Saint Pierre and Miquelon

Leach's Storm Petrel Hydrobates leucorhous ©Steven Round Website

Saint Pierre and Miquelon is a self-governing territorial overseas collectivity of France in the northwestern Atlantic Ocean, located near the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador; 12 miles off Newfoundland’s Burin Peninsula at the top of the Saint-Pierre Banks near the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. It is an archipelago of eight islands. Its residents are French citizens; the collectivity elects its own deputy to the National Assembly and participates in France’s senatorial and presidential elections. It covers just 242 km2 (93 square miles) of land and has a population of c. 6,000 people. The islands are bare and rocky, with steep coasts and only a thin layer of peat to soften the hard landscape. The islands, like Newfoundland, are geologically part of the northeastern end of the Appalachian Mountains.

Miquelon-Langlade, the largest island, is in fact composed of two islands; Miquelon Island is connected to Langlade Island by the Dune de Langlade a 10-kilometre long sandy tombolo.  A storm severed them in the 18th century, separating the two islands for several decades, before currents reconstructed the isthmus. Morne de la Grande Montagne, the tallest point in the territory at 240m, is located on Grande Miquelon. The waters between Langlade and Saint-Pierre were called ‘the Mouth of Hell’ as more than 600 shipwrecks have been recorded. In the north of Miquelon Island is the village of Miquelon-Langlade, while Langlade Island is almost deserted. Saint Pierre Island, whose area is smaller is the most populous and the commercial and administrative centre of the archipelago and has an Airport. A third, formerly inhabited island, Isle-aux-Marins, is located a short distance from the port of Saint-Pierre. The other main islands are Grand Colombier, Île aux Vainqueurs, and Île aux Pigeons.

The islands of Saint-Pierre & Miquelon have large areas are covered with peat bogs and small lakes; wooded areas are restricted to river valleys and other sheltered areas. On the Isthmus uniting Miquelon and Langlade there are beautiful sandy beaches, and, on the Northern part; the most fascinating area, a salt lagoon called the Grand Barachois. The low coasts of Miquelon contrasts with the steep cliffs of Langlade and Northern St-Pierre while those of Cape Miquelon are remarkably picturesque. About 680 species of vascular plants have been recorded since 1816, some have disappeared, some were not correctly identified, and others were introduced. The flora, at the present time, comprises more than 450 native species and about 100 introduced.

In spite of being located at a similar latitude to the Bay of Biscay, the archipelago is characterised by a cold borderline humid continental/subarctic climate, under the influence of polar air masses and the cold Labrador Current. The relatively mild winters also means it has influences of subpolar oceanic climate, thus being at the confluence of three climatic types. Due to just three months being above 10 °C (50 °F) in mean temperatures and winter lows being so mild, Saint Pierre and Miquelon has a Köppen Climate Classification. Typical maritime seasonal lag is also strong with September being warmer than June and March being colder than December. The average temperature range is 19 °C to −3.6 °C between the warmest and coldest months. Precipitation is abundant and regular (146 days per year), falling as snow and rain. Because of its location at the confluence of the cold waters of the Labrador Current and the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, the archipelago is also crossed a hundred days a year by fog banks, mainly in June and July. Two other climatic elements are remarkable: the extremely variable winds and haze during the spring to early summer.

Birding Saint Pierre and Miquelon

Seabirds are the most common fauna. Seals and other wildlife can be found in the Grand Barachois Lagoon of Miquelon. Every spring, whales migrating to Greenland are visible off the coasts. The rocky islands are barren, except for scrubby yews and junipers and thin volcanic soil. The forest cover of the hills, except in parts of Langlade, was removed for fuel long ago.

Being an archipelago and due to glaciations, native land mammals are quite scarce, only the Red Fox’s origin is uncertain, the Meadow Vole Microtus pensylvanicus present only in St-Pierre is believed to have been introduced. The White-tailed deer Odocoileus virginianus, introduced in Miquelon-Langlade, has adapted remarkably well, in spite of the scarcity of its prime habitat, and is now withstanding strong hunting pressure. The Snowshoe Hare Lepus americanus was introduced for hunting purposes. The introduced Arctic Hare Lepus arcticus is still present, but in relatively low numbers. There are two species of Pinnipeds: The Harbour Seal, which is breeding here and is a permanent resident, and the Grey Seal, which is present from spring to late autumn. Two other species of seals: Harp and Hooded seal are scarce, but less rare than a few years ago, and are usually seen in early winter. Sea mammals, although not totally reliable, are often present around the islands: Humpback, Minke, & Finback whales, White-beaked and White-sided Dolphins, mostly appear from spring to autumn. The Atlantic Pilot whale and the Common Dolphin are seen as well, mostly in late summer.

