Cape Freels Coastline and Cabot Island

Year of compilation: 2001

Site description
There are two Cape Freels on insular Newfoundland: one on the southern Avalon Peninsula, and the other, which is the subject of this site summary, is at the northwest head of Bonavista Bay. Cape Freels is not an obvious cape, but a low corner of land where the coastline changes direction. Along this stretch of coastline, several small islands and numerous shoals extend 10 to 15 km to the south of the Cape, and 10 to 15 km out into the ocean. Within this area, the larger islands are the Turrs, the Cobblers, the Pinchards, Pouch, Flowers, Stevensons Islets, and the Cabot Islands. All of the islands are less than 10 ha in size.

Ice conditions can be heavy in the Cape Freels area from January to April. During such times, eiders may be concentrated in small areas of open water, with these lakes changing in size and location depending on winds and tides. The prevailing westerly winds in winter suggest that the islands and shoals along the north south shoreline are more likely to have open water leads during periods of heavy ice.

Key biodiversity
During aerial surveys completed by the Canadian Wildlife Service in 1995, the Cape Freels to Wadham Island coastline supported one of the largest concentrations of wintering eiders in Newfoundland. (Wadham Island is located about 40 km to the northwest.) A total of 25,000 birds was recorded, which may represent as much as 9% of the estimated northern (ssp. borealis) population. It is suspected that the eiders move about and share feeding areas within this entire area, with these movements often being controlled by local ice conditions.

In addition to the concentrations of Common Eiders around these islands during winter, concentrations of nesting seabirds are also present on some of the islands during the nesting season. Cabot Island, in particular, supports a small colony of nesting seabirds. In 1985, the species recorded were Common Murre (2,600 pairs), Razorbills (25 pairs), Atlantic Puffins (20 pairs), and about 250 pairs of Common / Arctic Terns.

Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
As with most coastal sites, the threat of oil contamination from a marine disaster is always possible. However, Cape Freels is not on a major shipping route and the eiders are present in winter when shipping off eastern Newfoundland is limited because of ice. The killing of more than the allowable limit by hunters is also a potential threat. Although there is an increased awareness about wildlife conservation in Newfoundland the area is poorly monitored by conservation officers and it is possible that numbers in excess of the legal limit are poached.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2021) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Cape Freels Coastline and Cabot Island. Downloaded from on 06/03/2021.