Seabird Colonies

Seabirds nesting on Labrador’s offshore islands include Atlantic Puffin, Razorbill, Black Guillemot, Common Murre and Thick-billed Murre. They congregate in huge colonies, where they can be vulnerable to disturbance and predation. Read more

Canada supports about 15 million breeding seabirds, including auks, murres and puffins. Seabirds can be long-lived and reproduce slowly, so their populations, once reduced, take time to recover. They are also vulnerable to oil spills, off-shore oil and gas development, and entanglement in fishing gear. Their food sources can also be affected by changes in ocean food chains due to shifts in commercial fish populations. The effects of climate change on seabirds due to shifts in oceanic food chains are unknown.

Six (6) of Labrador’s Important Bird Areas (IBAs) contain significant sites for nesting colonial seabirds, meaning they regularly support > 1 percent of the North American or global breeding population, or > 20,000 individuals (> 10,000 pairs). These are:

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica)

Atlantic Puffins are called the “clown of the sea” for their black-and-white bodies, reddish legs and coloured bills. They excavate burrows on grassy cliffs or nest on islands among rocks and scree. They feed by diving for fish, and overwinter in the Atlantic Ocean (Lowther et al. 2002). IBAs important for Atlantic Puffin include: Gannet Islands (10% of the North American population), Northeast Groswater Bay (5% of the North American population), and Bird Islands (2% of the North American population). Another important site is Nunaksuk Island, which is not identified as an IBA.

Razorbill (Alca torda)

A black seabird with a white underside and a thin white line from the eye to the bill, the Razorbill nests on rocky cliffs, on ledges or crevices. They winter on the open sea (Hipfner and Chapdelaine 2002). IBAs include: Gannet Islands (2.5% of the global population and 39% of the North American population), Northeast Groswater Bay (>10% of North American population), Bird Islands (4% of the North American population), Quaker Hat Island (> 1% of the North American population), and Offshore Islands Southeast of Nain (1% of the North American population). Smaller colonies that each support nearly 1% of North America’s birds include Little Bird Island and western Twin Island.

Common Murre (Uria aalge)

Common Murre are medium-sized auks with black backs and heads, a white underside, and a long pointed bill. They breed in dense colonies on islands, rocky cliffs, and sea stacks. A single egg is incubated on a bare rock ledge on a cliff face. Common Murres winter and feed at sea (Ainley et al. 2002). IBAs for Common Murre include: Gannet Islands (nearly 1% of the North American population). Other important colonies include the Herring Islands and The Doughboy in northeast Groswater Bay, Quaker Hat Island, Bird Islands, and Nunaksuk Island, although they do not meet IBA criteria.

Thick-billed Murre (Uria lomvia)

Thick-billed Murre are black, with white underparts and a long bill. They are larger than the Common Murre, with thicker and shorter bills and a white gape stripe. They nest in dense colonies with small territories, less than one square foot per individual. Eggs are laid directly on bare rock, on narrow ledges and steep cliffs facing the water. They move to ice-free waters in the north Atlantic to winter (Gaston and Hipfner 2000).

Areas harbouring near or more than 3,000 breeding Murres (about 0.1% of North America’s population) include: Gannet Islands; Offshore Islands Southeast of Nain (especially Kidlit - 3,072 birds, and Castle - 3,770 birds); and the Pyramid Islands east of Nain. None meet the criteria for IBA designation.

Black Guillemot (Cepphus grylle)

Black Guillemot is medium-sized, with black body, white wing patches, red legs, and a dark bill. They breed along the north Atlantic on rocky shores, cliffs and islands, in cavities or under overhanging rocks. They breed at lower densities than other seabirds and often overwinter near breeding sites, moving to open waters but not migrating south. Preferred forage areas are near-shore waters (Butler and Buckley 2002).

Important sites include: the Nain Coastline (0.2% of the North American population), and some of the Offshore Islands Southeast of Nain (0.2% of North American population). Of particular note are Ukallik, Nuasumak, Imilikiluk, Little Black, Conical, and Ragged Islands.None meet the criteria for IBA designation.

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