Incidental Observations of Birds in the Vicinity of Hell Gate Polynya, Nunavut: Species, Timing, and Diversity




polynya, Arctic, Arctic birds, species diversity, spring arrival, Hell Gate, species inventory


Our knowledge of the distribution of Arctic birds and how their ranges may be responding to environmental changes in the Canadian Arctic is limited. We gathered five years of species observation data from three sites in the Hell Gate – Cardigan Strait Polynya (Cape Vera, St. Helena Island, and Devil Island) to create an inventory of avian species observed in the polynya, and we compared it to previous observations made at our sites and other sites throughout the Arctic. We examined species diversity measurements over time to suggest possible effects of the polynya on the timing of spring arrival of breeding and migrant species. Of the 39 species observed during our study, 12 were local breeders. Our records provide the northernmost observations for eight species. Species diversity index values at St. Helena Island peaked quickly in mid-June and stabilized by late June, reflecting the arrival and dispersal of migrating species relatively early in the season. These data highlight the importance of the open-water feeding habitat of the polynya not only for breeding birds, but also for migrants.