Watshishou migratory bird sanctuary

The Watshishou Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) is located east of Havre-Saint-Pierre, in Québec. It protects an important habitat for seabirds to nest.

Importance of the sanctuary: migratory birds and other wildlife

The Watshishou Migratory Bird Sanctuary, located in Minganie, on the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, was established in 1925 to protect seabird colonies in this important nesting area. The common eider is the most abundant species within this sanctuary with, in 2015, a population estimated at over 3000 breeding pairs.

Since the 1980s the number of common eider within this protected area has increased rapidly with more of these birds present today than when it was created. During the winter, the sanctuary also supports a significant number of common eider originating from the coasts of Labrador and Ungava Bay.

A flock of Common eiders on shoreline
Common eider. Photo: Jean-François Rail

The double-crested cormorant is the second most commonly found species at this site. These birds reached an all time high of over 900  pairs recorded in 2010 and 2015, in contrast to the 150 pairs detected until 1988.

The third most numerous species within this sanctuary is the herring gull with nearly 600 individuals detected during the 2010 and 2015 bird surveys. Previous surveys completed in 1993, 1998 and 2005, counted a population range between 830 to 965 individuals for this specie.

The arctic tern and the common stern are other species that nests within the sanctuary. Their numbers vary greatly from year to year; in 2015 it has been estimated at 64 individuals, but was at 1490 individuals in 1965, at 38 individuals in 1998 and at 220 in 2010.

Smaller numbers of other species of birds also rely on this sanctuary. The great black-backed gull, ring-billed gull and black guillemot are regularly seen during the breeding season as is the endangered harlequin duck, which is presumed to nest along the site’s adjacent rivers on the north shore. During migration, shorebirds are also known to use this site, in particular the ruddy turnstone. At this same time, several species of loons and ducks also make an appearance including:

  • red-throated loon
  • common loon
  • American black duck
  • red-breasted merganser
  • white-winged scoter
  • surf scoter
  • black scoter

Canada's endangered short-eared owl is also believed to visit the sanctuary on occasion.

Did you know?

It is very common for the non-breeding female common eiders to play the role of an “aunt” for the juvenile. They help the mothers to protect the small ones against predators by guarding the nest and accompanying the young to food and water resources.


Situated approximately 40 kilometres west of Natashquan, this 10,673 hectare sanctuary extends just over 23 kilometres along the coast and lies in part within the boundaries of the Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve.

Landscape habitat of Watshishou MBS
Watshishou Migratory Bird Sanctuary. Photo: Jean-François Rail

The Watshishou Migratory Bird Sanctuary includes the Pontbriand, Jalobert and Pashashibou Bays along with all islands, islets and emergent rocks in the sector as well as the offshore waters within several kilometres of the coast. These offshore waters make up 90% of the sanctuary. The vegetation in the sanctuary is limited to a few mosses and lichens as its terrestrial portion consists mainly of rocky outcrops.

Map of the area

Map of Watshishou MBS

Map of Watshishou Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Long description

Map showing the location of the Watshishou in relation to Québec, Pontbriand Bay, Jalobert Bay, Pashashibou Bay, Jacques-Cartier Strait and Saint-Lawrence Gulf. The MBS is location south of road 138. The map shows the boundaries of the refuge, which follow the cost and spread through the Gulf waters. Permanent waters, intertidal water, and roads are shown on the map. An inset shows the location of the refuge in Canada.

Access to the sanctuary

Migratory Bird Sanctuaries, such as Watshishou, are established across the country to protect migratory birds during critical periods of their migration. Whether these areas are used for feeding, resting or nesting, they play an important role in the survival of many species. Please ensure that you are aware of how, as a visitor, you can help protect this sanctuary and, before accessing the site, please read the restrictions, including those on firearms and hunting, that are in place to conserve the wildlife that call it home. It is also important to remember that pets are not welcome 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 Watshishou Migratory Bird Sanctuary in particular, please contact our regional office.

Key facts about Watshishou migratory bird sanctuary

Summary table
Category Information
Protected Area designation Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory Quebec
Latitude/longitude 50° 15' 00" N 62° 30' 00" W
Size 10,673 hectares
Date created (Gazetted)  1925
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) management category Strict Nature Reserve (Ia)
Additional designations Watshishou Important Bird Area (in part)
Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve (in part)
Main habitat type Saline waters (90%) and rocky outcrops (10%)
Key bird species Common eider
Other species Birds: Double-crested cormorantgreat black-backed gullring-billed gullcommon ternarctic ternblack guillemotcommon loon, American black duck,  red-breasted merganser, white-winged scoter, surf scoter, black scotersemipalmated sandpiper and ruddy turnstone
Listed species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) Short-eared owl
Management agency Canadian Wildlife Service, Quebec Region

Related links

Contact information

Environment and Climate Change Canada – Quebec Region
Canadian Wildlife Service
Protected Areas Unit
801-1550 avenue d'Estimauville
Québec QC G1J 0C3

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

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