Île aux Basques Migratory Bird Sanctuary

The Île aux Basques Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) is located offshore of Trois-Pistoles, in Québec. It protects an important habitat for many migratory birds.

Importance of the sanctuary: migratory birds and other wildlife

The Île aux Basques Migratory Bird Sanctuary, located in the St. Lawrence Estuary, off the coast of the city of Trois-Pistoles, was established in 1927 to protect common eider and other colonial birds in this important nesting site.

This protected area supports a large variety of birds during the nesting season and during migration when the most frequently observed species are the common eider, herring gull and double-crested cormorant. A variety of shorebirds can also be spotted during this time of year on the south and north shores of Île aux Basques including:

  • semipalmated plover
  • black-bellied plover
  • spotted sandpiper
  • ruddy turnstone
  • least sandpiper
  • semipalmated sandpiper
  • sanderling

Other species, such as great blue heron, black-legged kittiwake and razorbill also use the protected area as a nesting site.

Did you know?

Most sanderlings migrate a great distance northward from their winter homes in South America each year in order to reach their breeding grounds.

But what about the sanderlings that aren’t ready to breed? These nonbreeding birds will often remain in their wintering grounds for the summer, saving their energy by not making an unnecessary trip north.

Within this sanctuary, the double-crested cormorant is found only on the Îles Razade, however its numbers have varied significantly over the years. Bird surveys conducted in the 1960s and 1970s estimated that less than 200 double-crested cormorants frequented the area. In the decade from 1977 to 1987, the number of species nesting at this site has slightly increased to reach 2300 individual. However, their number has decreased since. In 2015, this number was estimated to be nearly 1300 cormorants.

In contrast, the populations of common eider and herring gull have dropped over the past few decades. In the late 1980s, around 2000 nesting common eiders were recorded on the Îles Razade, but this number was reported to have dropped to a mere 600 birds by 2010 and 2012. Fortunately, this number has doubled in 2015 to an estimated 1400 nesting cormorants. In mid 1960s more than 3000 herring gulls were observed. This number has significantly decreased since and less than 300 individual were observed in the last recent years. The number of great black-backed gull in the sanctuary remains constant at around 200 to 400 individual.


This 840-hectare migratory bird sanctuary encompasses three main islands: Île aux Basques, Île Razade d'en Haut (northeast) and Île Razade d'en Bas (southwest). The two îles Razade islands are located downstream of Île aux Basques. The sanctuary extends 500 metres in all directions from each of the islands and includes all islets and reefs within this perimeter.

Île aux Basques Migratory Bird Sanctuary. Photo: Bruno Drolet

The îles Razade, are low-lying and vegetated by species such as bluejoint reedgrass, sea lymegrass, sea-coast angelica and scottish licorice-root. Île aux Basques, in contrast has an elevation of nearly 45 metres and its central area supports a large forest, which covers nearly three quarters of the island, composed of balsam fir, black and white spruce, white birch, trembling aspen and balsam poplar. The northeastern and southwestern ends of the island are covered by herbaceous plants and shrubs and, at low tide, a large mud flat appears on the south side of the island.

Map of the area

Map of Île aux Basques MBS
  • Long description

    Map showing the Île aux Basques Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) in relation to Québec, Trois-Pistoles and to Saint-Lawrence Gulf. The MBS is located west of highway 132. The map shows the boundaries of the refuge, which is divided in three zones covering Île aux Basques, La Razade d'en Haut and La Razade d'en Bas as well as the surounding waters. The scale of the map is in kilometers. Permanent waters, intertidal zone, roads and highways are shown on the map. An inset shows the location of the shelter in Canada.


Île aux Basques is noted for not only its importance as a bird sanctuary, but also as a historical site since Basque fishermen used to stop on the island, in the 16th and 17th century, to replenish supplies and process the whales that they had caught. To this end, they built Basque ovens, several of which can still be seen today, where they would render the whale blubber into oil.

Access to the sanctuary

Migratory Bird Sanctuaries, such as Île aux Basques, are established across the country to protect migratory birds during critical periods of their migration. Whether these areas are used for feeding, resting or nesting, they play an important role in the survival of many species. Please ensure that you are aware of how, as a visitor, you can help protect this sanctuary and, before accessing the site, please read the restrictions, including those on firearms and hunting, that are in place to conserve the wildlife that call it home. It is also important to remember that pets are not welcome inside Migratory Bird Sanctuaries.

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 Île aux Basques Migratory Bird Sanctuary in particular, please contact our regional office.

Key facts about Île aux Basques Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Protected Area designation Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory Québec
Latitude/longitude 48° 08' 29" N 69° 15' 00" W ; 48° 10' 45" W 69° 9' 32" W ; 48° 12' 13" W 69° 8' 14" W
Size 840 hectares
Date created (Gazetted) 1927
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) management category Natural Monument or Feature (III)
Additional designations Île aux Basques and Les Razades Important Bird Area
Nature Reserve on private lands
Main habitat type Mixed-wood forest, shrubland and herbaceous meadows
Key bird species Common eider, herring gull, great black-backed gull, double-crested cormorant, great blue heron, black-legged kittiwake, semipalmated plover, black-bellied plover, spotted sandpiper, ruddy turnstone, least sandpiper, semipalmated sandpiper, sanderling and fox sparrow
Other species Birds: Razorbill
Plants: Balsam fir, white spruce, white birch, trembling aspen, balsam poplar, sea lymegrass, seabeach groundsel, sea-coast angelica, Scottish licorice-root and bluejoint reedgrass
Listed species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) None
Management agency Canadian Wildlife Service, Quebec Region

Related links

Île aux Basques Migratory Bird Sanctuary on Google Maps (Please note that the Google map is a complementary source of information and does not represent the official map or site name)

Contact information

Environment and Climate Change Canada – Quebec Region
Canadian Wildlife Service
Protected Areas Unit
801-1550, avenue d'Estimauville
Québec, Quebec G1J 0C3

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

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