Prince Leopold Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Northern Fulmar at Prince Leopold Island MBS
Photo: Alain Fontaine © Environment and Climate Change Canada. Northern Fulmar at Prince Leopold Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary.

Prince Leopold Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) is situated in Lancaster Sound, approximately 13 km off the northeast tip of Cape Clarence, Somerset Island, in Nunavut. The communities of Resolute and Arctic Bay lie 150 km to the northwest and 175 km to the southeast respectively. Established in 1995, the sanctuary encompasses the entire island, an area of approximately 64 square km, as well as all water within 5 km of the shore. The island is flat-topped and surrounded by vertical sandstone and limestone cliffs 245 to 265 m above sea level. Gravel spits extend approximately 1 km out from the cliff base at the northeast and southeast corners of the island. Extensive talus slopes are found on the south and west sides.

Prince Leopold Island offers ideal nesting habitat for the many thousands of seabirds that come to the island each summer. High, sheer cliffs are the sanctuary's most significant natural feature. Ledges and crevices formed from eroding layers of sedimentary rock provide nesting sites for a variety of seabirds. In the spring, early break-up of ice in adjacent waters and abundant shore leads induce phytoplankton and zooplankton blooms much earlier than in other high Arctic regions. The plankton blooms provide plentiful food for fish and crustaceans, which in turn are eaten by seabirds. A variety of marine mammals are also attracted to these areas of open water, including Beluga, Bowhead Whale, Narwhal, Walrus, Ringed Seal, Bearded Seal and Polar Bear. Strong currents in Barrow Strait and Lancaster Sound bring in nutrients from other areas, further enhancing the productivity of the rich marine environment surrounding Prince Leopold Island.

Importance of the Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Prince Leopold Island MBS supports large numbers of four nesting seabird species, including Thick-billed Murre, Northern Fulmar, Black-legged Kittiwake and Black Guillemot. The sanctuary is one of the most important multi-species seabird colonies in the Arctic, and is an important site for seabird research. Seabird monitoring has been ongoing since 1975, generating one of the strongest datasets for seabird monitoring in the Arctic. Approximately 100 000 pairs or 6% of Canada's Thick-billed Murre population nests on the sea cliffs in Prince Leopold Island MBS. At the end of the breeding season, large numbers of flightless juvenile murres swim from Prince Leopold Island through Lancaster Sound and south to winter off West Greenland and south to the Labrador Sea.

Prince Leopold Island hosts more than half of the Northern Fulmars that breed in Lancaster Sound (22 000 pairs), or approximately 11% of the Canadian Northern Fulmar population. Northern Fulmars nest throughout the coastal cliffs around the island, with the exception of the north coast. Located some 170 km away at the southern end of Somerset Island, Creswell Bay is an important feeding area for Prince Leopold Island's fulmars.

Sixteen percent (approximately 29 000 pairs) of Canada's Black-legged Kittiwake population inhabit Prince Leopold Island MBS from mid-May to late September. They nest scattered throughout the Thick-billed Murre colonies, both on the east cliffs and at the northeast corner of the island. They forage along the coast of Somerset Island, up to 80 km from Prince Leopold Island. Approximately 4000 Black Guillemot pairs (5% of the Canadian population) also nest on Prince Leopold Island, in crevices along the south and west cliffs. This is one of the largest known breeding aggregations for this species. The breeding seabirds that are present on and around Prince Leopold Island from mid-May to mid-September disperse from Lancaster Sound shortly after breeding. They mostly migrate south of the Arctic Circle, although a few Black Guillemots may overwinter in the high Arctic.

In addition to those species listed above, the MBS hosts six other breeding birds. Five of these (Brant, Common Eider, Parasitic Jaeger, Common Raven and Snow Bunting) breed in small numbers. Approximately 75 pairs of Glaucous Gulls nest throughout the seabird colonies. Their predation on eggs, chicks and sometimes adults has a notable effect on seabird (especially murre) breeding success.

