Bylot Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary

The Bylot Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary is located north-west of Bylot Island, in Nunavut. It offers a great amount of food and an ideal habitat to nest for many seabirds.

Importance of the sanctuary: migratory birds and other wildlife

Located off the coast of northeastern Baffin Island, Nunavut, Bylot Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary encompasses an abundance of wildlife, a great variety of habitats and spectacular scenery. Birdlife on Bylot Island is particularly diverse; 71 species have been identified within the sanctuary, including at least 35 breeding species and six that are permanent residents. This is an impressive assortment for such a northern location. This sizable array is attributed mainly to the open water that occurs each year at the junction of Lancaster Sound and Baffin Bay; an area that provides important foraging grounds for tens of thousands of seabirds. The high quality of the nesting grounds in this area is also a factor. Seabirds gather and build their nests along both the northwestern tip of the island at Cape Hay, and along the southeastern corner of the island at Cape Graham Moore. Seabirds account for 37% of the birdlife population on the island, while shorebirds, waterfowl and songbirds (passerines) make up most of the remaining population.

This sanctuary was created with the express purpose of protecting the nesting grounds of thick-billed murres, black-legged kittiwakes and greater snow geese. These birds all use the sanctuary in outstanding concentrations and it is estimated that more than 10% of the Canadian population of thick-billed murres and 25% of black-legged kittiwakes share the island’s cliffs. This represents a gathering of more than 300 000 murres and 50 000 kittiwakes in one location each spring during breeding season (they spend the rest of the year at sea). In addition, approximately 100 000 greater snow geese, an estimated 15% of the Canadian population and the largest known colony, can be found on Bylot Island’s southwestern lowland tundra at the end of each summer. These same geese rest and feed in southern Quebec for a few weeks during their migration each spring and fall.

Snow Geese
Snow geese. Photo: P. Dupuis

Bylot Island is occupied by species of both high-Arctic and low-Arctic affinity as both groups congregate on the island to breed. ”High-Arctic” birds include the black-bellied plover, ruddy turnstone and white-rumped sandpiper, whereas the “low-Arctic” group includes the horned lark, Sabine's gull and American golden plover. These birds are scattered across the island so that it is possible to see sandhill cranes and pectoral sandpipers, of low-arctic affinity, nesting near ruddy turnstones and white-rumped sandpipers, typically high-Arctic birds. At least three Old World species (those generally found in Europe, Africa and Asia) are also known to visit or nest on Bylot Island; namely the red knot, the common ringed plover and the northern wheatear. These birds fly to northern Canada via Greenland and Iceland from their Old World wintering grounds.


As Bylot Island lies adjacent to Lancaster Sound, a major migration route and summering area for marine mammals, twenty-one species of marine and terrestrial mammals have been recorded in and around the sanctuary. These include five species of seals, four species of whales and numerous polar bears, which use the island as a retreat in the summer. Other species commonly spotted in the sanctuary include arctic fox, collared lemming and arctic hare.

The Bylot Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary, established in 1965, encompasses the entirety of Bylot Island as well as the adjacent marine waters within 3.2 kilometres from shore. Due to the richness of the wildlife and the great beauty and diversity of the landscapes in the area, a large portion of the island was also included in the Sirmilik National Park established in 2001.

The shores of Bylot Island are bounded by Lancaster Sound to the north, Baffin Bay to the east, Navy Board Inlet to the west and both Pond Inlet and Eclipse Sound to the south. The island itself is composed of mountains, snowfields, ice fields, a glacier and pingos.

Landscape of Qarlikturvik Valley, Bylot Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary. Photo: Josée Lefebvre

The diversity of species that visit this sanctuary is mainly due to the juxtaposition of marine and terrestrial habitats, where the polynya and lead system develops yearly at the junction of Lancaster Sound and Baffin Bay.

Did you know?

Pingos are conical hills that are unique to permafrost environments. These ice-cored hills are formed when northern lakes drain (partially or fully) leaving waterlogged sands exposed to the frigid winter temperatures. As the water begins to freeze, the shifting pressures in the earth cause the surface of the lakebed to deform upward to create a small hill. Pingos often occur in very flat landscapes, making them particularly noticeable.

Map of the area

Map of Bylot Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Long description

Map showing the location of the Bylot Island Migratory Sanctuary (MBS) in relation to Nunavut, Baffin Island, Baffin Bay, Parry Channel, Pond Inlet, Tasiujaq and Navy Board Inlet. The map shows the boundaries of the refuge, which contains the entire Bylot Island as well as the surrounding littoral water's. The scale of the map is in kilometers. Permanent waters and intertidal areas are shown on the map. An insert on the map shows the location of the shelter in Canada.

Access to the sanctuary

Migratory Bird Sanctuaries, such as Bylot Island, are established across the country to protect migratory birds during critical periods of their life cycle. Whether these areas are used for feeding, resting or nesting, they play an important role in the survival of many species. Access to each migratory bird sanctuary varies by site and is at the discretion of the landowner and land manager. Please ensure that you are aware of how you can help protect this sanctuary and please read the restrictions, including those on firearms and hunting, which are in place to conserve the wildlife that call it home.

The MBS is managed by Environment and Climate Change Canada in partnership with the Asungasungaat Area Co-management Committee (ACMC) of Pond Inlet, Nunavut.

Please note that, as per the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement for National Wildlife Areas and Migratory Bird Sanctuaries in the Nunavut Settlement Area, Nunavut beneficiaries do not require a permit to carry out activities related to subsistence harvesting in this sanctuary. Other individuals who wish to access Bylot Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary must apply for a permit.

If you would like further information on what is permitted in Migratory Bird Sanctuaries, please visit the Management and Activities section of the website. For more information on Bylot Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary in particular, please contact our regional office.

Key facts about Bylot Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Protected Area designation Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory Nunavut
Latitude/longitude 73°13' N, 78°34' W
Size 1 282 730 hectares (includes a marine portion of 176 515 hectares around the island)
Date created (Gazetted) 1965
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management Category National Park (II)
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, 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

Related links

Contact information

Environment and Climate Change Canada – 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)

Report a problem or mistake on this page
Please select all that apply:

Thank you for your help!

You will not receive a reply. For enquiries, contact us.

Date modified: