Great Canadian Parks / Newfoundland

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The Parks / Newfoundland & Labrador / Cape St Mary's Ecological Reserve






During the summer months over 30 000 nesting pairs of black-legged kittiwakes, cormorants, gulls, thick-billed murres, common murres, razor-billed auks, northern gannets, and black guillemots breed in the rookeries of Cape St. Mary Ecological Reserve. Late in the 19th century, thousands of gannets began to nest on the isolated 100-metre high sea stack now known as Bird Rock, where they were protected from land- based predators. About the size of a large goose, they had been hunted for centuries on Funk Island, the site of their original nesting colony and former home of their cousin the great auk, hunted to extinction by 1844. More recently, the accumulation of toxic chemicals and oil pollution threatens the gannet colonies. With a wing span of nearly two metres, they can glide for hours over the waves then suddenly plunge from a great height, straight down, propelled deep underwater by powerful webbed feet in pursuit of caplin, herring and squid. In early June, they lay a single large white egg in a nest of dried seaweed clinging to a high ledge on the nearly vertical walls of Bird Rock or the mainland cliffs. Chicks hatch in July when the caplin is most abundant and by September they are all on their way to Florida. The common murre, about the size of a small duck, lands only to breed and raise its young. Also a member of the auk family, it flies and lands clumsily, spending nearly its entire life far out at sea swimming on the surface or diving as deep as 100 metres in pursuit of small fish. Almost 90% of the eastern North American common murres breed in dense colonies on the coastal cliffs and islands of Newfoundland. The razorbill, one of the smallest of the auk family, breeds in rock crevices or under rock slabs and boulders and spends the winter at sea. Populations of both the common and thick-billed murre and the razorbill have been seriously reduced by habitat disturbance, hunting, oil pollution and fisheries development. Winter and summer, kittiwakes can be seen wheeling and turning far out to sea searching for food close to the surface or following fishing boats looking for scraps. Their black legs and wingtips are the most distinguishing features on this pretty little gull that nests in high densities to protect the eggs and young from predators such as ravens and herring gulls. The area also supports populations of seaducks - oldsquaw, scoters and eiders including the endangered Harlequin duck that may number 30 - 40 birds annually.



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