The best bird-watching destinations along the Saint Lawrence River

January 10, 2024

It’s no wonder that bird-watching is gaining in popularity: this fascinating hobby can be done anywhere, any time, and doesn’t cost very much at all. In fact, the only piece of equipment bird watchers need to add to their suitcase is a good pair of binoculars. That’s what travelling light is all about!

 The Saint Lawrence River is home to hundreds of bird species, and some of their migration patterns make for a pretty spectacular show during the shoulder seasons. Visitors to the Québec province will be spoiled for choice, as some of the ports of call along the river are close to several bird sanctuaries, colonies and Important Bird Areas (IBAs). Here are a few of them.

In this article, you will learn how to:

  • Walk among northern gannets
  • Visit one of the largest Atlantic puffin colonies 
  • Spot the elusive snow owl
  • Observe dozens of species at the Corossol Island Bird Sanctuary 
  • Plan a cruise during the snow geese migration season

As if the sight of the Rocher Percé in Gaspésie wasn’t breathtaking enough, wait until you spot the tens of thousands of northern gannets that have taken up residence in the Île-Bonaventure-et-du-Rocher-Percé National Park, one of the largest migratory bird refuges in North America. The colony is a prime spot for this particular seabird as it is protected from several predators, while the nearby Gulf of Saint Lawrence provides plenty of yummy food. 

 The area houses several other bird colonies and is easily accessible through a network of trails, which means visitors can truly admire these impressive animals up close. A must-see destination for budding ornithologists everywhere.

Marvelling at the puffins

Those alighting in Havre Saint-Pierre will have the opportunity to tour the aptly named Île aux perroquets (Parrots Island), with its famous colony of Atlantic puffins! While not exactly a type of parrot as the island’s name suggests, this particular species is just as exotic with its distinctive orange beak.

The island, which is only 350 metres long and 100 metres wide, forms a rocky plateau with steep cliffs: a prized nesting spot. This configuration explains why other species such as the razorbill, the black guillemot and the black-legged kittiwake have chosen to settle in this IBA.

Wondering if the puffins will be easy to track down? Don’t worry,  you should hear them before you even set foot on the island!

Spotting the elusive the snow owl

While the snow owl, the official bird of Québec, is usually found higher up in the arctic tundra, some visitors have been lucky enough to spot one during their trip along the river! In fact, while this majestic animal prefers open terrains and nests in the open regions of northern Québec, it sometimes ventures south in search of food.

 Some snow owls have even been spotted soaring by traffic cameras in both Montréal and Québec City. This one bird just doesn’t wait in traffic!

Living the pirate life at Corossol Island Bird Sanctuary

The small island near Sept-Îles is home to two equally amazing things: the famous Corossol shipwreck, and one of the most diverse bird sanctuaries in the Côte-Nord region. While the former is a little harder to access and buried deep under the sea, keen bird watchers will have a much easier time reaching their destination. A quick boat tour or sea kayaking excursion can take them to the island, which hosts razorbills, black guillemots and murrets. No gold galleons have been spotted of late, unfortunately!

Following the Snow Geese’s migration

In the fall, thousands of snow geese migrate south to avoid the tough Canadian winter, and most will take a break to rest somewhere along the Saint Lawrence River in the process. And guess what? The same happens in the spring as they come back! Some lucky twitchers may get to observe thousands of geese just chilling as they wait to take flight and resume their journey. At the very least, you should see them soaring overhead in their signature “V” formation, which is quite a show in itself.

 By the way, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the winter in Québec without having to head south. Discover them here!

 Québec’s fauna is diverse, breathtaking and plentiful. Anyone hoping to observe some exotic seabirds or to follow the geese’s migration patterns during their cruise on the Saint Lawrence River will be treated to some truly unforgettable sights!

Find out more about the Cruise the Saint Lawrence sustainable development guidelines on our sustainability page.