Bylot Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Landscape of Qarlikturvik Valley, Bylot Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Photo: Josée Lefebvre © Environment and Climate Change Canada. Credence Wood, Landscape of Qarlikturvik Valley, Bylot Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary.

Bylot Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) is situated off northeastern Baffin Island in Nunavut. Its shores are bounded by Lancaster Sound to the north, Baffin Bay to the east, Pond Inlet and Eclipse Sound to the south and Navy Board Inlet to the west. Established in 1965, the MBS boundaries include the entire island and its adjacent marine waters within 3.2 km from the shore.

Bylot Island encompasses a rich wildlife, a great variety of habitats and spectacular scenery. Consequently, most of its terrestrial portion became part of the Sirmilik National Park, established in 2001. The island is composed of mountains, snowfields, ice fields, glaciers and pingos, a rare occurrence worldwide. In particular, birdlife is quite diverse on the island, owing to its prime nesting grounds for seabirds, which concentrate on the steep cliffs at Cape Hay, the northwestern tip, and Cape Graham Moore, the southeastern corner of the island. Other bird species include songbirds, waders and waterfowl, and Snow Geese in particular, which are found in the lowland tundra in the southwest sector of the island.

Importance of the Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Seventy-one species have been identified in the MBS, including a minimum of 35 breeding species and six permanent residents. Such diversity at this latitude may be attributed to a number of factors. The juxtaposition of marine and terrestrial habitats is a primary factor, as the polynya and lead system that develops yearly at the junction of Lancaster Sound and Baffin Bay provide for foraging grounds for tens of thousands of seabirds such as murres and kittiwakes. Seabirds constitute 37% of the bird species, whereas shorebirds, waterfowl and passerines (songbirds) constitute most of the remaining complement. In addition, Bylot Island is occupied by species of both high-Arctic and low-Arctic affinity. The Horned Lark, Sabine's Gull and American Golden Plover belong to the low-Arctic group, whereas high-Arctic representatives include the Black-bellied Plover, Ruddy Turnstone and White-rumped Sandpiper.

Created to protect the nesting grounds of Thick-billed Murres, Black-legged Kittiwakes and Greater Snow Geese, the MBS is where outstanding concentrations of kittiwakes and murres--more than 10% and 25% of the Canadian population of Thick-billed Murres and Black-legged Kittiwakes, respectively--share the island's cliffs. This represents a gathering of more than 300 000 murres and 50 000 kittiwakes in one location each spring for breeding (they spend the rest of the year at sea). In addition, approximately 15% of the entire population of Greater Snow Geese, the biggest known colony (about 100 000 individuals), can be observed on Bylot Island's southwestern lowlands at the end of summer. These geese stage in southern Quebec for a few weeks during migration, each spring and fall.

Further, at least three Old World species visit or nest on Bylot Island, namely the Knot, the Common Ringed Plover and the Northern Wheatear. They fly to northern Canada via Greenland and Iceland from their wintering grounds in Europe, Asia and Africa. On the other hand, both low- and high-Arctic species also breed on the island. Sandhill Cranes and Pectoral Sandpipers, of low-Arctic affinity, may nest in proximity to Ruddy Turnstones and White-rumped Sandpipers, typically high-Arctic.

Twenty-one species of marine and terrestrial mammals have been recorded in and around the MBS, Bylot Island being adjacent to Lancaster Sound, a major migration route and summering areas for marine mammals. Marine mammals include five species of seals, four species of whales, and numerous Polar Bears, which use the island as a retreat in the summer. Other common species include Arctic Fox, Collared Lemming and Arctic Hare.

Access and Activities

MBSs are established for the protection and conservation of migratory birds. Activities that could harm migratory birds, their nests or their eggs are prohibited.

MBSs can be and have been established on private, provincial, territorial and federally owned lands. Access to each MBS varies by site and is at the discretion of the landowner and land manager.

Where MBSs are located on federal land, Environment and Climate Change Canada is responsible for the management and protection of migratory birds, nests, eggs and habitat. Where MBSs are located on provincial land, Environment and Climate Change Canada is responsible for the protection of migratory birds and their nests, while the chief game officer of the province is responsible for the management of habitat. Where MBSs are located on private or municipal land, Environment and Climate Change Canada is responsible for the protection of migratory birds and their nests. Habitat management is the responsibility of the landowner.