The bird life is fairly rich. The first scientific article about the avifauna (1951) recorded 35 species. The next study was not for another 20 years or so, recorded 118 species. Then Michel Borotra, (the first inhabitant of the islands to get involved in bird watching) published an addition of 68 species. There is now a group of birders that has moved the list from 168 species to 319 with 5 new species in 2002: Black-backed Wagtail, Common Greenshank, American Avocet, Fork-tailed flycatcher and Eared Grebe. 93 species nest or have nested in these islands, 73 species are considered common and 42 species have been seen only once.

On the dark side, the islands have not signed the Migratory bird treaty act. Several species still are hunted like Murres and even Dovekies, Yellowlegs, Whimbrels, Dowitchers, Godwits etc. The hunting season is also longer than in Newfoundland. Although some efforts have been made recently, there is still some work to do, before the regulation become acceptable.

St-Pierre is the smallest and the most populated of the three main islands (6000 people on 28 km²). Four out of the five new species in 2002 were seen there. [Possibly because there are more observers, or it may be because it is easier to spot a new species on a small island]. The location must play a role as well, being the first landfall for birds arriving from the south or southeast. The coasts are interesting to visit for shorebirds but also for seabirds, which are quite common from autumn to spring. The small woods have nesting sparrows and warblers, although numbers of the latter have dwindled for many years.

Grand Colombier Island IBA from St Pierre Island

©Duda12345, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Grand Colombier is a small island a few hundred meters from the north-eastern corner of St. Pierre; it is about 1.2km long by a few hundred meters wide and 149m in height. This is the only nesting site for Atlantic Puffin (c.1,000 pairs). A Rough-legged Hawk is usually hovering overhead; this is the most reliable site to see the species that usually nests there. Absent from that island a few years ago, Razorbill now nest too (c.100 pairs). A few hundred pairs of Kittiwakes and about 20 pairs of Great Cormorant also breed. To really appreciate Grand Colombier, you must try to accompany local naturalists who spend a night there from time to time, you’ll be treated to an estimated 100,000 pairs of nesting Leach’s Storm-petrel. Manx Shearwaters have been actively prospecting here for years too. They were found inside artificial burrows and they might well be nesting in natural deep crevices, although breeding has not been proved yet. These birds are heard calling there every night. It is also a good site for nesting American Pipits. Minke, Humpback, Finback whales and Dolphins are often seen around the island.

La Baie (The Bay) is a misnomer, it is in fact a strait between Langlade and St. Pierre. The Bay is not usually rich in bird life, except during the Capelin run (a type if smelt), then hundreds of Sooty and Greater Shearwaters can be present as well as Gannets and Fulmars. The cliffs of Langlade were once rich in Kittiwake colonies but most of them have now moved to the Cape of Miquelon in the extreme North of the Archipelago. Only a few remain near Cap Bleu (Blue Cape) on the southwestern corner of Langlade. Black Guillemots breed there as well, in fact they nest on most of the cliffs around Langlade and Cape Miquelon.

Landing at Langlade is a bit unusual for modern times! There is no wharf there so you have to land by zodiac. This is a beautiful island, but with few good paths, if you really want to explore, be sure to come with a map and compass; otherwise, you could visit the nice ‘Belle Rivière’ valley (its estuary is where the boat lands) and see most of the warblers and sparrows of the area. A pair of Northern Harrier has been known to nest there as well as Northern Goshawk. Up on the plateau in spring and summer you can see breeding Red-throated Divers reaching their southernmost limit in North America there.

