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Îles Pèlerins (QC049)


Îles Pèlerins (QC049)

Saint-André-de-Kamouraska, Québec

Latitude 47.729°N
Longitude 69.727°W
Altitude 0 - 45m
Area 33.96km²

Site Description

Les îles Pèlerins are a group of five islands found 4 km off the south shore of the St. Lawrence estuary near the town of St-André, Québec. St-André is approximately 20 km west of Rivère-du-Loup. The five islands are Le Gros Pèlerin (22 ha), Le Pèlerin du Milieu (35 ha), Le Pèlerin du Jardin (23 ha), Le Long Pèlerin (45 ha) and Le Petit Pèlerin (12 ha). These islands, composed largely of quartzite, have shorelines that rise rather abruptly to elevations often exceeding 30 m above sea level. Cliffs exceeding 45 m occur along the northwest shores of the islands of Le Gros Pèlerin and Le Long Pèlerin. Coniferous forest covers all five islands and is mainly composed of White Spruce, Balsam Fir, Jack Pine and Red Pine. With the exception of Le Long Pèlerin, where there is a lighthouse, these islands have always been uninhabited. The islands have a mean annual temperature of 3°C and a mean tidal amplitude of 3.5 m.


Les îles Pèlerins hosts large colonies of breeding seabirds. All five islands are used as nesting sites. The average size of the large Razorbill colony is 2017 birds (5 year, 1974 –1999). This number represents roughly 3% of the North American breeding population of this species and the colony is also of interest because it is one of the westernmost location of Razorbills in the St. Lawrence estuary. Another alcid, the Black Guillemot is also very abundant – an average of 731 birds nest here annually (4 year, 1974 –1999).

Between 1965 to 1970, an minimum of 1,000 Herring Gull nests were estimated to be present across the five islands, and when counted in 1990, 1,255 nests were found. This number is about 1% of the estimated breeding population in North America. Numbers of breeding Double-crested Cormorant have been very high at times – 1,500 pairs in 1945, and between 1000 and 2000 pairs throughout most of the 1970s and 1980s - but more recently only a few hundred cormorants have bred on the islands.

In addition, Les îles Pèlerins supports several other colonially nesting birds. These species are: Common Eider, Black-crowned Night-Heron (380 nests peak, 11 most recently in 1990), Great Blue Heron (75 nests peak, 17 in 1990), Great Black-backed Gull (84 in 1990), and Black-legged Kittiwake (277 in 1999). There used to be a few hundred pairs of Common Eiders breeding throughout the islands, but numbers declined in the 1990s, at least partly due to Red Fox predation. Foxes were known to be on Le Pèlerin du Milieu between 1995 and 1998, and may have present on other islands as well.

Conservation Issues

The St. Lawrence is one of the most important and used waterways in North America, and as a result oil spills are a constant threat to the islands of the estuary. Large concentrations of birds like the eider attract many tourists. In the spring especially, boaters are common around the islands in this part of the estuary. Frequent visitors can unintentionally disrupt the breeding activities of these colonial birds.

The Society Duvetnor, an organization dedicated to the conservation of wildlife and wildlife habitat, is involved in the conservation of Les îles Pèlerins. Part of the Long Pèlerin Island has been designated as a National Wildlife Area, and is owned and managed by the Canadian Wildlife Service.

Fish Habitat

The landscape of the are is made out of Spartina marsh, eelgrass beds, rocky shores and gravel or pebbles beaches. Some rivers are hosting rainbow smelt spawning runs (the south shore population of the St. Lawrence middle estuary). At the beginning of the summer, it is possbile to observe capelin rolling on the beaches during spawning. The downstream migration of American eel toward their breeding sites in the Atlantic, which takes place in the fall, allows the capture of migraing adults using fishing weirs. Two other species commercially exploited are also roaming in the open waters of the estuary: the Atlantic sturgeon and Atlantic herring.

Loss of fish habitat remains a major problem in the region. The dikes, for example, reduce the number of spawning habitats, while agricultural along the coast, the residential development and the presence of resorts together with coastal erosion are resulting in the destruction of several riparian ecosystems.

Major species present:
American eel
American shad
Atlantic herring
Atlantic sturgeon
Rainbow smelt (population of south shore of the St. Lawrence middle estuary)


Rocky islands are composed of schist and quartzite. Despite the unfavorable conditions for settlement, some plant species are able to grow there. On the windward side, we find mainly mosses and low-lying plants such as juniper and cranberries. Areas more sheltered allow spruce to built small woodlands. In the portion swept by the tides, algae colonize the bedrock.

The geographical barrier created by the St. Lawrence River provides the IBA a kind of natural protection, a protection often enhanced by legal protection. However, water pollution and the risks of oil spills remain a source of concern for the protection of the flora and fauna of this area.

Major species present :
Creeping juniper

IBA Criteria Habitats Land Uses Potential or Ongoing Threats Conservation Status
Number Year Season
663 - 1,1342011Spring
767 - 1,8881990Summer
895 - 1,5021985Summer
Black Guillemot
Number Year Season
470 - 5201990Summer
1,080 - 1,3011985Summer
450 - 7001974Summer