Access to Bylot Island MBS may be authorized as per the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and the Migratory Bird Sanctuary Regulations. However, under the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement for National Wildlife Areas and Migratory Bird Sanctuaries in the Nunavut Settlement Area, only Nunavut beneficiaries have right of access for the purpose of subsistence harvest and do not require a permit to carry out activities related to subsistence harvesting.

For all other users, the standard prohibitions under the Migratory Bird Sanctuary Regulations apply to Bylot Island MBS: hunting migratory birds is prohibited, and no person shall disturb, destroy or take the nest of a migratory bird or have in his or her possession a live migratory bird, or a carcass, skin, nest or egg of a migratory bird, except under the authority of a permit issued by Environment and Climate Change Canada or unless authorized by the Regulations. Possession of firearms or other hunting appliances is prohibited. Anyone wishing to access Bylot Island MBS must apply for a permit.

Further, with the establishment of the Sirmilik National Park, a large portion of Bylot Island MBS is part of the national park. Both the Parks Canada Agency and the Canadian Wildlife Service of Environment and Climate Change Canada have responsibilities for the portion of the MBS falling under the Canada National Parks Act and its regulations.

For more information on entry, activities and permits in MBSs, please visit the Management and Activities section of the Migratory Bird Sanctuaries website. For more information on Environment and Climate Change Canada's protected areas, please contact the regional office.

For greater certainty, nothing in this document shall be construed so as to abrogate or derogate from the protection provided for existing Aboriginal or treaty rights of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada by the recognition and affirmation of those rights in section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

Map of the Area

  • Map of the  Bylot Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary.
Long description for the Map

Map showing the location of Bylot Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary relative to Nunavut, Baffin Island, Borden Penninsula, Pond Inlet, Bylot Island, Baffin Bay and Eclipse Sound. The map shows the borders of the sanctuary, which covers Bylot Island and a small amount of the surrounding water following the shoreline. The scale of the map is in kilometers.

This map is for illustrative purposes only and should not be used to define legal boundaries. Bylot Island MBS can also be viewed using Google Maps. Please note that the Google map is a complementary source of information and does not represent the official map or site name.

Summary table

Summary Table for Bylot Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Category Information
Protected Area designation Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory Nunavut
Latitude/longitude 73°13' N, 78°34' W
Size in hectares (ha) 1 282 731 ha (includes a marine portion of 176 515 ha around the island)
Date created (Gazetted) 1965
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management Category II - National Park
Additional designations Part of Cape Hay Important Bird Area
Part of Southwest Bylot Important Bird Area
Part of Cape Graham Moore Important Bird Area
Sirmilik National Park
Main habitat type Open water (14%), mountains (69%, including a large portion covered by the ice cap), limestone cliffs (1%), moist tundra lowland (16%)
Key bird species Thick-billed Murre, Black-legged Kittiwake, Greater Snow Goose
Other species Birds: Black Guillemot, Glaucous Gull, Northern Fulmar, Sabine's Gull, American Golden Plover, Arctic Tern, Black-bellied Plover, Common Raven, Common Ringed Plover, Horned Lark, Lesser Golden Plover, Long-tailed Jaeger, Northern Wheatear, Pectoral Sandpiper, Peregrine Falcon, Red Knot, Rock Ptarmigan, Ruddy Turnstone, Snow Bunting, Snowy Owl, White-rumped Sandpiper, King Eider, Long-tailed Duck, Red-throated Loon, Sandhill Crane
Marine: Bearded Seal, Ringed Seal, Harp Seal, Hooded Seal, Harbour Seal, Beluga, Orca, Narwhal, Bowhead Whale
Terrestrial: Caribou, Collared Lemming, Arctic Fox, Arctic Hare, Polar Bear
Listed species under the Species at Risk Act(SARA) Peregrine Falcon, Red Knot and Bowhead Whale (Eastern Arctic population)
Management agency Canadian Wildlife Service, Prairie and Northern Region in collaboration with the Asungasungaaq Co-Management Committee of Pond Inlet Area
Landowners Crown land and Inuit-owned lands

Contact Information

Environment and Climate Change Canada - Prairie and Northern Region
Canadian Wildlife Service
Protected Areas and Stewardship
Eastern Arctic Unit
P.O. Box 1714
Iqaluit NU X0A 0H0
Toll Free: 1-800-668-6767 (in Canada only)
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