Snow Bunting Plectrophenax nivalis ©Dubi Shapiro Website

Nunavut (meaning ‘our land’) is the largest and northernmost territory of Canada. It was separated officially from the Northwest Territories (1999), via an agreement that provided territory to the Inuit for independent government. Nunavut covers over 1,830,000 km2 (c.700,000 square miles) of land and over 160,000 km2 (62,000 square miles) of water in Northern Canada. The territory includes part of the mainland, most of the Arctic Archipelago, and all of the islands in Hudson Bay, James Bay, and Ungava Bay, including the Belcher Islands, all of which were part of the Northwest Territories from which Nunavut was separated. This makes it the fifth-largest subnational entity (or administrative division) in the world. If Nunavut were a country, it would rank 15th in area.

Nunavut has long land borders with the Northwest Territories on the mainland and a few Arctic islands, and with Manitoba to the south of the Nunavut mainland; it also meets Saskatchewan to the southwest at a quadripoint, and has a short land border with Newfoundland and Labrador on Killiniq Island. The boundary with the Northwest Territories roughly approximates the tree line in Canada. Nunavut shares maritime borders with the provinces of Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, and Greenland, with which it also shares a land border on Hans Island. Nunavut’s highest point is Barbeau Peak (c.2,600 m or 8,500 ft) on Ellesmere Island. With just over 40,000 people, the population density is one of the lowest in the world. By comparison, Greenland has approximately the same area and nearly twice the population. The capital Iqaluit is the biggest settlement with around 7,000 people.

Nunavut is also home to the world’s northernmost continuously inhabited place, Alert. Eureka, a weather station on Ellesmere Island, has the lowest average annual temperature of any Canadian weather station. The territory experiences a polar climate in most regions, owing to its high latitude and lower continental summertime influence than areas to the west. In more southerly continental areas, very cold subarctic climates can be found, due to July being slightly milder than the required 10 °C (50 °F).

Birding Nunavut

Canada’s newest territory, Nunavut, was created mainly from the old Northwest Territories and came into being on April 1, 1999. A vast area of land and water, it covers almost 2 million square kilometres, and is sparsely populated by about 40,000 inhabitants. It spans an area from 52 degrees to 84 degrees latitude.

Auyuittuq National Park ©Ansgar Walk, CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons

The southern islands in James Bay are dominated by extensive boreal forest similar to the adjacent mainland. The bulk of Nunavut though is well above the treeline in Canada. The further one travels northwards, the more the vegetation becomes sparce and stunted. The landscape is generally low and gently rolling, from the lowland tundra to the glaciers in the extreme north, punctuated in some locales by mountainous cliffs and sea walls.

Travel to Nunavut can be a logistical nightmare. Although there is a regular air service from the south into larger settlements, visits to more remote locations can be costly and difficult. Most settlements are fairly small and with limited resources. Due to the shortage of certain supplies, the cost of purchasing or shipping almost any goods in Nunavut is significantly higher than in southern Canada.

The extreme harsh conditions, and sparse vegetation throughout most of Nunavut, is a limiting factor on the abundance and diversity of bird species. The current territorial list stands at about 230 bird species. The further north one travels in Nunavut, the lower the number of species one encounters daily. However, the experience of seeing large goose colonies, Snowy Owls hunting lemmings, singing shorebirds, and jaegers strafing the tundra will enthral the ardent birder.

The best time to visit Nunavut is from mid-June to mid-July. When birding at that time, you will be regaled with the beautiful songs of various shorebirds, which usually only peep or are silent during migration. With 24 hours of sunlight during this period, birding can be enjoyed around the clock. Occasional warm temperatures in the 10c-20c degree range can prompt an onslaught of mosquitoes which can be problematic at times. Most bird species arrive, breed and depart in a relatively short period of time.

Top Sites
  • Cambridge Bay (Victoria Island)

    InformationSatellite View
    Cambridge Bay, with a population of approximately 2,200 people, is located on southeast Victoria Island and receives regular air service from Edmonton. Accommodation is available in the community, as are most services. The bird species list for Cambridge Bay consists of 79 species. Common species seen near the township include Thayer's Gull, Sabine's Gull, King Eider, Long-tailed and Parasitic Jaegers, various shorebirds and Pacific Loon. Located about 15km northeast of town is Mount Pelly. It can be easily accessed by road. Here, species such as Yellow-billed Loon, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Rock and Willow Ptarmigan, Sandhill Crane, Brant, Red Knot, Peregrine Falcon and Rough-legged Hawk can be seen, along with roaming herds of Muskoxen, Arctic Fox, Arctic Hare and lemmings.
  • Ellesmere Island

    InformationSatellite View
    The northernmost island in the Arctic Archipelago, Ellesmere Island, can appear as a desolate, isolated locale. Species such as White-rumped Sandpiper, Red Knot, Purple Sandpiper, Common Ringed Plover, and Northern Wheatear are regular breeders here.
  • Resolute area

