email a friend
printable version
Location Canada, Yukon Territories
Central coordinates 139o 28.34' West  69o 33.04' North
IBA criteria A4i, A4iii
Area 99,000 ha
Altitude 0 - 5m
Year of IBA assessment 2008

Bird Studies Canada/Nature Canada

Site description Nunaluk Spit and Herschel Island are remote areas on the Beaufort Sea along the Yukon coast. The site encompasses about 45 km of coastline extending from the base of Nunaluk Spit at the west end, to Calton Point at the east end. Nunaluk Spit and the four islands east of the spit are long and very narrow pieces of land that lie parellel to the coast. The site also includes the open waters of Workboat Passage, which lie between Herschel Island and the coast. The site extends inland approximately 1 km (and occasionally up to 4 or 5 km) to the higher coastal plain. Low arctic tundra vegetation is typified by dwarf shrubs, sedges, and herbs. The coast is composed of sandy spits and deltaic wetlands.

Key Biodiversity This site is significant for staging and migrating shorebirds, waterfowl, and gulls. It is an important staging point for Red-necked Phalaropes. In 1986, 54,020 Red-necked Phalaropes staged here in mid-August, mostly along the Nunaluk Spit, with lesser numbers along the south coast of Herschel Island. This represents about 2% if the North American population of this abundant species. Other shorebird concentrations of note were: 10,100 birds of mixed species in the fall of 1972; and 600 Lesser Golden Plovers in August, 1973, on Hershel Island.

Migration watches at the base of Nunaluk Spit in the early 1970s recorded 2,630 Glaucous Gulls flying east, and 3,010 flying west over a one month period. Its unclear how many individuals in total this represents as there is thought to be some overlap, but if 3,000 individuals had passed by then this would represent 1% of the global population and 5% of the North American population. Tens of thousands of Lesser Snow Goose, have also been recorded on these counts. In 1972, 42,738 were recorded flying eastward and 79,457 flying westward (the latter number is 16% of the current Western Central Flyway population).

Many other species use the area for moulting or for staging in fall migration. Black Brant have been recorded in numbers as high as 1,050 (August, 1974), and moulting scoters have reached 8,700 birds consisting of all three species. Greater White-fronted Geese (3,485 in August/ Sepember, 1972) and Northern Pintail (4,223 in July/August, 1972) utilize the area during fall migration. In 1974, 6050 Oldsquaw congregated in Workboat Passage along with 5,000 Red-necked Phalaropes.

Birds that breed in the area include Common Eider, Arctic Tern, Short-eared Owl (nationally vulnerable), Red-throated Loon, Snowy Owl, Rough-legged Hawk (Herschel Island has the highest density ever reported), Peregrine Falcon (nationally vulnerable), Glaucous Gull, Tundra Swan, Black Guillemot (Herschel Island only; largest colony in the western Arctic), and numerous species of ducks and shorebirds.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Snow Goose Anser caerulescens passage  1972  79,457 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Red-necked Phalarope Phalaropus lobatus passage  1986  54,020 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
A4iii Species group - waterbirds passage  1972-1986  50,000-99,999 individuals  unknown  A4iii   

Protected areas

Protected area Designation Area (ha) Relationship with IBA Overlap with IBA (ha)  
Herschel Island / Qikiqtaruk Territorial Park 11,600 protected area contained by site 12,000  
Ivvavik National Park 1,017,000 protected area overlaps with site 32,000  


IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Grassland Tundra  -
Wetlands (inland) Intertidal mud, sand or salt flats; Sand dunes and beaches  -
Sea Open sea  -
Coastline Sea cliffs and rocky shores  -

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
nature conservation and research major

Contribute  Please click here to help BirdLife conserve the world's birds - your data for this IBA and others are vital for helping protect the environment.

Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2016) Important Bird and Biodiversity Area factsheet: Nunaluk Spit to Herschel Island. Downloaded from on 24/10/2016

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife