Machias Seal Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary

The Machias Seal Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) is located in southwestern New Brunswick in the Bay of Fundy.

Importance of the sanctuary: migratory birds and other wildlife

Machias Seal Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary is a tiny, treeless oceanic island rising barely 9 metres above sea level. It is located 20 kilometres off the southwestern tip of Grand Manan Island in the Bay of Fundy. Many seabirds nest here.

Atlantic Puffins
Machias Seal Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary: Atlantic puffins. Photo: C. Buhariwalla

This small island is one of the most important seabird nesting colonies in the Gulf of Maine. At one time the most numerous birds on the island were arctic and common terns. However, the number of birds nesting here has declined due to, among other factors, the reduced availability of food around the island.

Machias Seal Island is also the home to one of the most southerly colonies of the atlantic puffin (well over 1000 pairs), whose breeding range extends north all the way to Greenland. The other member of the auk family that nests on Machias Seal Island is the razorbill. It is larger than the atlantic puffin, with immaculate black and white plumage and a distinctive white ring around its bill. Approximately 100 pairs of razorbill nest on the island. The leach’s storm petrel also breeds on this island although visitors rarely see this bird as it spends most of its time foraging at sea or hiding in its nesting burrows.

Did you know?

A pair of breeding razorbills will only produce a single egg each year. Once the puffling is about 18 – 20 days old, its father will accompany it on its first adventure at sea.

Machias Seal Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary: Razorbill. Photo: C. Buhariwalla

In addition to these seabirds, a few land birds, including the savannah sparrow, spotted sandpiper, tree swallow and barn swallow, nest on Machias Seal Island. With well over 100 species spotted, the list of migratory birds and incidental visitors found in this sanctuary is extremely impressive and includes several uncommon and rare species.


This small, teardrop-shaped island is roughly 550 metres long and 250 metres wide with lush green meadow covering the higher areas and providing a striking contrast to the rocky, wave-battered shores. Machias Seal Island once posed a serious hazard to ships until a permanent lighthouse was built in 1832; this manned lighthouse is still in operation today.

Map of the area

Map of Machias Seal Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary
  • Long description

    Map showing the location of the Machias Seal Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) in relation to Machias Seal Island and the Bay of Fundy. The map shows the boundaries of the refuge, in the form of a circle enclosing Machias Seal Island and part of the surrounding waters of the Bay of Fundy. The refuge is located south of North Rock. 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.


Planning your visit

Each year over 1200 naturalists and photographers visit the sanctuary to see the impressive display of birds on the island. Several tour companies in the area offer boat trips to Machias Seal Island that allow you to see atlantic puffins, razorbills, terns and more. Sea kayaking tours are also offered. Make sure that you choose a reputable company that actively encourages visitors to respect the wildlife.

Machias Seal Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary is located on lands owned by Fisheries and Ocean Canada and is open to the public during most of the year for activities that are consistent with the conservation goals of the sanctuary. In order to protect the wildlife, entry into the sanctuary is forbidden during the nesting season (June and July). Anyone wishing to enter during this time will need to apply for a permit.

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

Key facts about Machias Seal Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Protected Area designation Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory New Brunswick
Latitude/longitude 44°30' N, 67°06' W
Size 10 hectares
Date created (Gazetted) 1944
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) management category Natural Monument or Feature
Additional designations
Main habitat type Developed land (4%), vegetated area (50%) and exposed rocks (46%)
Key bird species Arctic tern, common tern, atlantic puffin, razorbill, leach's storm petrel, savannah sparrow, spotted sandpiper, tree swallow and barn swallow
Listed species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) None
Management agency Canadian Wildlife Service, Atlantic Region
Landowner Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Related links

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)

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: