IBA Central Cape Breton Highlands
Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia
Site Summary
NS061 Latitude
46.269° N
60.506° W
?? m
82.54 km²
coniferous forest (temperate), deciduous woods (temperate), mixed woods (temperate), rivers/streams, freshwater lake, bog, rocky flats & barrens
Land Use:
Forestry, Tourism/recreation
Potential or ongoing Threats:
Afforestation, Agricultural pollution/pesticides, Deforestation, Extraction industry, Fire, Other environmental events
IBA Criteria: Globally Significant: Threatened Species, Congregatory Species
Conservation status:
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Site Description
The Central Cape Breton Highlands lie south of Cape Breton Highlands National Park in northeastern Nova Scotia. The highlands are mountainous and interspersed with streams and occasional small lakes or ponds. The natural forest here is a mix of Balsam Fir and White and Black spruce, with stunted windblown and moose-browsed forests at higher altitudes. In places bogs and barrens are intermixed with patches of spruce forest. In the 1960s and 1970s there was a large Spruce Budworm outbreak that affected many fir and spruce trees. South of the national park, much of the affected forest has since been salvage-cut in order to use the wood. This has made access to the area relatively easy because of the presence of numerous logging roads. After cutting, most of the forest was left to regenerate naturally and many of these young forests are primarily coniferous with smaller amounts of birch and mountain ash. Smaller amounts of cut forest have been planted with Black Spruce. Silvicultural practices also include thinning and pesticide use, but these are used on a relatively small scale.

The highland region of Cape Breton Island has a mean annual temperature of less than 50C and about 1500mm of precipitation each year. Much of the precipitation is snow, which covers the ground from mid-November to early May. Animals found in the area include: Lynx, Moose, White-tailed Deer, Snowshoe Hare, Red-backed Vole, Mink Frog, and Yellow-spotted Salamander.

Scattered throughout the forests of the central Cape Breton highlands are significant numbers of Bicknells Thrush. Between 50 and 200 territorial males are estimated to occur in the area. It is not clear if these numbers reflect pairs of thrushes since some new research suggests that male Bicknells Thrushes may mate with more than one female. These numbers may represent as much as 4% of the worlds population of the species, and perhaps 11% of the Canadian population (using the most conservative national and global population estimates).

At this site, thrushes are found in young, 20 year-old, high elevation forests that have been left to regenerate naturally. These forests, like those that Bicknells Thrushes are more typically found in, are dense and small, usually 2 to 5 m in height. Breeding has not been confirmed in this newly discovered habitat, but since the nests are notoriously difficult to find, this may only reflect the elusiveness of the bird.

IBA Criteria
SpeciesT | A | I Links Date Season Number G C N
Bicknell's Thrush 1995 SU 100 - 400
Note: species shown in bold indicate that the maximum number exceeds at least one of the IBA thresholds (sub-regional, regional or global). The site may still not qualify for that level of IBA if the maximum number reflects an exceptional or historical occurrence.
Conservation Issues
Although the area is not protected, it is not clear whether the logging activities have an overall negative, neutral or positive effect on Bicknells Thrush populations. Because the thrush populations were not known before logging took place, logging here may have reduced the amount of typical breeding habitat (low dense coniferous forests) available for the thrushes or it may have produced additional habitat by producing some young regenerating forest that the thrush is now found in. Additionally, unlike typical forest habitat that stays small and dense because of climatic conditions, this new habitat will not stay suitable for long. As the young regenerating forests get older, and are thinned, the habitat may become unsuitable for Bicknells Thrush. Conversely other more recently cut forests may take their place.

The IBA Program is an international conservation initiative coordinated by BirdLife International. The Canadian co-partners for the IBA Program are Birds Canada and Nature Canada.
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