Îles de Contrecoeur National Wildlife Area


The Îles-de-Contrecoeur National Wildlife Area (NWA) is made up of 22 small and low-lying islands surrounded by marshes and seagrasses distributed along a 10-km stretch of the St. Lawrence River 35 km northeast of Montréal. Established in 1981 by Environment and Climate Change Canada, its purpose is to conserve a remarkable network of emergent and submerged seagrass beds and islands with high nesting potential for waterfowl in the Montréal region.

With its landscape of grassy plains, the wildlife area is dotted by low-lying alluvial islands, many of which become fully submerged during the spring freshet. Exposed to seasonal variations in water levels in the St. Lawrence, these islands are covered mainly by high grasses and, in some cases, a few trees such as willow, Silver Maple and Red Ash. Reed Canarygrass, which is popular among waterfowl for nesting, covers entire islands in places.

Swathes of swampland populated with cattail, arrowhead and submerged water-milfoil beds lie around the islands, linking them together and providing food to thousands of ducklings, adult ducks and other water birds during breeding and migration. The wildlife area is home to more than 205 plant species, as well as 78 bird and 12 mammal species. A number of species at risk, including the Short-eared Owl, are also observed here on occasion.

These islands are the largest nesting site in Quebec for the Gadwall and nearly a dozen other dabbling duck species, including Northern Pintail, American Wigeon and Mallard. Other species observed in the NWAinclude American Bittern, Virginia Rail, Marsh Wren, Wilson's Phalarope, Red-winged Blackbird, Swamp Sparrow, and Yellow Warbler. The archipelago additionally supports an impressive colony of approximately 13 000 pairs of Ring-billed Gulls. With respect to mammals, the muskrat is a common sight in the Contrecoeur islands. Striped Skunks, raccoons and Red Foxes are also observed, along with shrews, voles and bats.

The wildlife area is exposed to a number of threats and management challenges, including disturbance due to unauthorized activities on the islands, the presence of invasive alien species like Common Reed and Purple Loosestrife, the discharge of heavy metals into the St. Lawrence, and accidental spills.

More information on Îles de Contrecoeur NWA is provided in the summary table below.

Îles de Contrecoeur National Wildlife Area, American Wigeon. Photo: © Benoît Audet


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 NWAthat 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.

Due to the fragility of wildlife species and island environments, access to the Îles-de-Contrecoeur NWA is generally prohibited except under the authority of a permit issued by the Minister, such as for waterfall hunting in the fall.

In addition, permits may be issued for research activities in keeping with the priorities set out in the management plan for the wildlife area. Permits may also be issued for other conservation activities such as surveys, or the enhancement or restoration of habitat.

Priority will be given to collaborative activities with local agencies and organizations to promote the protection and the conservation of wildlife species and their habitat in the NWA. For example, initiatives could be launched or continued with the following entities: universities or research centers to address gaps in scientific knowledge; the province to implement recovery measures for species at risk (particularly those falling under provincial jurisdiction); or non-governmental organizations or municipal authorities to build public awareness of the wildlife area's objectives.

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

Îles-de-Contrecoeur NWA, landscape. Photo: © Léo-Guy de Repentigny
Notice from Environment and Climate Change Canada

Public notice

Îles de Contrecoeur National Wildlife Area (NWA)

Environment and Climate Change Canada would like to inform the public that the Îles de Contrecoeur National Wildlife Area, which includes a 10 km long string of islands between the cities of Contrecoeur and Lavaltrie, on the shore of the St. Lawrence River, is a protected area. The National Wildlife Area was created in 1981 to protect wildlife and their habitats, particularly those of migratory birds and species at risk in this area.

To protect the area, the Department would also like to inform the public that it must comply with the rules under the Canada Wildlife Act and its regulations. Anyone who fails to follow these rules or to comply with applicable legislation may be subject to fines and prosecution.

