Scotch Bonnet Island National Wildlife Area

Scotch Bonnet Island National Wildlife Area (NWA) is located in Ontario.  This NWA was established to protect colonial nesting waterbirds and as a site for long-term research.


Scotch Bonnet Island NWA supports many colonial nesting waterbirds in Lake Ontario. Scotch Bonnet Island NWA is a 1-hectares (ha) island. It is located off the west shore of Prince Edward County, Ontario. This is roughly 4.8 kilometres (km) from the mainland in eastern Lake Ontario. The island is composed of:

  • solid limestone exposed rock around the boundary
  • barren ground in the interior

It is named after one of three north-south trending rises of glacio-lacustrine clay and till, known as the Scotch Bonnet Ridge.

Scotch Bonnet Island National Wildlife Area - Landscape

The NWA was established in 1979. Every spring the island comes alive with the arrival of large numbers of colonial waterbirds, primarily:

These birds breed on the island and rest there throughout the summer.

The island shelters about 110 pairs of herring gulls. This is the largest colony of this species in Lake Ontario. Around 500 to 1000 immature herring gulls use the island as an overnight roosting area throughout the summer. In 2009, Scotch Bonnet Island was the eighth largest cormorant colony (896 nests) in the Canadian waters of Lake Ontario. The island is also a stopover site for migratory birds, especially waterfowl and shorebirds. This occurs during spring and fall migration along the Atlantic Flyway.

The island is:

  • isolated
  • has stable substrate
  • has a long history of use by nesting colonial waterbirds

Scotch Bonnet Island NWA is an important site for conservation and long-term research. In the early 1970s, the Canadian Wildlife Service began to monitor persistent toxic chemicals in the eggs of herring gulls. Obtaining annual nesting records assists in determining:

  • breeding success
  • population changes
  • types of species breeding
  • population trends over time

The NWA is one of more than 15 herring gull sites in the Great Lakes that are visited each year as part of this long-term study. There are no records of any species at risk on the island.


More information on the Scotch Bonnet Island NWA can be found in the summary table below.


Under the Canada Wildlife Act, NWAs are protected and managed in accordance with the Wildlife Area Regulations. The primary purpose of NWAs is to protect and conserve wildlife and their habitat. For this purpose and according to the legislation, all activities in a NWA that could interfere with the conservation of wildlife can be prohibited. Consequently, most NWAs are not accessible to the public and all activities are prohibited. However, some activities may be authorized through public notice or the issuance of permits as long as they are consistent with the management plan goals for the NWA. For more information, consult the NWAs Management and Activities section.

Access to Scotch Bonnet Island NWA is not permitted. There are no roads, trails or facilities maintained at Scotch Bonnet Island NWA. Public visitation is prohibited in order to protect the nesting birds from disturbance. Some activities may be permitted in the wildlife area in accordance with the conservation goals of the NWA management plan. This includes research and monitoring of colonial waterbirds. The ruins of a former stone lighthouse remain on the island as well as a steel-framed light tower maintained as an aid to navigation.

The waters around the island are accessible. Recreational boating and fishing is popular in summer months. Noise and waves caused by boats and human presence is an increasing challenge. This is known to cause birds to flush off their nests, or in some cases abandon nests, eggs and young.

Permits must be obtained from Canadian Wildlife Services and are required to:

  • visit the NWA
  • conduct research
  • conduct surveys
  • monitoring

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

Map of the area

Map of Scotch Bonnet Island NWA
  • Long description

    Map showing the area surrounding Nicholson Island, including Huycks Point and Island Point, in Lake Ontario. The boundaries of Scotch Bonnet Island National Wildlife Area are indicated. The protected area covers Scotch Bonnet Island located to the south-west of Nicholson Island. The scale on the map is in kilometers. Permanent water, roads and highways are all indicated on the map. A small inset national map situates the National Wildlife Area in Canada.

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

Summary table

Protected Area designation NWA
Province/Territory Ontario
Latitude/Longitude Latitude 43°54’00’’N
Longitude - 77°32'25"W
Size 0.97 hectare
Reason for creation of protected area
  • Important nesting, roosting and loafing site for many colonial waterbirds
  • Important staging area for waterfowl and shorebirds during spring and fall migration along Atlantic flyway
  • A rare or unusual wildlife habitat, of a specific type in a biogeographic region
Date created (Gazetted) 1979 - Legal description
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) management category Strict Nature Reserve (Ia)
Additional designation
  • North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI) Bird Conservation Area 13
  • Within Mixedwood Plains Ecozone, Manitoulin – Lake Simcoe Ecoregion
Keystone or flagship species Important colonial waterbird nesting site. Species include:
Listed Species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) None recorded
Main habitat type
  • Mixedwood Plains Ecozone
  • Manitoulin-Lake Simcoe Ecoregion
Non-native and invasive species None
Main threats and challenges Restricting public use of the island, as to not disrupt the nesting of colonial birds
Management agency Environment and Climate Change Canada (Canadian Wildlife Service)
Public access and usage

Public access to island is not permitted except by Canada Wildlife Act permit for:

  • research
  • monitoring and maintenance of facilities and infrastructure by federal departments

Recreational use is limited to:

  • birdwatching from offshore
  • recreational boating in the nearshore

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 us

Environment and Climate Change Canada - Ontario Region
Canadian Wildlife Service
Protected Areas Program
4905 Dufferin Street
Toronto Ontario
M3H 5T4

Toll-free: 1-800-668-6767 (in Canada only)

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