Scotch Bonnet Island National Wildlife Area

Aerial view of the island of NWA Scotch Bonnet Island
Photo: © Environment and Climate Change Canada. Scotch Bonnet National Wildlife Area - Landscape

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Scotch Bonnet Island National Wildlife Area (NWA) supports significant populations of colonial nesting waterbirds in Lake Ontario. Scotch Bonnet Island NWA is a small, 1-hectares (ha) island, located approximately 4.8 kilometres (km) from the mainland in eastern Lake Ontario, off the west shore of Prince Edward County, Ontario. The island is composed of solid limestone outcroppings around the perimeter and barren ground in the interior. The island is named after one of three north-south trending rises of glacio-lacustrine clay and till, known as the Scotch Bonnet Ridge.

This NWA was established in 1979 to protect colonially nesting waterbirds and as a site for long-term research. Every spring the island comes alive with the arrival of large numbers of colonial waterbirds, primarily Herring Gulls and Double-crested Cormorants that breed on the island or that rest there throughout the summer. The island shelters about 110 pairs of Herring Gulls, the largest colony of this species in Lake Ontario, with approximately 500 to 1000 immature Herring Gulls using 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, during spring and fall migration along the Atlantic Flyway.

Its isolation, stable substrate and long history of use by nesting colonial waterbirds make Scotch Bonnet Island NWA 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 on the island, and determine population trends over time. Scotch Bonnet Island 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 inhabiting the island.

More information on the Scotch Bonnet Island NWA can be found 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.

Access to Scotch Bonnet Island NWA is not permitted. There are no roads, trails or facilities maintained at Scotch Bonnet Island NWA and 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 and include 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. However, the waters around the island are accessible and popular for recreational boating and fishing in the summer months. The popularity of the local area for various recreational activities is an increasing challenge since noise and wave action from boats and human presence are also known to cause birds to flush off their nests, or in some cases abandon nests, eggs and young.

Permits are required to visit and to conduct research, surveys and monitoring, and must be obtained from the Canadian Wildlife Service. 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

  • Scotch Bonnet Island NWA boundaries.
Long description for the Map

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. Scotch Bonnet 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 Scotch Bonnet Island NWA
Category Information
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 significant numbers of colonial waterbirds, and staging area for waterfowl and shorebirds during spring and fall migration along Atlantic flyway. The area is 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 1a - Strict Nature Reserve
Additional designations 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; Herring Gull, Double-crested Cormorant, Black-crowned Night Heron and Great Black-backed Gull.
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 and federal departments for monitoring and maintenance of facilities and infrastructure. Recreational use limited to birdwatching from offshore and 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 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)
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