Seymour Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Ivory Gulls nesting at Seymour Island MBS
Photo : © Mark Mallory. Ivory Gulls nesting at Seymour Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary.

Seymour Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS), established in 1975, is located 30 km north of Bathurst Island within the Berkeley group of Islands in the Qikiqtaaluk region of Nunavut. Although the MBS includes the island, the majority of the sanctuary is marine habitat, the boundaries extending 3.2 km from the high-water line. The polynyas that form in nearby Penny Strait provide access to open water foraging areas for wildlife breeding at Seymour Island; however, the island remains ice-locked for much of the year.

Seymour Island, a tiny reef-like projection among the ice pack in the Berkley Group of islands, is less than 3 km long and has a maximum elevation of 28 m above sea level. This mostly barren island consists of a series of raised cobble beaches covered by or adjacent to fractured rock. The sparse vegetation, largely lichens and mosses, covers less than 1% of the island. Only nine species of vascular plants have been recorded. Several freshwater ponds occur in the southwest portion. In the winter, high ice ridges form on the north and south coast as well as on parts of the west coast.

Importance of the Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Seymour Island MBS supports the most important and largest known colony in Canada of the rare Ivory Gull (150 breeding pairs in 1976; generally < 50 pairs annually since 2002), an endangered species listed under the Species at Risk Act. This means that up to 20% of the known breeding population occurs in the Canadian Arctic. In 2011, researchers determined that Ivory Gulls nesting on Seymour Island may sometimes nest on northwestern Devon Island, suggesting an interchange occurs between sites, perhaps in response to predation or annual conditions. Other smaller breeding colonies are found along the coasts of Ellesmere and Devon islands. The gulls are present on Seymour Island from late May to September, and nest in groups on the raised beaches where fractured rubble shelters the downy young from wind and predators. The sheltered bays and freshwater ponds on the island are used as feeding areas. Colonies are usually found in remote ice-bound locales where few other animal species live. Local populations and breeding success may fluctuate considerably from year to year. Ivory Gulls may sometimes react unfavourably to human disturbance, possibly by abandoning their nests or by destroying their eggs and young.

More than 30 species of other birds have been observed using the island. Other recorded nesters are Glaucous Gull, Snow Bunting, King Eider and Atlantic Brant. Nesting Brant and Ivory Gulls often work together to help keep predators away. Predators include the Arctic Fox, Polar Bear, Long-tailed Jaeger, Snowy Owl and Thayer's Gull.

Evidence of three transient mammals has been recorded on Seymour Island for Polar Bear, Arctic Fox and Peary Caribou. Collared Lemmings are also present, but their numbers fluctuate widely over time. The presence of bears and foxes may completely disrupt breeding activities in the Ivory Gull colony, predation having been associated with fluctuating breeding success.

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 Seymour 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 Seymour 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 Seymour 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  Seymour Island   Migratory Bird Sanctuary.
Long description for the Map

Map showing the location of Seymour Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary relative to Nunavut, Bathhurst Island, Helena Island, Sherard Osborn Island, Cameron Island, Seymour Island, Sir William Parker Strait, May inlet and Erskine Inlet. The map shows the boundaries of the sanctuary, which covers Seymour Island and a portion of the surrounding waters.

This map is for illustrative purposes only and should not be used to define legal boundaries. Seymour 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 Seymour Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Category Information
Protected Area designation Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory Nunavut
Latitude/longitude 76°48' N, 101°16' W
Size in hectares (ha) 5302 ha (island size): 172 ha terrestrial and 5130 ha marine
Date created (Gazetted) 1975
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management Category Ia - Strict Nature Reserve
Additional designations
Main habitat type Open water (95%), cobble beaches, fractured rock, freshwater ponds
Key bird species Ivory Gull
Other species

Birds: Glaucous Gull, Snow Bunting, King Eider, Atlantic Brant, Long-tailed Jaeger, Snowy Owl and Thayer's Gull

Mammals: Arctic Fox, Polar Bear, Peary Caribou and Collared Lemming

Listed species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) Ivory Gull and Polar Bear
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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