The Isthmus is a fascinating area, in the southern part there is a nice marsh that usually has several broods of ducks in spring and summer: Black Duck, Pintail and Green-winged Teal. In spring and autumn other species like Herons, Bitterns, sometimes Pied-billed Grebe or Bufflehead. Bank Swallows have nested a few times in the past, managing to dig burrows in fine sand. Dune vegetation and prairies are home to large numbers of Savannah sparrows and numerous Horned Larks (some of which over-wintering). The Northern part of the Isthmus has the richest ponds of the islands and has several broods of ducks including Red-breasted Mergansers, Ring-necked duck; Greater Scaup have nested there a few times too. Whimbrels usually arrive during the first week of July (sometimes in late June) and stay well into August. Only the Least Sandpiper, Common Snipe, Spotted Sandpiper and Semipalmated Plover breed there and the endangered Piping Plover. The Greater Yellowlegs is apparently only a migrant. The first fall shorebirds arrive around mid-July and linger into October and some into November and December. A few species are seen in winter: Red Knot, Sanderling, Dunlin and Black-bellied Plover. Arctic and Common Tern nest near Grand Barachois. Some of them, unfortunately are nesting in parts of the beach used in summer by cars. Black Tern has also nested there. Ring-billed Gulls also nest on the Isthmus.

The Lagoon itself is quite shallow and has extensive patches of Eel grass Zostera marina were food for 250 to 300 American Black Ducks a few years ago, the population has risen now to a maximum of 600 in the year 2000. These are present from September to December, most of them over-wintering as Canada Geese used to do, unfortunately, for the last 17 years they have all but abandoned the site due to disturbance. From fall to spring the Grand Barachois has a population of about 100 Common Goldeneye and several Red-breasted Mergansers and Greater Scaup. At low tide this is the best spot to observe both Harbour and Grey Seals. The Harbour seal give birth to his young there in late May/early June. Gannets and Shearwaters and often observed on both sides of the Isthmus in the Capelin season, the latter numbering sometimes several thousands.

Miquelon has coasts all around that have easy access, although the west coast is rather monotonous, bordered chiefly by peat bogs. It is interesting in spring, and to a lesser extent in winter and autumn, with concentration of thousands of Eider, hundreds of Long-tailed ducks, Mergansers and numerous Red-necked Grebes (possibly the most important concentration of this Grebe for the whole area). The east coast is more appealing, with numerous ponds and lakes separated of the sea by sand or gravel bars. The largest one: Mirande lake, more than 3 km in length, has more broods or Red-breasted Merganser than the rest of the islands. On the east coast, the road goes only a quarter of the way around to the village to Grand Barachois. From then on walking is easy, on the grass or on the beaches for several kilometres. Woods there are nice and have numerous species of Warblers and Sparrows. Even Northern Goshawk has nested there.

The Cape of Miquelon is not to be missed, this is the most picturesque area having wonderful steep cliffs with thousands of pairs of Kittiwakes nesting with other gulls, Black Guillemots and a few rare Razorbills, Whales are often seen as well. Gently rolling hills will lead you to the tip of the Cape where a pair of Bald Eagle has nested for many years. This is a good place to see several species of raptors in autumn: Sharp-shinned Hawk, Merlin, Osprey and Northern Harrier.

Visiting: Be sure to bring some warm clothes, temperatures here in summer rarely reach 20°c. and could come down to 14° or 15°. The sky being free of pollution, the sun can be dangerous; do not forget sun-cream. Precipitations are on average 1300 mm. a year and we have a lot of peat bogs so Rubber boots are essential. Good maps are available locally.

  • Roger Etcheberry


Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 344

    (As at April 2024)
  • Avibase

    PDF Checklist
    This checklist includes all bird species found in Saint-Pierre et Miquelon , based on the best information available at this time. It is based on a wide variety of sources that I collated over many years. I am pleased to offer these checklists as a service to birdwatchers.
  • Wikipedia

    Annotated List
    Of the 344 species on the checklist, 174 are rare or accidental and five were introduced by humans.
Useful Information
  • For background information

    The website is a signpost to a lot of other websites about different aspects of the Islands
Sightings, News & Forums
  • Les Oiseaux a Saint Pierre et Miquelon

    Mailing List
    News group for birds and cetaceans (in french)
  • eBird

Guides & Tour Operators
  • Flights to the Islands

    Tour Operator
    Information on flights from USA and Canada
Other Links
  • Top Birding Spots

    Top 5 birdwatching sites in Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon
Photographers & Artists

Fatbirder - linking birders worldwide... Wildlife Travellers see our sister site: WAND

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