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New England Seabirds

 Wilson's Storm-petrel  Dave Jones

Breeding Colonies

Machias Seal Island

Bonaventure Island

Cape St. Mary

Witless Bay

Bird Island



Breeding Colonies

Cape St. Mary

Newfoundland, Canada

Northern Gannet at Cape St. Mary

Northern Gannet at Cape St. Mary.  All photographs on this page by Emmalee Tarry 

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Cape St. Mary is located at the southwest tip of Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula. This area has been protected as an Ecological Reserve since 1983. An Interpretive Center was built in 1995 and naturalists are available from May to October.

Readers of Roger's Tory Peterson's famous book Wild America are familiar with this area. At the time Roger and James Fisher visited they had to hike some 17 miles to the cape from the town of St. Bride. Fortunately today there is a paved road from St. Bride ( 5 KM ) and a gravel road out to the lighthouse, interpretive center and the parking lot.

What Can You See
Northern Gannets (5,400 pairs) Black-legged Kittiwakes ( 10,000 pairs)Common Murres (10,000 pairs)Razorbills ( 100 pairs)Thick-billed Murre ( 1,000 pairs )Black Guillemot ( 20 pairs)Great Cormorant,Northern Fulmar.On the grassy uplands you can see Horned Larks and American Pipit. The road out to the interpretive center is narrow, but by arriving early in the morning I was able to bird my way along the road slowly seeing: Short-eared owl, Blackpoll , Yellow-rumped, Yellow warblers, Pine Grosbeak, Tree Sparrows, Ravens.

When To Go
June - August is the best time, but the reserve is open May - October.

Northern Gannet - Second Largest Gannet Colony in North America
Cape St. Mary has the second largest Gannetry in North America with 6,000 pairs of birds.

Your first view of the Gannets is from the visitor's center near the parking lot. Be sure to sit here on the bench and just enjoy the view and all the bird activity in the area.

Bird Rock
After you enjoy the view from the Visitor Center, you can walk about 1/2 mile to the observation ledge close to the Gannets nesting on a sea stack called Bird Rock. The stack is totally separated from the main cliff, but only about 20 feet away. Notice the Gannets covering the top of cliff in the background and the Kittiwake nests on the ledges on the side of the cliff.

The Gannet nests are on the top of the stack and down the sides. There is perpetual activity with birds flying in and out and pairs greeting one another. The sounds of the Kittiwakes and Gannets are constant. 

 Be very careful to stay back about 3 feet from the edge of the cliff as there is an overhang of unsupported sod along the edge of which you are not aware when you are walking there.  It is a long way down if you fall.


Cape St. Mary Bird Rock 
Gannet Cape St. Mary Bird Rock 

Gannet Behaviors
Find a safe place to sit and enjoy watching the Gannets for a time.
The Gannets are very busy pair bonding, squablling over territory, preening and incubating their eggs.

Each returning bird starts a territory squabble. Despite nesting in dense colonies, a Gannet defends his or her territory around the nest.
Gannets are heavy birds and like to launch into flight from a high cliff.


No Gannet with pebbel in mouth 

Notice the Gannet in the lower right of this picture is holding a pebble in its mouth.

No Gannet Cape St Mary 

Gannets build nests of grass and twigs. Nesting sites on the edge of the cliff are preferred. Perhaps because the returning bird must run a gauntlet of angry neighbors to reach his or her nest.


Black-legged Kittiwake
The Kittiwake is a small beautiful gull which frequents our coast in winter. Ten thousand pairs of Black-legged Kittiwake nest on the narrow ledges of the cliffs at Cape St. Mary.

A gull, the Kittiwake must have fresh water to drink.

The Kittiwake builds a nest of grass and twigs and lays 1-2 eggs. They were named for their call which is a relatively high pitched 3 syllable phase that someone thought sounded like "Kit ti wake".

Notice in the photograph , the photographer is looking down on the bird. There are not many places where you can do this.


Kittiwak at Cape St. Mary 
Kittiwake nests line narrow ledges. 

Kittiwake Nests Line The Narrow Ledges.In the picture to the left a flying Gannet approaches Bird Rock for a landing. The little white spots on every ledge in the cliff in the background are Kittiwakes.


Both Common and Thick-billed Murres nest on the cliffs at Cape St. Mary. Ask the naturalist to point you in the direction of the Thick-billed.

This is the southernmost colony of Thick-billed Murres. Notice in the picture above that any ledge that is too narrow for Gannets can be occupied by the Murres that lay their eggs directly on the rock ledge without building a nest and any ledge too narrow for Murres is taken by Kittiwakes.


Common Murres Cape St. Mary 

Breeding Colonies   |  Machias Seal Island  | Cape St. Mary  | Bonaventure Island Gaspé| Bird Island   | Witless Bay Top of Page

Peterson, Roger Tory, Fisher, James (1997) Wild America: The Record of a 30,000 Mile Journey Around the Continent by a distinguished Naturalist and His British colleague