Amherst Island

Site description (2001 baseline):

Site location and context
Amherst Island lies at the northeast corner of Lake Ontario between Wolfe Island, 18 km to the east, and the peninsula of Prince Edward County to the west. It is about 4 km southwest of Kingston, Ontario, and 2 km south of Bath. The oval-shaped and fairly flat island, is comprised of farmland interspersed with woodlots and areas of marsh. A network of gravel roads criss-crosses the island. Secluded bays with sand and gravel beaches are located along the shoreline, and there is a sandbar off the northeast corner of the island. The largest town, Stella, lies along the northern shoreline, opposite Millhaven on the mainland. The offshore lacustrine areas and the beaches and sandbars are favoured by staging waterfowl and shorebirds.

Key biodiversity
Significant spring congregations of Brant and Dunlin have been recorded on Amherst Island. In 1995, a peak of 5,000 Brant, representing about 4% of the estimated Atlantic Brant population, was recorded in the offshore waters at this site. Between 1994 and 1997 the average number of Brant staging at this site during the spring migration was 3,550, representing just over 1% of the North American population. In 1997, 1,000 Dunlin were recorded although representing less than 1% of the poorly known central Canadian breeding population (ssp. hudsonia), this number is still noteworthy.

Amherst Island has gained international recognition for concentrations of wintering hawks and owls that are often present. Up to 10 species of owls have been recorded during a single winter. Some peak numbers include: 34 Great Gray Owls (February 1979), 27 Great Gray Owls (March 1996), 3 Boreal Owls (November 1996), 21 Snowy Owls (1980s), 50 Long-eared Owls (1979) and 86 Rough-legged Hawks (1985). In the 1970s and 1980s over 70 Short-eared Owls were seen in many winters. This nationally vulnerable species has also bred on Amherst Island in July 1973, 30 individuals were counted. Their current breeding status is not known.

Other notable bird sightings include: 3000 Double-crested Cormorants (September 1992); and 15,000 Tree Swallows (August 1993). A singing Henslows Sparrow (nationally endangered) was reported, but not confirmed during the breeding season in the 1980s at the western end of the island. In 1976, a Barn Owl (eastern population, nationally endangered) nest was found on Amherst Island that contained 5 eggs.

Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
Located close to the mainland and the city of Kingston, Amherst Island is within 5 km of thousands of tourists and summer vacationers. Housing and recreational development could threaten some of the remaining natural areas. Increased usage also increases the potential for inadvertent disturbance of the staging waterfowl and shorebirds.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Area factsheet: Amherst Island. Downloaded from on 30/11/2023.