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The Top 5 Bird Cliffs in the Arctic

3 min read

Explorers and polar wildlife photographers love taking pictures of different types of Arctic birds. Each variety of bird species found in the Arctic brings a unique sense of joy to those lucky enough to catch a glimpse—or capture in through the lens of their camera.

What sea bird lives in the Arctic?

The Arctic is home to dozens of seabird species, including the Arctic Tern, Ivory Gull, Atlantic Puffins, and small Arctic wading birds known as sanderlings. Seabirds nest on islands or on protected cliffs in dense bird colonies.

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

Of course, when searching for sea birds, you're likely to see other Arctic birds as well, including majestic snowy owls.

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

1. Coburg Island, Nunavut, Canada

Coburg Island provides some of the best bird watching in the 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" in a helicopter.

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 whales, narwhals, polar bears, seals, Arctic foxes, walruses, or even white whales, all of which frequent Arctic regions.

2. 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, 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 Arctic birdlife as well as other wildlife, such as polar bear, Arctic fox, snowy owl, and walrus. 

3. Prince Leopold Island, Nunavut, Canada

The Arctic Express Canada: Heart of the Northwest Passage expedition 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 change within their natural habitat impacted the breeding patterns of birds.

Prince Leopold Island bird cliff

In this area of the Northern hemisphere, most birds arrive on cliff ledges in late May to early June for breeding season. By mid-September, they will leave the area for the Arctic winter, and return the following year.

Quark Expeditions' guests 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.

4. Herschel Island, Beaufort Sea

Herschel Island is home to nearly 100 bird species, with roughly half of all the birds 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 nesting sites and 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.

5. Gull Canyon, Somerset Island

Gull Canyon is another destination for birders.

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, Arctic skua, 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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