Prince Leopold Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary – Baffin Region, Nunavut - Atlas Obscura

Prince Leopold Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Over 400,000 birds spend their summers nesting on this small Arctic island. 


Limestone cliffs, stretching up to nearly 870 feet fall, rise above Canada’s Lancaster Sound at Prince Leopold Island. Though there are traces of past Inuit houses scattered throughout the Arctic terrain, humans no longer live here. But the island is far from abandoned—these towering cliffs serve as the summer home for over 400,000 nesting birds.

The Prince Leopold Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary is one of Canada’s most important sites for studying seabird colonies in the arctic. Scientists have been using the small, flat-topped island to monitor seabirds since 1975, making it a reliable stronghold for gathering key data on the numbers and types of species who drop by each summer.

From late May until mid-September, over 200,000 pairs of birds use the limestone cliffs to lay their eggs and raise their young. Six percent of Canada’s Thick-billed Murre population—which comes out to about 100,000 breeding pairs—nest there. Around 29,000 pairs of of Black-legged Kittiwakes, which comes out to 16 percent of Canada’s population of the species, spend their summers nestled atop the wall of cliffs. Significant numbers of Northern Fulmars and Black Guillemots arrive annually as well.

Other non-avian animals pass by the area, too. Beluga whales, narwhals, and walruses are known to swim through the water surrounding the island. Polar bears will occasionally traipse across the ground beneath the cliffs, searching for an unsuspecting bird to snack on.

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August 1, 2017

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