Île aux Canes Migratory Bird Sanctuary

The Ile aux Canes Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) is located off the northeastern coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. It allows eiders to nest and raise their chicks.

Importance of the sanctuary: migratory birds and other wildlife

Located in the District of Strait of Belle Isle, off the northeastern coast of Newfoundland, Île aux Canes Migratory Bird Sanctuary is a 150-hectare protected area locally known as Green Island. Along with nearby Shepherd Island, this sanctuary is one of the largest breeding sites for the common eider in Newfoundland. In fact, these two areas are the only sites where the numbers of breeding common eider have increased in recent years, although predation by fox and polar bear has recently become a problem and may be bringing population numbers down.

Common eiders are known to prefer isolated locations for their nesting colonies, which is limiting for their geographic distribution. The number of nests in this protected area increased from 12 in 1975 to 350 in 1988, and again to 1291 in 2001. The sanctuary’s gently sloping bedrock “ramps” provide easy access for the flightless young birds and the intertidal and subtidal zones are ideal feeding habitat for these birds as they support an abundance of marine invertebrates, including blue mussels, periwinkles, whelks and amphipods. The surrounding shoals (shallow waters) help to diminish the waves, making it easier for the young birds to feed. According to the Protection Plan for Green and Shepherd Islands (1988), the total number of common eider nests that these islands can support is estimated to be 5000.

Did you know?

Common eiders dive down under the water to collect molluscs and crustaceans. They particularly favour mussels, which they swallow whole, grinding up the shell in their gizzard to later expel the fragments.

Male Common Eider
Male common eider


The Île aux Canes Migratory Bird Sanctuary, established in 1991, includes Green Island as well as the surrounding waters, small inlets and rocks. While the southeast side of the island is raised, the rest is low-lying and gently slopes towards the sea. The low-lying portion makes up 60% of the total area and has an overburden of rich organic matter. The major species of vegetation on the island are marsh cordgrass and cow-parsnip, with the higher portion of the island supporting mostly low-growing ericaceous shrubs (commonly known as the heath or heather family) such as crowberry that tolerate acidic soil. The waters surrounding the island are shallow, usually less than five metres, with many shoals, submerged rocks and islets.

Map of the area

Map of Ile aux Canes Migratory Bird Sanctuary
  • Long description

    Map showing the location of the Île aux Canes Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) in relation to Newfoundland and Labrador, Belle Isle, Canes Island, Rocky Bay, and Labrador Sea. The map shows the boundaries of the refuge, which covers several parcels of Canes Island and part of the surrounding waters of the Labrador Sea. 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 Île aux Canes, 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. Dogs and cats must not be allowed to run at large 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 Canes Migratory Bird Sanctuary in particular, please contact our regional office.

Key facts about Île aux Canes Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Protected Area designation Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory Newfoundland and Labrador
Latitude/longitude 50°42' N, 55°36'40" W
Size 150 hectares
Date created (Gazetted) 1991
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management Category Strict Nature Reserve
Additional designations Part of Bell Island South Coast Important Bird Area
Main habitat type The island is low-lying, sloping very gradually into the sea, and makes up 60% of the total area. It has an overburden of rich organic matter. Surrounding waters are quite shallow, with depths generally less than five metres, and there are numerous shoals, submerged rocks and islets, with intertidal and subtidal zones.
Key bird species Common eider
Listed species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) None
Management agency Canadian Wildlife Service, Atlantic Region
Landowner Province of Newfoundland and Labrador

Related link

Île aux Canes 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 - Atlantic Region
Canadian Wildlife Service
Protected Areas Program
17 Waterfowl Lane
Sackville NB  E4L 1G6

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

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