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Witless Bay Islands (NF002)

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Witless Bay Islands (NF002)

Mobile, Newfoundland and Labrador

Latitude 47.223°N
Longitude 52.792°W
Altitude 0 - 86m
Area 62.08km²

Site Description

The Witless Bay Islands are located 4 km off the east coast of the Avalon Peninsula, approximately 35 km south of St. John's, Newfoundland. The site consists of four small islands: Green, Great, Gull, and Pee Pee. All are rocky, with low cliffs and steep, grassy slopes. The two larger islands, Great and Gull, also support coniferous forest communities.

Birds

The Witless Bay Islands support a globally significant colony of breeding seabirds. Great Island, in particular supports the largest colony of Atlantic Puffins in eastern North America. A breeding population of more than 216,000 breeding pairs (some on Gull island as well) was estimated in 1994. This represents approximately 3.6% of the global population and possibly as much as 57% of the eastern North America population.

Also present on the Witless Bay Islands are impressive numbers of Leach's Storm-Petrels, Common Murres, Black-legged Kittiwakes and Herring Gulls. Nearly 780,000 pairs of Leach's Storm Petrels have been recorded in the area (the majority breeding on Great and Gull Islands). This estimate represents approximately 9.5% of the global and 16% of the western Atlantic population. Approximately 77,500 pairs of Common Murres have also been reported (almost 2% of the Atlantic and over 13% of the eastern North American breeding population). Black-legged Kittiwakes also breed on the islands. Approximately 43,500 pairs have been estimated, which represents as much as 16 to 22% of the western Atlantic breeding population. Approximately 7,000 pairs of Herring Gulls (approximately 5% of the eastern North America population) have also been recorded. Other species of seabirds nesting on these islands include Great Black-backed Gulls, Black Guillemots, Thick-billed Murres, Razorbills, and Northern Fulmars. The marine areas surrounding the islands are also important for migrating sea ducks such as White-winged and Surf Scoter, Oldsquaws, and Common Eiders.

Conservation Issues

The Witless Bay Seabird Sanctuary Ecological Reserve, which includes Gull, Green, and Great Islands, was established in December, 1983 under the Wilderness and Ecological Reserves Act. As a result, the islands are shielded from most direct threats. There is however, increasing concern about the levels of ecotourism. During the peak of the season, as many as 10 to 15 tour boats per day visit the area. The auks, in particular, appear to be sensitive to the disturbance.

The colony is a base for a series of long-term ecological studies of seabirds, sponsored by the Canadian Wildlife Service and Memorial University of Newfoundland.

IBA Criteria Habitats Land Uses Potential or Ongoing Threats Conservation Status
Razorbill
Number Year Season
750 - 500,0002014Summer
1,0002010Summer
2001985Other
Atlantic Puffin
Number Year Season
8,000 - 100,0002017Fall
100,0002017Summer
10,000 - 100,0002017Spring
8,0002016Fall
50,0002016Summer
10,0002016Spring
15,000 - 20,0002015Summer
20,000 - 500,0002014Summer
15,0002013Fall
70,0002013Summer
10,0002011Fall
100,0002011Summer
20,0002010Summer
10,0002010Spring
10,000 - 20,0002009Summer
10,000 - 100,0002008Summer
10,0002006Summer
9,000 - 10,0002003Summer
10,0002000Fall
432,0001994Summer
Common Murre
Number Year Season
250,0002017Spring
250,000 - 500,0002016Summer
100,0002014Fall
100,000 - 800,0002014Summer
25,0002013Fall
20,0002013Summer
25,0002011Summer
50,0002010Summer
30,0002010Spring
50,0002009Summer
20,0002008Summer
155,0001985Other
Leach's Storm-Petrel
Number Year Season
1,560,0001994Summer
Black-headed Gull
Number Year Season
202012Summer
Black-legged Kittiwake
Number Year Season
25,0002014Summer
50,0002013Fall
87,0001985Summer
Herring Gull
Number Year Season
5,0002013Fall
10,0002011Fall
13,9901994Summer