Seymour Island (Nauyavaat) Migratory Bird Sanctuary

The Seymour Island (Nauyavaat) Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) is located north of Bathurst Island, in Nunavut. It protects quality habitat for a large ivory gull colony and many other birds.

Importance of the sanctuary: migratory birds and other wildlife

Seymour Island (Nauyavaat) Migratory Bird Sanctuary, established in 1975, is located 30 kilometres north of Bathurst Island within the Berkeley group of Islands in the Qikiqtaaluk region of Nunavut. This sanctuary is a crucial site for the endangered Ivory Gull, which is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act. The most important and largest known colony in Canada of this rare species is found within the sanctuary.

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

In 1976, it was estimated that the Seymour Island ivory gull colony was comprised of 150 breeding pairs. However, since 2002 the number of breeding pairs has consistently been estimated at fewer than 50. This number indicates that the colony represents up to 20% of the known breeding population of this species. Other smaller breeding colonies can also be found along the coast of Ellesmere and Devon islands. In 2011, it was determined that the ivory gulls that nest on Seymour Island sometimes prefer to nest on Devon Island, suggesting an interchange between the two locations. It is unknown if this is due to predation or perhaps variation in inter-annual conditions on the islands.

Ivory gulls are present in the sanctuary from late May to September, nesting in groups on the island’s raised beaches where the rock-strewn landscape helps to shelter the downy chicks from wind and predators, and allows the birds to feed in the sheltered bays and freshwater ponds. Known to be very sensitive to disturbance, Ivory gull colonies are generally found in remote, ice-bound areas where few other animal species live. This species is also known to react severely to human disturbance, sometimes abandoning their nests, while at other times destroying their own eggs and young. Due to local conditions, disturbances, and other factors, the local populations and breeding success of these birds fluctuate considerably from year to year.

Did you know?

The ivory gull is the only gull whose plumage is normally completely white. Albino gulls of any species may have all white feathers, but they would not have the ivory gull’s characteristic black legs and yellow bill.

Ivory Gull
Ivory gull on nest at Seymour Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary. Photo: Mark Mallory

Over 30 other bird species have been observed on Seymour Island and glaucous gull, snow bunting, king eider and Atlantic brant are all known to nest in the sanctuary. Predators are also found within the sanctuary and include long-tailed jaeger, snowy owl and Thayer’s gull. Two predatory and transient mammals, polar bear and arctic fox, have also been recorded on the island. Peary caribou also make an appearance on the island as do collard lemmings, whose numbers are known to rise and fall dramatically over time. The presence of bears and foxes has been associated with fluctuations in breeding success in the ivory gull colony and, as such, these animals may be severely disruptive to their breeding.


While the Seymour Island (Nauyavaat) Migratory Bird Sanctuary encompasses Seymour Island itself, the majority of the sanctuary is marine habitat with a boundary that extends 3.2 kilometres from the island’s high-water line. Seymour Island is a tiny reef-like projection amidst the sea ice pack. At less than 3 kilometres long, and having a maximum elevation of 28 metres above sea level, this mostly barren island is made up of a series of raised, rocky (cobble) beaches covered by fractured rock. Seymour Island has several freshwater ponds in its southwestern portion. Vegetation is sparse, covering less than 1% of the island, and consisting mostly of lichens and mosses. Only nine species of vascular plants have been recorded here.

In the winter, high ice ridges form on the island’s north and south coasts and along parts of the west coast. As Seymour Island remains ice-locked for most of the year, the wildlife that breeds on the island travels to the nearby Penny Strait where polynyas allow access to open water foraging.

Did you know?

A polynya is an area of open water within the sea ice that is kept open by wind or currents. Some polynyas occur in the same location each season, allowing wildlife to adapt to their reliable presence and to use them during their life cycle.

Map of the area

Map of Seymour Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary
  • Long description

    Map showing the Seymour Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) in relation to Nunavyt, Helena Island, Seymour Island and Maclean Strait. The map shows the boundaries of the refuge, which contains Seymour Island and many of the surrounding waters. The scale of the map is in kilometers. Permanent waters are shown on the map. An inset on the map shows the location of the shelter in Canada.

Access to the sanctuary

Migratory Bird Sanctuaries, such as Seymour Island, 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.

The MBS is managed by Environment and Climate Change Canada in partnership with the Sulukvaut Area Co-management Committee (ACMC) of Resolute Bay, Nunavut.

Please note that, as per the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement for National Wildlife Areas and Migratory Bird Sanctuaries in the Nunavut Settlement Area, Nunavut beneficiaries do not require a permit to carry out activities related to subsistence harvesting in this sanctuary. Other individuals who wish to access Seymour Island (Nauyavaat) Migratory Bird Sanctuary must apply for a permit.

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

Key facts about Seymour Island (Nauyavaat) Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Protected Area designation Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory Nunavut
Latitude/longitude 76°48' N, 101°16' W
Size 5302 hectares (island size): 172 hectares terrestrial and 5130 hectares marine
Date created (Gazetted) 1975
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management Category Strict Nature Reserve (Ia)
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, Northern Region, in collaboration with the Resolute Co-Management Committee of Resolute Bay
Landowners Crown land

Related link

Seymour Island (Nauyavaat) 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 Canada – 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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