    InformationSatellite View
    Resolute is the outpost for most of the northern Arctic. Access to Ellesmere, Devon, and other northern Islands is through this community. On nearby islands, large seabird colonies, consisting of Black-legged Kittiwake, Northern Fulmar, and Thick-billed Murre, thrive.
  • Tyler Hoar


Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 298

    (As at April 2024)

    Provincial Bird - Rock Ptarmigan Lagopus mutus

  • Avibase

    PDF Checklist
    This checklist includes all bird species found in Nunavut , based on the best information available at this time. It is based on a wide variety of sources that I collated over many years.
  • Wikipedia

    Annotated List
    Of the 298 species on the list, 136 are accidental and two were introduced to North America. One species is extinct; three are extirpated and one of them is possibly extinct.
Useful Reading

  • Birds of Nunavut

    | (Two volumes) | Edited by James M Richards & Anthony J Gaston | University of British Columbia Press | 2018 | Hardback | 960 pages, 765 colour photos, 155 distribution maps | ISBN: 9780774860246 Buy this book from
  • Common Birds of Nunavut

    | By Mark L Mallory | Inhabit Media | 2014 | Paperback | 174 pages, colour photos, b/w illustrations, colour distribution maps | ISBN: 9781927095669 Buy this book from
  • Birding Nunavut

    Facebook Page
    This group is for those who enjoy birds and birding in Nunavut. It is for the exchange of information and discussion of birds
  • James Bay Islands Bird Survey

    As you may or may not know, the James Bay coastline (a southeastern extension of the Hudson Bay in Canada) and surrounding area provide some of the world’s most important summer and stopover habitat with Canada’s Boreal Forest region for a vast number of wetland-dependent birds, especially shorebirds and waterfowl – many of which migrate to or through the United States later in the year

Abbreviations Key

  • BS Akimiski Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary

    InformationSatellite View
    The coastal waters and wetlands are important feeding grounds for several varieties of migratory waterfowl and shorebirds. These include Atlantic brant, Canada goose, Caspian tern, Hudsonian godwit, lesser snow goose, red knot, and semipalmated plover.
  • BS Boatswain Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary

    InformationSatellite View
    Boatswain Bay is a Canadian Important Bird Area; the MBS is situated within the IBA. The bay is also classified as a Biodiversity Reserve, and a Key Migratory Bird Terrestrial Habitat site.
  • BS Bylot Island Migratory

    WebpageSatellite View
    Bylot Island encompasses a rich wildlife, a great variety of habitats and spectacular scenery. Consequently, most of its terrestrial portion became part of the Sirmilik National Park, established in 2001. The island is composed of mountains, snowfields, ice fields, glaciers and pingos, a rare occurrence worldwide. In particular, birdlife is quite diverse on the island, owing to its prime nesting grounds for seabirds, which concentrate on the steep cliffs at Cape Hay, the northwestern tip, and Cape Graham Moore, the southeastern corner of the island. Other bird species include songbirds, waders and waterfowl, and Snow Geese in particular, which are found in the lowland tundra in the southwest sector of the island.
  • BS Dewey Soper Migratory Bird Sanctuary

    InformationSatellite View
    The bird sanctuary supports nearly 30% of the breeding geese in Canada, making it the largest goose colony in the world. Up to two million birds of various species use the area for summer nesting, and it is also habitat for one of Canada's major barren-ground caribou herds.
  • BS East Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary

    InformationSatellite View
    The East Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary is a migratory bird sanctuary in Kivalliq, Nunavut, Canada. It is located in East Bay, an arm of Hudson Bay, in southeast Southampton Island. The nearest community is Coral Harbour, 44 mi (71 km) to the west. It is one of two bird sanctuaries on the island, the other being the Harry Gibbons Migratory Bird Sanctuary, situated 87 mi (140 km) to the southwest.
  • BS Harry Gibbons Migratory Bird Sanctuary

    InformationSatellite View
    It is one of two bird sanctuaries on the island, the other being the East Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary, situated 87 mi (140 km) to the northeast.
  • BS McConnell River Migratory Bird Sanctuary

    InformationSatellite View
    The Bird Sanctuary is home to and an important breeding ground for cackling goose, lesser snow goose, Ross's goose, and Canada goose.
  • BS Prince Leopold Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary

    InformationSatellite View
    The island is a Key Migratory Bird Terrestrial Habitat site (NU Site 15) and is classified as a Canadian Important Bird Area (#NU006). The MBS is situated within the IBA.
  • BS Queen Maud Gulf Migratory Bird Sanctuary

    InformationSatellite View
    In 1982, 450,000 geese, including the majority of the worlds Ross's geese, nested in the sanctuary, one of the largest concentration of geese on Earth.
  • BS Seymour Island

    InformationSatellite View
    The Seymour Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary, established in 1975, is 2,800 ha (6,900 acres) in size, including the island and surrounding waters. The migratory bird sanctuary is part of the Seymour Island Important Bird Area (No. NU045). The island is also an International Biological Programme Site (No. 1-7), and a Key Marine Habitat Site in Nunavut (No. 2)
  • NP Auyuittuq

