape Graham Moore
  • Cape Searle (Qaqulluit) and Reid Bay (Minarets; Akpait)
  • Cumberland Sound
  • Frobisher Bay

Moderate/High Sensitivity (4)

Moderate to high sensitivity was given to areas nationally important to migratory birds including;

  • Areas that either support a significant (i.e. 1%) proportion of the national population at any time during the year or have been identified as nationally significant Important Bird Areas
  • Areas identified as key to the national persistence of a migratory bird species. Following (Mallory and Fontaine 2004), areas that support at least 1% of the national population are considered key habitat by the Canadian Wildlife Service and include marine areas within a 30 km radius of the major nesting colonies
  • Biological hotspots identified by Parks Canada, which includes areas of high productivity and numbers of seabirds (NPC 1995).

In the study area these areas include biological hotpots identified by CWS (outside of those areas listed as a 5 above).

Moderate Sensitivity (3)

Moderate sensitivity was given to areas that are regionally important to migratory birds because they support a high proportion of the regional population or have been identified as key to regional persistence.

In the study area these areas include areas of moderate to high densities but less than 1% of the Canadian population, including:

  • Coastal areas
  • Offshore areas to the limit of summer pack ice
  • Floodplains
  • Upland areas
  • Areas within the known range migratory birds whose populations are heavily dependent on the Canadian Arctic (the PEMT uses the summer range of Baird‘s Sandpiper).

Low/Moderate Sensitivity (2)

Low to moderate sensitivity was given to areas considered locally important to migratory birds. In the study area these areas include areas with low to moderate densities. This includes areas which, while not permanently covered in ice, are outside the usual ranges of most migratory birds.

Low Sensitivity (1)

Low sensitivity was given to areas that have very limited or no use by migratory birds. In the study area these areas include areas of permanent ice (the summer extent of pack ice).

Mitigation

Key mitigation measures limit human disturbance to key areas for migratory birds, particularly for species that congregate in large numbers and/or are ?at risk.? Mitigation measures include (but are not limited to): (a) placing flight restrictions over bird colonies; (b) adopting measures to reduce the volume, duration and frequency of noise-producing activities; (c) where possible, scheduling activities that may cause disturbance when most birds are absent (e.g., from October to April); (d) when possible, siting activities away from the most sensitive areas for birds; and (e) routing marine traffic to avoid concentrations of birds, especially molting or brood-rearing flocks, where practical.

References

See references used for Migratory Birds information.