Northern Head and South Head

Country/territory: Canada

IBA Criteria met: A4i (2008)
For more information about IBA criteria please click here

Area: 5,200 ha

Birds Canada / Nature Canada

Site description
Cape Breton Island is the northeastern region of Nova Scotia. The coast of this large island (approx. 12,000 km²) features many rocky capes, islands, points and bays. On the eastern side of Cape Breton, approximately 10 km east of the town of Glace Bay, is Morien Bay. This bay is enclosed by the Northern Head (also known as Cape Perce) and the South Head (also known as Cape Morien). Both heads have prominent rocky cliffs. On the south side of the Northern Head, the cliffs are 30 metres high for a 2.5 km stretch and on the north side of the cape they taper to 15 m in height. All the cliffs at South Head are about 15m high.

As with most of Nova Scotia, this region often experiences mild, damp and foggy weather. The tidal range is roughly 3 - 4 m.

Key biodiversity
Recent estimates suggest that there are only 6,200 breeding pairs of Great Cormorants in North America, all of which are in Canada. The spectacular, steep cliffs of the headlands of Morien Bay provide excellent nesting habitat for cormorants. In 1992, a total of 842 Great Cormorants (representing 6.7% of the estimated North American population) nested on the Northern and South Headlands.

At least three surveys (1971, 1987 and 1992) have been conducted on the colonies of the Northern and South Heads. The numbers of birds at both colonies have slightly increased since 1971, when 188 and 140 were observed at the Northern and South Head, respectively, although a 1999 visit to Northern Head suggested that the numbers of Great Cormorants there are again lower than 350 pairs.

Additionally, Black-legged Kittiwakes have begun nesting on Northern Head and during the winter the waters surrounding the heads are occasionally used by Harlequin Ducks (nationally endangered eastern population). Schooner Pond, just inland from Northern Head is an excellent location for finding vagrant landbirds.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Northern Head and South Head. Downloaded from on 09/08/2022.