The Witless Bay Ecological Reserve contains four islands—Gull, Green, Great, and Pee Pee—that teem with bird life during the seabird breeding season.
The reserve contains North America's largest Atlantic puffin colony. More than 260,000 pairs of the province's official bird nest here during the late spring and summer.
Notably, Witless Bay Ecological Reserve also hosts the second-largest (after Baccalieu Island Ecological Reserve) Leach's storm-petrel colony in the world-more than 620,000 pairs come here to nest.
In addition, black-legged kittiwakes and common murres appear in the thousands.
The islands lie just a few kilometres off the east coast of Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula, between the communities of Bay Bulls and Bauline East, half an hour south of St. John's. The reserve area takes in 31 km2 - 29 km2 of this is a marine area around the islands. Regulations govern the operation of boats inside the reserve during the sensitive nesting season (April 1-September 1).
Seabirds generally spend most of the year at sea and only return to land from May to August to breed and raise their young. For the most part, public observation of their activities must be done from boats-landing on the islands themselves requires a scientific research or special access permit.
Several licenced tour-boat companies operate out of the communities near the islands (see Services). Running spring through fall, these boat tours also provide opportunities to spot icebergs, whales, and other wildlife.
The Canadian Wildlife Service and Memorial University of Newfoundland carry out extensive research programs in the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve. Their studies of the birds' behaviour and population trends, as well as the area's ecology, help guide the management of all the province's seabird reserves.
The Witless Bay Islands are part of the Maritime Barrens-Southeastern Barrens subregion (1.1 MB). The Islands were originally designated a wildlife reserve in 1964. They became the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve in 1983, three years after the Wilderness and Ecological Reserves Act was passed.
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