A Haven for Birds and Heaven for Birdwatchers
Did you know?
- Newfoundland has 311 known seabird breeding colonies
- The concentration of bald eagles around Placentia Bay is among the highest in eastern North America
- Because of its geographic location, eastern Newfoundland is a place where almost any bird can show up as a vagrant: blown in from the Arctic, from Europe, or from warmer waters to the south.
- The world’s largest Leach’s storm-petrel colony – 7 million birds – is on Baccalieu Island.
- The Atlantic Puffin, the province’s official bird, sheds its colourful bill plates after the breeding season and has a much darker, duller appearance during the winter months.
A happy confluence of geographic factors means the eastern portion of the island of Newfoundland is a fascinating place to watch birds. On the edge of a continent, surrounded by waters where cold south-flowing currents meet warm north-flowing ones, ringed by islands where nests are safe from many predators, the Island provides outstanding breeding areas for millions of seabirds. Some even call it “the seabird capital of North America.” During spring and fall, Newfoundland also provides important staging points for dozens of migrating species. In addition, some southern species are at the northern edge of their ranges on the island, and many northern birds are at their southern limit. And sometimes our rambunctious weather will blow in rarely seen vagrant species. Here are some key places that offer both good birdwatching and additional information about birding in the area.
St. John’s The FluvariumSt. John’s is of most interest to experienced birders from fall to late spring, when a range of waterfowl, gulls, and European vagrants is present throughout the city. The Fluvarium overlooks Long Pond and is open year-round. It’s a good place to ask about which bird species frequent the St. John’s area throughout the year, and where to look for them. Located on one of the many walkways built alongside the city’s rivers and ponds, it’s also a pleasant starting point for nature watching. Species to spot: American black duck, green-winged teal, northern pintail, and Wilson’s snipe in summer at Lundrigan’s Marsh; other water birds at Mundy Pond.
Witless Bay Ecological Reserve
The four islands protected as the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve are important seabird breeding areas from early June to early September. The best viewing is from a tour boat – there are several licensed operators in five communities from Bay Bulls to Bauline East. The islands have the largest Atlantic puffin colony in North America (260,000 pairs), and the second largest Leach’s storm-petrel colony in the world (620,000 pairs, though the birds are seldom seen because they spend daylight hours at sea). Species to spot: Nesting species include Atlantic puffin, Leach’s storm-petrel, common murre, razorbill, black guillemot, black-legged kittiwake, herring gull, great black-backed gull, and in smaller numbers, northern fulmar and thick-billed murre.
Salmonier Nature ParkA nature centre open to the public and school groups, Salmonier Nature Park is a popular destination where you can walk trails and view the wildlife of Newfoundland and Labrador. Its three kilometres of boardwalk is also an excellent place for viewing birds of the northern boreal forest in the wild. On-site staff and interpretive signs can help with species identification. The park is open June 1 to Canadian Thanksgiving weekend. Species to spot: Gray jay, boreal chickadee, pine grosbeak, blackpoll warbler, white-winged crossbill. Occasional sightings of black-backed woodpecker and rusty blackbird. Checklist available.
Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve
Cape St. Mary’s is one of the best places in the world to see nesting seabirds. The main cliff-top viewing station, which faces a nest-covered sea stack, is reached by a 1.3 kilometre path (guided tours are available). The Cape is the only place where thick-billed murre can be easily seen from land – ask for guidance. The interpretive centre is open from early May to early October. Species to spot: Northern gannet (24,000 pairs), black-legged kittiwake, common and thick-billed murres, razorbill, black guillemot, double-crested and great cormorants, and a few pairs of northern fulmar, from April to late September. Cape Spear, Renews, and Cape Race Road are other notable bird watching areas.