    InformationSatellite View
    A zig-zag skyline of craggy granite peaks and glittering glaciers overlooks tundra valleys and steep-walled fiords whose winding waterways teem with narwhal and ringed seals, Auyuittuq is a diverse and grand-scale Arctic experience.
  • NP Quttinirpaaq

    InformationSatellite View
    Some wildlife, notably Arctic hares, lemmings, muskoxen and Arctic wolves reside in this national park, but sparse vegetation and low temperatures support only small populations. There is a very small Peary caribou population as well. Other animal inhabitants include ringed seals, bearded seals, walruses, polar bears, and narwhals. During summer months, birds nest in the park including semipalmated plovers, red knots, gyrfalcons and long-tailed jaegers.
  • NP Sirmilik

    InformationSatellite View
    Lying 700 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle and 600 kilometres west of Greenland in the High Arctic, Sirmilik (glacier) National Park is one of the richest wildlife areas in all of Nunavut. A diversity of migratory birds, and land and marine mammals is framed by rugged mountains, deep fiords and inlets, intricate glaciers, precipitous cliffs and productive lowlands…
  • NP Ukkusiksalik

    InformationSatellite View
    In addition to a reversing waterfall and over 500 archeological sites, including an old Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) trading post, the region is home to such species as polar bears, grizzly bears, Arctic wolf, caribou, seals and peregrine falcons. Vegetation in the park is typical low tundra, with dwarf birch, willow and mountain avens. Scattered patches of boreal forest can be encountered in river valleys.
  • Nunavut Parks

    InformationSatellite View
    Nunavut, 'our land', is defined by its people and places. It is an arctic territory that evokes images of vast space and endless skies, wide tundra plains, ice-capped mountains, lands and seas teeming with wildlife, and rich cultural traditions still practiced today…
Guides & Tour Operators
  • Eagle-Eye Tours

    Tour Operator
    Our Nunavut tours include birding and wildlife viewing from land and sea. We offer an unforgettable floe edge trip from Pond Inlet where you can expect great birding and the chance to see narwhal, polar bears and much more! On this remarkable tour we travel with Inuit to the wildlife rich edge of the sea ice. Our Cambridge Bay tour includes birding and chance to see muskox on the beautiful arctic tundra.
  • Nahanni River Tours

    Tour Operator
    For nearly two decades Neil Hartling and Barry Beales of Nahanni River Adventures and Whitewolf Expeditions have fine tuned the most extensive offerings of the best of the north. In 1997 the two companies joined together to capitalise on the strengths of each outfit. The resulting selection has been referred to as the life list of northern rivers - all must do`s.
  • Nunavut Bird Watching and Birding Adventures

    Nunavut is a veritable birdwatchers' paradise. Phlaropes, peregrine falcons, gyrfalcons, snowy owls, ivory gulls, sandhill cranes, Arctic loons, jaegers, golden eagles, and terns are only a few of the species that make Nunavut their summer home. Mid-May to August is an excellent birding period, when migrant species return to nest on the Nunavut spring landscape.
Trip Reports
  • 2018 [07 July] - Ray O'Reilly

    PDF Report
    Following my retirement at the end of 2017, Lyn and I wanted to take a long wildlife trip abroad and we chose Canada because I had been there on three previous occasions and enjoyed my time there immensely and also the fact that it is packed with wildlife and English is spoken as a first language in our chosen provinces. We flew to Winnipeg via Toronto with Air Canada from Heathrow and returned from Vancouver 53 days later with the same airline.
  • 2022 [06 June] - Cam Gillies

    We travelled north along the floe edge to a spot with some open water and became acquainted with the birdlife. Thick-billed Murres and Black-legged Kittiwakes were moving north in small flocks, heading toward their nesting cliff on the southeast corner of Bylot Island. We also soon found both Common and King Eider, both of which were looking exceptionally sharp in their breeding plumage. We also saw our first ringed seals in the water just off the edge of the ice.
  • Nunavut Birding

Places to Stay
  • Bathurst Inlet Lodge

    A visit to Bathurst Inlet Lodge offers extraordinary experiences in a wild and ruggedly beautiful land, yet provides a level of personal comfort rarely found in such remote areas…
Other Links
  • The Snow Bunting Report

    PDF Report
    ...Local knowledge is an important source of information and especially in the case of Snow Buntings. There were a number of local collaborators that helped us Iind nests and monitor them in Iqaluit...
  • Boreal Bird Blog

    The Boreal Songbird Initiative (BSI) is dedicated to education and outreach about the importance of the boreal forest to North America's birds, other wildlife, and the global environment. The Canadian Boreal Forest, one of the largest intact forests left on Earth, is increasingly under threat. Logging, mining, oil and gas, and hydroelectric development are expanding further and further into the boreal forest each year.

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