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Northern Head and South Head (NS053)


Northern Head and South Head (NS053)

Glace Bay, Nova Scotia

Latitude 46.120°N
Longitude 59.844°W
Altitude 0 - 35m
Area 50.36km²

Site Description

Cape Breton Island is the northeastern region of Nova Scotia. The coast of this large island (approx. 12,000 km²) features many rocky capes, islands, points and bays. On the eastern side of Cape Breton, approximately 10 km east of the town of Glace Bay, is Morien Bay. This bay is enclosed by the Northern Head (also known as Cape Perce) and the South Head (also known as Cape Morien). Both heads have prominent rocky cliffs. On the south side of the Northern Head, the cliffs are 30 metres high for a 2.5 km stretch and on the north side of the cape they taper to 15 m in height. All the cliffs at South Head are about 15m high.

As with most of Nova Scotia, this region often experiences mild, damp and foggy weather. The tidal range is roughly 3 - 4 m.


Recent estimates suggest that there are only 6,200 breeding pairs of Great Cormorants in North America, all of which are in Canada. The spectacular, steep cliffs of the headlands of Morien Bay provide excellent nesting habitat for cormorants. In 1992, a total of 842 Great Cormorants (representing 6.7% of the estimated North American population) nested on the Northern and South Headlands.

At least three surveys (1971, 1987 and 1992) have been conducted on the colonies of the Northern and South Heads. The numbers of birds at both colonies have slightly increased since 1971, when 188 and 140 were observed at the Northern and South Head, respectively, although a 1999 visit to Northern Head suggested that the numbers of Great Cormorants there are again lower than 350 pairs.

Additionally, Black-legged Kittiwakes have begun nesting on Northern Head and during the winter the waters surrounding the heads are occasionally used by Harlequin Ducks (nationally endangered eastern population). Schooner Pond, just inland from Northern Head is an excellent location for finding vagrant landbirds.

Conservation Issues

Cormorants have long had a bad reputation in North America. Due to persecution, in 1900 the Great Cormorant was thought to be extirpated from North America. But some remote colonies found refuge on Anticosti Island, Quebec and it is thought that in recent decades these birds increased in numbers and expanded their range southwards to re-colonize Maritime Canada. In many rural communities, cormorants are still often blamed for the declines in fish stocks. Additionally, many people dislike the white bird droppings that often cover the ground at breeding colonies; these often kill trees and much of the vegetation within the breeding colony. As a result of this negative image cormorant colonies are often raided, resulting in the destruction of many nests, and in some cases, the killing of dozens of birds.

IBA Criteria Habitats Land Uses Potential or Ongoing Threats Conservation Status
Number Year Season
60 - 3002010Fall
Black-headed Gull
Number Year Season
8 - 311999Fall
Great Cormorant
Number Year Season
Northern Gannet
Number Year Season
Savannah Sparrow
Number Year Season
20 - 502000Fall