The Long Point site includes the Long Point Peninsula, Long Point Inner Bay and the Turkey Point and Big Creek marshes. Extending 32 km into Lake Erie, the Long Point Peninsula is the longest freshwater sandspit in the world. With an area of approximately 105,000 ha, it is constantly changing due to the continuous deposition and erosion of sediments through wind and wave erosion. The peninsula itself is a series of alternating ridges that are separated by ponds and swales. These wetlands and associated sand dunes are the best remaining example of this type of ecosystem in the Great Lakes basin.
Protected from the prevailing south-westerly winds by the sandspit, extensive marshes have formed in its lee or northern side. The Inner Bay (approximately 28,000 ha) encompasses the open water from the Big Creek marshes in the west to an imaginary line drawn from Turkey Point to Pottahawk Point in the east. The northern and western shores are fringed by shallow marshes, with the extensive marshes of Turkey Point in the northeast corner and those of Long Point to the south and west. The moderating effect of Lake Erie, combined with the southern geographic location of Long Point, allows a number of plants and animals to survive here at the northern fringe of their North American range.
The Long Point area is most renowned for the concentrations of waterfowl that make use of the area during spring and fall migration. Single day counts of 70,000 to over 100,000 waterfowl are made regularly. At least eight species of waterfowl regularly occur in globally significant numbers (i.e., greater than 1% of the world population): Tundra Swan, American Black Duck, Canvasback, Redhead, Greater Scaup, Lesser Scaup, Red-breasted Merganser, and Ruddy Duck. It should be recognized that these data are based on single-day-counts; over the course of the migration season it is likely that the number of individuals and associated percentages for each of these species would be even higher. Over the recent past there have been occasions when even higher numbers of waterfowl have been recorded: 10 to 15% of the Canvasback population; up to 10% of the Redhead population; and up to 35% to 45% of the Tundra Swan (eastern) population. Other waterbirds that occur in large numbers include Whimbrel (often in the hundreds), Bonaparte's Gull (regular one-day counts in excess of 5,000), and Common Terns (regular one-day counts in excess of 1,000)
In addition to waterfowl, the Long Point area also supports an exceptional number and diversity of resident and migrant landbirds. A total of 398 bird species have been recorded at Long Point to date. This represents approximately 81% of the species that have been recorded thus far in Ontario. About 120 species have nested in the area and on average, about 260 species of birds are recorded each year.
The Long Point Bird Observatory operates three migration monitoring stations on the spit. As of the end of 2014, they had banded 951,346 birds of 273 different species. Using the estimated daily totals of migrant birds in each of the three census areas it has been estimated that the average number of migrants using the area is 2.4 million individuals in the spring and 7 million in the fall.
Several nationally threatened bird species nest in the Long Point area including nationally significant numbers of King Rail (endangered), Least Bittern (threatened), and Prothonotary Warbler (endangered). Red-headed Woodpecker (threatened) are also present, but not in nationally significant numbers. Local populations of all of these species appear to have declined in recent years and some may be extirpated or only occasional breeders. Long Point formerly supported a significant breeding population of Piping Plovers (globally vulnerable; nationally endangered) but the last recorded evidence of attempted breeding was in 1981. This species is now very rarely seen during migration. However, suitable breeding habitat still remains.
Note: species shown in bold indicate that the maximum number exceeds at least one of the IBA thresholds (sub-regional, regional or global). The site may still not qualify for that level of IBA if the maximum number reflects an exceptional or historical occurrence.
In August 1996, the Long Point area was announced as the first globally significant Important Bird Area in Canada. This international recognition is one of many: in 1982 it was designated as a Ramsar site following the convention on Wetlands of International Importance; in 1986 it was recognized as a World Biosphere site by UNESCO within the Man and Biosphere Program; and in 1995 it was recognized as an International Monarch Butterfly Reserve.
The presence of the significant natural features at Long Point is largely due to the stewardship of the Long Point Company. They have owned and managed a large portion of the Point for duck hunting since 1866. More recently, the Canadian Wildlife Service has become active in the conservation of the area through the establishment of National Wildlife Areas in 1973 and 1979. Other major tenants who manage their land for conservation include the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Long Point Region Conservation Authority, Ducks Unlimited, and at least five different private waterfowl clubs.
Although much of the area is protected through ownership by conservation interests, there are direct threats to non-protected wetlands due to proposals to convert the marsh for agricultural or recreational purposes. In addition to direct loss of habitat through development, disturbance to resting flocks of waterfowl by motor boats is also a serious concern. To counter this threat public awareness programs have been undertaken. Other threats include the potential for off-site developments that may interfere with the shoreline transport of sand that forms Long Point or the artificial manipulation of Great Lakes water levels.
The IBA Program is an international conservation initiative coordinated by BirdLife
International. The Canadian co-partners for the IBA Program are Bird Studies Canada and Nature Canada.