Birds and Mammals of Coats Island, N.W.T.

  • Anthony J. Gaston
  • Henri Ouellet
Keywords: Coats Island, birds, mammals, distribution


We summarize records of birds and mammals obtained at Coats Island, Northwest Territories during one visit by a National Museum of Natural Sciences expedition and fourteen visits by Canadian Wildlife Service field crews to the northeast corner of the island, as well as records obtained from the journals of the Hudson's Bay Company post active on the island from 1920 to 1924. The terrestrial mammal fauna is very depauperate, lacking any small herbivores. Consequently, predators specializing in small mammals - such as ermine, snowy owl, and long-tailed jaeger, all common on nearby Southampton Island - are rare or absent from Coats Island, except in passage. In addition, there are no snow goose colonies on Coats Island, although good numbers of Canada geese breed there, and some brant may also do so. This means that grazing on the island is mainly confined to the resident caribou population. The absence of small mammals and the relatively low density of geese may have accounted for the poor results of fox trapping during the period when the Hudson's Bay Company post was operating. Numbers of most marine mammals appear to have changed little since the 1920s, although bowhead whales may have become rarer, with only two sightings since 1981, compared to several annually in the 1920s. Winter records from the 1920-24 post journals suggest that waters off Coats Island are within the wintering range of beluga, walrus, and thick-billed murres. Eighty-four species of birds have been seen since 1975; this number includes many sightings of vagrant birds well outside their normal ranges. This may be accounted for by the comparative lushness of the vegetation surrounding the thick-billed murre colony, which attracts birds from long distances.