With the exception of a small collared lemming population, there are no resident populations of terrestrial mammals on Prince Leopold Island. Nonetheless, several transient mammals have been recorded on the island: Peary Caribou, Arctic Hare, Arctic Fox and Polar Bear. Marine mammals are plentiful in the waters surrounding the island.

Access and Activities

MBSs are established for the protection and conservation of migratory birds. Activities that could harm migratory birds, their nests or their eggs are prohibited.

MBSs can be and have been established on private, provincial, territorial and federally owned lands. Access to each MBS varies by site and is at the discretion of the landowner and land manager.

Where MBSs are located on federal land, Environment and Climate Change Canada is responsible for the management and protection of migratory birds, nests, eggs and habitat. Where MBSs are located on provincial land, Environment and Climate Change Canada is responsible for the protection of migratory birds and their nests, while the chief game officer of the province is responsible for the management of habitat. Where MBSs are located on private or municipal land, Environment and Climate Change Canada is responsible for the protection of migratory birds and their nests. Habitat management is the responsibility of the landowner.

Access to Prince Leopold Island MBS may be authorized as per the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and the Migratory Bird Sanctuary Regulations. However, under the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement for National Wildlife Areas and Migratory Bird Sanctuaries in the Nunavut Settlement Area, only Nunavut beneficiaries have right of access for the purpose of subsistence harvest and do not require a permit to carry out activities related to subsistence harvesting.

For all other users, the standard prohibitions under the Migratory Bird Sanctuary Regulations apply to Prince Leopold Island MBS: hunting migratory birds is prohibited, and no person shall disturb, destroy or take the nest of a migratory bird or have in his or her possession a live migratory bird, or a carcass, skin, nest or egg of a migratory bird, except under the authority of a permit issued by Environment and Climate Change Canada or unless authorized by the Regulations. Possession of firearms or other hunting appliances is prohibited. Anyone wishing to access Prince Leopold Island MBS must apply for a permit.

For more information on entry, activities and permits in MBSs, please visit the Management and Activities section of the Migratory Bird Sanctuaries website. For more information on Environment and Climate Change Canada's protected areas, please contact the regional office.

For greater certainty, nothing in this document shall be construed so as to abrogate or derogate from the protection provided for existing Aboriginal or treaty rights of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada by the recognition and affirmation of those rights in section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

Map of the Area

  • Map of the  Prince Leopold Island   Migratory Bird Sanctuary.
Long description of the map

Map showing the location of Prince Leopold Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary relative to Nunavut, Prince Leopold Island, Parry Channel, Lancaster Sound and Barrow Strait. The map shows the boundaries of the sanctuary, which covers Prince Leopold Island and a portion of the surrounding waters. The scale of the map is in kilometers.

This map is for illustrative purposes only and should not be used to define legal boundaries. Prince Leopold Island MBS can also be viewed using Google Maps. Please note that the Google map is a complementary source of information and does not represent the official map or site name.

Summary table

Summary table for Prince Leopold Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Category Information
Protected Area designation Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory Nunavut
Latitude/longitude 74°02' N, 90°00' W
Size in hectares (ha) 30 399 ha including more than 24 000 ha of marine habitat
Date created (Gazetted) 1992
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management Category Ib - Wilderness Area
Additional designations
Main habitat type Open water (80%), vertical sandstone and limestone
Key bird species Black Guillemot, Black-legged Kittiwake, Glaucous Gull, Northern Fulmar, Snow Bunting and Thick-billed Murre
Other species

Birds: Brant, Common Eider, Common Raven, and Parasitic Jaeger

Mammals: Arctic Hare, Arctic Fox, Collared Lemming, Narwhal, Beluga Whale, Bowhead Whale, Walrus, Ringed Seal and Bearded Seal

Listed species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) Polar Bear, Peary Caribou
Management agency Canadian Wildlife Service, Prairie and Northern Region, in collaboration with the Resolute Co-Management Committee of Resolute Bay
Landowners Crown land

Contact Information

Environment and Climate Change Canada - Prairie and 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)
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