The coast of Cape Breton Island, off northeastern Nova Scotia, features many rocky capes, points, bays and small islands. Chéticamp Island on the western side of Cape Breton, is connected to the nearby mainland by a barrier beach. The southwestern side of Chéticamp Island is referred to as "The Capes". They are composed of crumbling sandstone and they represent the highest stretch of cliffs on the island (some sections approach heights of 150 m). At the top of the cliffs the vegetation community consists of scrubby spruce woods. The climate is cool, damp and there is much less snow in the winter than on the nearby highlands. The tidal range is 2 3 m.
Great Cormorants nest on the high and steep cliffs of The Capes. In 1992, 338 birds were recorded, representing 2.7% of the total North American Great Cormorant population. Two additional surveys were completed in previous years, suggesting that the numbers have decreased since 1987 (514 birds), but increased since 1973 (220 birds). The Capes is the only site suitable for nesting Great Cormorants for approximately 50 km to the north and south.
Although Great Cormorants often breed inland in Europe and Asia, they are strictly coastal breeders in North America. Cormorants prefer nest sites that are within commuting range of adequate food resources and safe from terrestrial predators. As a result, isolated islands, and steep rocky cliffs that are within commuting range of adequate food resources, are favoured as nesting sites. It is not known exactly where Great Cormorants from The Capes colony feed, but since there are no shoals nearby, it is thought that they fly either north or southwards to feeding grounds.
In recent years, a Black-legged Kittiwake colony has become established on the cliffs. Annual surveys between 1995 and 1998 showed continual increases in nesting pairs, with 192 pairs in 1995 and 345 pairs in 1998. There is also an active Bald Eagle nest on the island, along with a Great Blue Heron colony.
BirdLife International (2020) Important Bird Areas factsheet: The Capes. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 05/08/2020.