Public access to the islands of this National Wildlife Area is prohibited. However, fall migratory bird hunting and sport fishing are permitted around the islands only, from watercraft, in accordance with the regulations in effect (see notes below).

Unless a permit has been issued by the Minister, it is prohibited for anyone in the National Wildlife Area to:

  • fisha
  • hunt, except for migratory birdsb
  • destroy or remove a plantc
  • allow any domestic animal to run at larged
  • swim, camp or light a fire
  • picnic
  • undertake an unauthorized activity
  • use any means of transportatione
  • remove, damage or destroy any poster, sign or other structure
  • dump or deposit any waste material.

a Except for sport fishing after July 15, from watercraft and around the islands only (aquatic zone). Watercraft must be operated at a low speed (maximum 10 km/h).

b From watercraft only, in the aquatic grass beds located on the periphery of the National Wildlife Area’s islands (aquatic zone) in accordance with the periods, conditions, locations and hunting gear authorized under the regulations.

c Including any mowing or cutting of vegetation for migratory bird hunting.

d Off-leash dogs are permitted for hunting only.

e With the exception of watercraft for fishing and hunting (see notes 1 and 2 above).

These prohibitions constitute an abridged version of the applicable regulations. For more information, refer to the Canada Wildlife Act and the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, and their associated regulations.

For more information or to report a violation, contact the Department’s Public Inquiries Centre at 1-800-668-6767 or at ec.enviroinfo.ec@canada.ca.

This notice shall not be construed so as to abrogate or derogate from any Aboriginal treaty or other rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Map of the area

This map is for illustrative purposes only and should not be used to define legal boundaries. Îles de Contrecoeur 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.

  • Long description 

    Map showing the section of the St. Lawrence River situated between Contrecoeur and Lavaltrie. The boundaries of Îles de Contrecoeur NWA are indicated. The protected are covers several islands in the st. Lawrence River as well as portions of the water surrounding the islands. The scale on the map is in km. Permanent water, roads and highways are all indicated on the map. A small inset national map situates the NWA in Canada.

Summary table

This table provides summary information for the Îles de Contrecoeur NWA
Category Information
Protected Area designation NWA
Province/territory Québec
Latitude/longitude 45°22' North / 73°15' West
Size 299 ha
Reason for Creation of protected area Protection of a remarkable network of emergent and submerged seagrass beds and islands with high nesting potential for waterfowl in the Montréal region.
Date created (Gazetted) 1978 - Legal description
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management Category Ia - Strict Nature Reserve: protected area managed mainly for scientific purpose or to protect wildlife ressources.
Additional designations
Keystone or flagship species Gadwall, Ring-billed Gulls, Wilson's Phalarope
Listed Species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) A number of species at risk in Canada frequent the site on occasion, including the Short-eared Owl and the Barn Swallow.
Main habitat type Wetlands: Emergent grasses and shallow marshes.
Faunistic and floristic importance Important site for migratory birds, particularly waterfowl, in the Montréal region.
Invasive species Flowering Rush, Common Reed, and Purple Loosestrife. Zebra and Quagga mussels live in the surrounding waters.
Additional links

Birds: Northern Pintail, Mallard, Virginia Rail, Marsh Wren, Red-winged Blackbird, and Yellow Warbler.

Mammals: Muskrat, Striped Skunk, Raccoon, Red Fox, Shrew, Vole, and Bat.

Main threats and challenges Disturbance due to unauthorized activities, the presence of invasive alien species, island erosion, the discharge of heavy metals into the St. Lawrence, and accidental spills.
Management Agency Environment and Climate Change Canada (Canadian Wildlife Service)
Public access and usage Access prohibited except for waterfowl hunting during the fall.

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 - Quebec Region
Canadian Wildlife Service
Ecosystem Conservation
801-1550, avenue d'Estimauville
Québec, Québec
G1J 0C3
Toll Free: 1-800-668-6767 (in Canada only)
Email: ec.enviroinfo.ec@canada.ca

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