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Location Canada, Newfoundland
Central coordinates 52o 47.95' West  47o 14.46' North
IBA criteria A4i, A4ii, A4iii
Area 6,300 ha
Altitude 0 - 86m
Year of IBA assessment 2008

Bird Studies Canada/Nature Canada

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.

Key Biodiversity 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.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Leach's Storm-petrel Hydrobates leucorhous breeding  1994  780,000 breeding pairs  A4ii  Least Concern 
Larus argentatus breeding  1994  6,995 breeding pairs  A4i  Not Recognised 
Common Murre Uria aalge breeding  1985  77,500 breeding pairs  A4ii  Least Concern 
Atlantic Puffin Fratercula arctica breeding  1994  216,000 breeding pairs  A4ii  Vulnerable 
A4iii Species group - seabirds breeding  500,000-999,999 breeding pairs  unknown  A4iii   

Protected areas

Protected area Designation Area (ha) Relationship with IBA Overlap with IBA (ha)  
Witless Bay Ecological Reserve 3,100 protected area contained by site 3,100  


IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Forest Boreal coniferous forest  -
Grassland Edaphic grassland  -
Coastline Rocky flats & barrens; Sea cliffs and rocky shores  -

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
nature conservation and research -
tourism/recreation -

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2016) Important Bird and Biodiversity Area factsheet: Witless Bay Islands. Downloaded from on 23/10/2016

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