Eleanor Island National Wildlife Area

Birds sitting on rocks on the waterfront with eroded trees behind.
Photo: © Environment and Climate Change Canada. Eleanor Island NWA, landscape.

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Eleanor Island National Wildlife Area (NWA) is an important nesting and loafing site for colonial waterbirds, providing refuge for young nestlings from predators and easy access to prey in nearby waters. It is a small, 0.81 hectare (ha) island, located approximately 1.6 kilometers (km) from the mainland in southern Lake Muskoka, Ontario. The island is composed of solid granite outcroppings around the perimeter and mixed coniferous forest in the interior. It supports one of the few gull and heron nesting colonies in the local area.

Despite its small size, large numbers of colonial waterbirds breed in the spring and rest on the island through the summer. The mature trees on the island shelter up to 30 nesting Great Blue Heron pairs. The smaller shrubs and grasses provide ideal nesting locations for the gull colonies, with the island being able to support up to 200 Herring Gull pairs and 300 Ring-billed Gull pairs. In recent years, Double-crested Cormorants have also nested in the mature trees on the island. During a visit to the island in 2002, Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) staff recorded 238 Double-crested Cormorant nests and 30 Great Blue Heron nests within the trees, as well as 266 Herring Gull nests on the ground. There are no documented species at risk on Eleanor Island NWA.

Eleanor Island was transferred from the Corporation of the Township of Muskoka to the CWS in 1970, and in 1971 was designated as a Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) to protect colonial-nesting waterbirds. In 1978, Eleanor Island was designated as an NWA to afford greater protection for colonial-nesting waterbirds and their habitat, and to serve as a site for long-term research.

More information on Eleanor Island NWA is provided in the summary table below.


NWAs are protected and managed according to the Wildlife Area Regulations under the Canada Wildlife Act. The primary purpose of NWAs is the protection and conservation of wildlife and their habitat. For this purpose, and according to the legislation, Environment and Climate Change Canada can prohibit all activities in a NWA that could interfere with the conservation of wildlife. Consequently, most NWAs are not accessible to the public and all activities are prohibited. Nonetheless, Environment and Climate Change Canada has the ability to authorize some activities, whether through public notice or the issuance of permits, as long as these are consistent with the management plan goals for the NWA. For more information, consult the NWAs Management and Activities section.

Public access to island is not permitted except by Canada Wildlife Act permit for research and monitoring. Recreational use is limited to bird watching from offshore.

More information on access and permitting for Eleanor Island NWA can be obtained by contacting the Environment and Climate Change Canada regional office.

Map of the Area

  • Eleanor Island NWA boundaries
Long description for the Map

Map showing the area surrounding Eleanor Island in Lake Muskoka, Ontario. The boundaries of the Eleanor Island NWA and the Eleanor Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary are indicated. The protected areas are located to the southeast of Browning Island and to the north-west of Muskoka Beach. The scale on the map is in tenths of a km. Permanent water, roads and highways are all indicated on the map. A small inset national map situates the NWA in Canada.

This map is for illustrative purposes only and should not be used to define legal boundaries. Eleanor Island NWA 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

This table provides summary information for the Eleanor Island NWA
Category Information
Protected Area designation NWA
Province/territory Ontario
Latitude/longitude 44°59' N / 79°23' W
Size 0.81 ha
Reason for creation of protected area

The area is an important nesting and loafing site for significant numbers of colonial waterbirds. Numerous bird species pass through the Muskoka and neighbouring Algonquin region during spring and fall migration along the Atlantic flyway. There are nesting colonial waterbirds, including Herring Gull, Double-crested Cormorant, and Great Blue Heron. It is an historic nesting site for Ring-billed Gull.

The island habitat provides refuge from predators for the young nestlings and is one of few remaining undeveloped islands in Lake Muskoka.

Date created (Gazetted) 1978 - Legal Description
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) management category Ia - Strict Nature Reserve
Additional designations Migratory Bird Sanctuary, North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI) - Bird Conservation Region (BCR) 12, Boreal Hardwood Transition; within Boreal Shield Ecozone, Algonquin-Lake Nipissing Ecoregion
Keystone or flagship species Supports significant numbers of colonial nesting birds including; Herring Gulls, Double-crested Cormorants, and Great Blue Herons.
Listed Species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) None recorded
Main habitat type The vegetation on the island is composed of mixed trees (27%) and shrub thicket (17%), giving way to grasses and meadow (9%) and exposed rock (47%)
Faunistic and floristic importance
  • Provides safe nesting habitat for colonial waterbirds, which nest in large groups (colonies).
  • Supports one of the few gull and heron nesting colonies in the local area.
  • Despite its small size, supports significant numbers of colonial nesting birds, including Herring Gull (Larus argentatus), Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus), and Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias).
Invasive species None recorded
Main threats and challenges Threats that negatively impact colonial waterbirds, including non-native invasive plant species, human disturbance from recreational activities, non-point source pollution.
Management agency Environment and Climate Change Canada (Canadian Wildlife Service)
Public access and use Public access to island is not permitted except by Canada Wildlife Act permit for research and monitoring. Recreational use is limited to bird watching from offshore.

Note: If there is a discrepancy between the information presented on this web page and any notice posted at the NWA site, the notice prevails as it is the legal instrument authorizing the activity.

Contact Information

Environment and Climate Change Canada - Ontario Region
Canadian Wildlife Service
Protected Areas and Stewardship
4905 Dufferin Street
Toronto Ontario
M3H 5T4
Toll Free: 1-800-668-6767 (in Canada only)
Email: ec.enviroinfo.ec@canada.ca
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