Basque Islands and Michaud Point

Year of compilation: 2001

Site description
The Basque Islands, a group of four low rocky islets (all < 1 ha) lie 1.5 to 3 km east of the southern tip of Point Michaud, which is on the southern coast of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. The Basque Islands are rocky with thin and poor soils. Point Michaud is a rocky and partly wooded headland (1.3 x 0.6 km). It is connected to Cape Breton Island by a gravel barrier-beach (to the west) and a sand beach (to the east) impounding several ponds, of which the lowest is flooded by spring tides. This region experiences mild, damp and foggy weather. The tidal range is roughly 3 - 4 m.

In addition to providing nesting habitat for cormorants, Basque Island is an important haul-out and pupping area for Gray Seals.

Key biodiversity
Most of North America's Great Cormorants are found in Nova Scotia (>70%). It is thought that there are about 6,200 Great Cormorants in Canada. A count on the Basque Islands in the early 1980s estimated the population to be a little higher than 300. However, as the 1992 count suggests, the colony has since increased slightly to 454 birds, representing approximately 3.6% of the North American population.

Point Michaud is one of only three or four locations where a variety of shorebirds occur regularly on Cape Breton Island. Semipalmated, Spotted and Least Sandpipers, Willets, Common Snipe, have all been recorded here. Over 100 pairs of Common Eiders breed in the vicinity of Michaud Point (mouth of the Grand River) where dozens of Canada Geese and other waterfowl can be observed during spring and fall migrations.

Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
The beach at Michaud Point is protected by Point Michaud Provincial Park, which was established in the 1970s. Although provincial parks allow tourism and recreation, which can be extensive and damaging in some parks, Michaud Point is little used, owing to its remote location.

Cormorants have long had a bad reputation in North America. Due to persecution, in 1900 the Great Cormorant was thought to be extirpated from North America. But some remote colonies found refuge on Anticosti Island, Quebec and it is thought that in recent decades these birds increased in numbers and expanded their range southwards to re-colonize Maritime Canada. In many rural communities, cormorants are still often blamed for the declines in fish stocks. Additionally, many people dislike the white bird droppings that often cover the ground at breeding colonies; these often kill trees and much of the vegetation within the breeding colony. As a result of this negative image cormorant colonies are often raided, resulting in the destruction of many nests, and in some cases, the killing of dozens of birds.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Basque Islands and Michaud Point. Downloaded from on 18/08/2022.