Top 5 Bird Cliffs in the Arctic

May 12, 2015

Explorers and polar wildlife photographers have long loved taking pictures of different types of arctic birds. A variety of bird species can be found here, each bringing a unique sense of joy to those lucky enough to catch a glimpse.

Spotting a flock of birds makes for great polar photos, but bird cliffs can literally take one’s breath away. These towering rock formations in the Arctic provide shelter and nesting grounds for massive flocks of murres, kittiwakes, gulls and more.

Let’s explore the top bird cliffs you may encounter on your arctic expedition:  

5. Coburg Island, Nunavut, Canada

Coburg Island provides some of the best bird watching in the Arctic. Travelers on our unique icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnikov will have the opportunity to view magnificent cliffs during Quark’s Arctic Icebreaker Expedition: Best of the Canadian High Arctic. Take in the spectacle of these massive cliffs from the base, with murres and fulmars swooping overhead as you cruise the waters of the Grise Fjord in Zodiacs, or from the birds-eye sky view as you “flightsee” on one of Khlebnikov’s two on-board helicopters.  

Cobourg Island, Nunavut

Coburg Island is notable for its variety of bird species, including the thick-billed murre, black-legged kittiwake, black guillemot, glaucous gull, and northern fulmar. You might also get a chance to view bowhead whale, narwhal, polar bear, seals, walrus, or even white whale, all of which frequent the area.

4. Cambridge Point, Nunavut, Canada

One specific location on Coburg Island, Cambridge Point, is worth a mention all its own for its incredible bird cliffs.  

black-legged kittiwakes, Cambridge Point

Here, black-legged kittiwakes are abundant, with approximately 30,000 pairs reported in the 1970s. If you think that’s a lot of birds, consider this: Cambridge Point is also home to roughly 160,000 pairs of thick-billed murres.

Black guillemots and glaucous gulls can also be spotted at this location. In addition to Cambridge Point, the Nirjutiqavvik National Wildlife Area on Coburg Island is home to a variety of birds as well as other wildlife, such as polar bear and walrus.

 

3. Prince Leopold Island, Nunavut, Canada

The Arctic Icebreaker Expedition: Ultimate Northwest Passage link takes travelers to Lancaster Sound on Prince Leopold Island, home to many species of birds and the towering cliffs some call home. Photographers and birders alike are in paradise here.

The most common species on Prince Leopold Island include northern fulmars, thick-billed murres, and black-legged kittiwakes. Prince Leopold Island has more birds and greater diversity than any other location in the Canadian Arctic; multiple studies conducted in the 1970s searched for data on how climate impacted the breeding patterns of birds.

Prince Leopold Island bird cliff

In this area, most birds arrive on cliff ledges in late May to early June for breeding. By mid-September, they will leave the area until the following year. Quark passengers visit the area during the ideal time to take in the sight of thousands or even tens of thousands of active birds in and around their cliff wall homes.

2. Herschel Island, Beaufort Sea

Herschel Island is home to nearly 100 bird species, with roughly half breeding there. It also boasts the largest colony of black guillemots in the Western Arctic. The sheer variety of species available here makes this a Holy Grail for serious birders!

In addition to bird cliffs, an old Anglican mission house here keeps a large colony of black guillemots. Home to the Thule people over a thousand years ago, Herschel Island is now inhabited by their Inuit descendants. It is a pristine, remote island still rich in history, culture and adventure.

 Arctic Terns - by Stephen Dean

Other species you’ll find on Herschel Island include American golden plovers, arctic terns, red-necked phalaropes, rough-legged hawks, Lapland buntings, common eiders, and redpolls.

1. Gull Canyon, Somerset Island

Gull Canyon is accessible from Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge, Quark Expeditions' first arctic basecamp.

Gull Canyon, Somerset Island

The canyon is popular as a top-notch location for land-based tours, but it’s also a prime location for birders. Known for its large number of sea birds, this area is home to eider ducks, arctic terns, rough-legged hawks, snow geese and more. The canyon itself is a beautiful gull rookery, with several hundred kittiwakes and glaucous gulls nesting in steep cliff walls.

For more information on these bird cliffs and upcoming expeditions, contact us to speak with a Polar Travel Adviser.

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