Birds of many feathers flock to get here!
Avid birdwatchers visiting Nunavut enjoy viewing exotic arctic avian species that are not found in temperate or tropical latitudes. The opportunities are extensive and exciting, including the chance to witness some of the largest nesting colonies on Earth.
Nunavut has over 100 species of birds, nearly all of which are migratory species — with only the raven, the snowy owl and the ptarmigan spending the winter in permanent residence. Inuit storytellers recount many ancient legends featuring these resident birds, but the trickster raven — whose complex personality often gets him into trouble — is adored by young and old.
Huge populations of other species of birds fly enormous distances to Nunavut for breeding purposes, tending to return to the same nesting grounds each year. The extraordinary physical effort of migrating from the southern hemisphere to nest in Nunavut is believed to reduce the risk of predation on their eggs, helping to ensure the survival of auks, buntings, cranes, ducks, finches, geese, gulls, jaegers, larks, loons, pipits, plovers, sandpipers, terns and many other arctic species, including gyrfalcons.
The prime birdwatching season in Nunavut begins in May and continues through August, as millions of migratory birds return to the land where they were born to fledge a new generation before heading south for winter. The spectacular home terrain of diverse avian species ranges from quiet, colourfully flowered expanses of gently rolling tundra to steep rocky cliffs, towering like giant shards of broken slate, which shelter tens of thousands of squawking, hungry nestlings perched high above the pounding arctic surf.
Nunavut contains several bird sanctuaries that are excellent places for birdwatchers to visit. These are detailed in the Parks & Special Places Wildlife Sanctuaries section of this website. Nunavut outfitters, lodge owners and wilderness guides can all suggest various bird sanctuaries to visit, including:
- Akimiski Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary
- Akpait National Wildlife Area
- Bowman Bay Wildlife Sanctuary
- Boatswain Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary
- Bylot Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary
- Dewey Soper Migratory Bird Sanctuary
- East Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary
- Hannah Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary
- Harry Gibbons Migratory Bird Sanctuary
- McConnell River Migratory Bird Sanctuary
- Niginganiq (Isabella Bay) National Wildlife Area
- Nirjutiqavvik National Wildlife Area
- Polar Bear Pass National Wildlife Area
- Prince Leopold Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary
- Queen Maud Gulf Migratory Bird Sanctuary
- Qaqulluit National Wildlife Area
- Seymour Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary
- Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park
- Thelon (River) Wildlife Sanctuary
Major Avian Species of Nunavut
Snowy owls live in Nunavut all year long. They are active during the day and may be seen throughout the territory when populations of lemmings peak.
Gyrfalcons, the largest of all falcons, prey mainly on ptarmigan and, if their food supply is good, they may remain in Nunavut through the winter.
Peregrine falcons can be seen thriving in many parts of Nunavut. Working in pairs, they are often observed hunting near colonies of larks and guillemots.
Rough-legged hawks reside in all three regions of the territory.
Bald eagles and golden eagles are both seen in the Kitikmeot region, particularly along the Coppermine River.
Ravens are found everywhere in Nunavut. Many Inuit consider this bird to be the most intelligent avian species in the territory. These large black, playful and often very talkative passerine birds seem to enjoy living near people.
Ptarmigan and rock ptarmigan live year-round in all parts of Nunavut, providing an important food resource for raptors and arctic foxes. In addition, the willow grouse is found living in tundra regions near Nunavut's southeastern border with northern Québec and Labrador and also near its western border with the Northwest Territories.
Beginning in the late spring the tundra barrens come alive with the songs of buntings, finches, larks, plovers, pipits, sparrows and wheatears.
Seabirds & Waders
Many species of seabirds and waders return to the coastal areas of Nunavut each spring, including auks, cranes, fulmars, guillemots, gulls, jaegers, kittiwakes, murres, phalaropes, puffins, sandpipers and terns.
Nunavut is home to six species of ducks, five species of loons, five species of geese and two species of swans.
The Inuktitut word for bird is 'tingmiaq' - the same word also means airplane.