Eleanor Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary

The Eleanor Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) is located north of Gravenhurst, Ontario. It allows colonial water birds to nest and rest.

Importance of the sanctuary: migratory birds and other wildlife

The Eleanor Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary covers a small, rocky island located in the lower section of Lake Muskoka, Ontario, about 1.6 kilometres from the mainland. The island is owned and also managed by Environment and Climate Change Canada as a National Wildlife Area. This bird sanctuary is known to support one of the few gull and heron colonies in the area.

In 1970, it was reported that the sanctuary contained between 20 to 30 nesting pairs of great blue herons and approximately 300 pairs of nesting gulls, mainly ring-billed gulls as well as some herring gulls. In 1983, 23 great blue heron nests were observed along with 30 great blue herons (5 birds were on their nests, 25 were flying). Then in 2009, 238 double-crested cormorant nests and 30 great blue heron nests were found in the trees, while 266 herring gull nests were located on the ground. No ring-billed gulls were seen during this visit and these birds seem to have abandoned the site between 1983 and 2009.  It is very unlikely that the appearance of the cormorants would be responsible for this abandonment of the site, however it is interesting to note that the appearance of cormorants nesting in the trees does not appear to have negatively impacted the number of nesting herons. One factor that may have caused herring gulls to no longer consider the island a good nesting ground could be an expansion of the dense grasses and shrubs that effectively reduce the area available for nesting on the ground.

Great Blue Heron
Great blue heron at Eleanor Island MBS. Photo: Serena Keay

Did you know?

In the late nineteenth century, white feathers were the hot, new fashion trend and they were used to decorate hats and dresses. This new trend caused a large decline in the ring-billed gull population as well as that of several other gull species. The 1916 Migratory Bird Treaty between Canada and the United States put a stop to the hunting of these birds and the ring-billed gull is once again a very abundant bird in Canada.


This tiny island is highest in elevation on its west side with the land sloping progressively downwards to the east. The western rock-face is steep and plummets sharply into the water. This higher portion of the island is made up of mostly bare, rounded granite rocks with scattered clumps of grasses and shrubs. The eastern portion of the island is covered in a mixture of red oak, eastern white cedar, eastern white pine and various shrubs including elderberry. Approximately half of the pines on the island are dead. The central portion of the island is covered in grasses and raspberry shrubs.

Eleanor Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary: landscape. Photo: Blake A. Mann

Map of the area

Map of Eleanor Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary
  • Long description

    Map showing the location of the Eleanor Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) in relation to Ontario, Browning Island and Muskoka Lake. The map shows the boundaries of the refuge and the ones for the National Wildlife Reserve (NWR). Both protected areas entirely overlap. They're located south-east of Browning Island and north-west of Muskoka Beach. The map scale is in half-kilometers. Permanent waters and roads are shown on the map. An inset on the map shows the location of the shelter in Canada.

Access to the sanctuary

Migratory Bird Sanctuaries, such as Eleanor 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. Public access to Eleanor Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary is prohibited. Eleanor Island is also a designated National Wildlife Area (NWA) and according to the legislation, Environment and Climate Change Canada can prohibit all activities in a NWA that could interfere with the conservation of wildlife.

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 Eleanor Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary in particular, please contact our regional office.

Key facts about Eleanor Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Protected Area designation Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory Ontario
Latitude/longitude 44°59' N, 79°30' W
Size 0.6 hectares
Date created (Gazetted) 1971
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) management category Strict Nature Reserve
Additional designations Eleanor Island National Wildlife Area
Main habitat type Shrub/tree, bare rock/scattered grass and shrub, grass/shrubs
Key bird species Great blue heron, herring gull and double-crested cormorant
Other species Ring-billed gull
Listed species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) None
Management agency Canadian Wildlife Service, Ontario Region
Landowner Canadian Wildlife Service, Ontario Region

Related link

Eleanor Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary on Google Maps (Please note that the Google map is a complementary source of information that can help locate the migratory bird sanctuary and does not represent the official map or site name)

Contact information

Environment and Climate Change Canada – Ontario Region
Canadian Wildlife Service
Ecosystem Conservation
4905 Dufferin Street
Toronto ON M3H 5T4

Toll Free: 1-800-668-6767 (in Canada only)
Email: ec.enviroinfo.ec@canada.ca

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