Mohawk Island National Wildlife Area

Four Terns on a beach. Terns @ Environment Canada.
Mohawk Island National Wildlife Area - Terns © Environment Canada


Two chicks in a nest. Chicks @ Environment Canada.Mohawk Island National Wildlife Area (NWA) is a small, 4-ha,  sparsely vegetated limestone outcrop located in eastern Lake Erie. It lies approximately 20 km to the southwest of Port Colborne, Ontario, near the mouth of the Grand River. The island consists mainly of open limestone barrens with an elevated gravel bar along the eastern shoreline; it is greatly affected by the strong wind events that frequently overwash the entire island. The sparse vegetation is limited to thin soils found in small depressions and rock crevices. Mohawk Island was once named Gull Island because of the large numbers of gulls and terns that rested on the Island.

The NWA was established in 1977 to protect colonial nesting waterbirds. It is an important nesting site for several species of waterbirds, primarily Herring Gulls, Ring-billed Gulls, Common Terns, and Double-crested Cormorants. The natural features of the island provide excellent loafing habitat as well as refuge from predators, offering easy access to food supply, and having minimal human disturbance for the young nestlings. Populations of the colonial waterbirds at Mohawk Island NWA have been monitored since the 1970s, and are part of long-term toxicity monitoring studies undertaken by Environment Canada.

The island also provides a stopover site for many species of migratory birds, especially waterfowl and shorebirds during spring and fall migration. Waterfowl often seen in the area include species such as Mallard, Canada Goose, Common Goldeneye, and Scaup. Shorebirds such as sandpipers are also often present as they pass through and use the island for loafing and as a stopover site when crossing Lake Erie along the Mississippi and Atlantic flyways.

Although the surrounding area supports a wealth of bird species, there are very few other types of animals present on the island. The sparse terrestrial vegetation offers little cover or food for vertebrate residents. Eastern Garter Snakes live among the foundations of the lighthouse on the island; this is the only other wildlife species reported as surviving on the island. To date, no species at risk have been recorded on Mohawk Island NWA.

More information on Mohawk Island NWA is provided in the summary table below.


A lighthouse near shore. Mohawk Island NWA, lighthouse @ Environment Canada.National Wildlife Areas (NWAs) are protected and managed according to the Wildlife Area Regulations under the Canada Wildlife Act. The primary purpose of NWAs is the protection and conservation of wildlife and their habitat. For this purpose, and according to the legislation, Environment Canada can prohibit all activities in a NWA that could interfere with the conservation of wildlife. Consequently, most NWAs are not accessible to the public and all activities are prohibited. Nonetheless, Environment Canada has the ability to authorize some activities, whether through public notice or the issuance of permits, as long as these are consistent with the management plan goals for the NWA. For more information, consult the NWAs Management and Activities section.

Access to the Mohawk Island NWA is seasonally restricted. Public access is prohibited from April 1 to July 31 every year to protect migratory birds during nesting. Some activities may be permitted in accordance with the conservation objectives of the NWA management plan. Public notices listing the authorized activities are posted at access points. Mohawk Island NWA is a well-known local landmark and the waters around the island are popular for recreational boating and fishing in the summer months. Fishing must be done in accordance with the Ontario fishing regulations, which require possession of a recreational fishing license issued by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.

More information on access and permitting for Mohawk Island NWA can be obtained by contacting the Environment Canada regional office.

Map of Mohawk Island National Wildlife Area

Map showing the Mohawk Island National Wildlife Area boundaries. Details can be found below.

Summary Table for the Mohawk Island NWA

This table provides summary information for the Mohawk Island NWA
Protected Area designation            National Wildlife Area
Latitude/longitude42°834' N / -79°523' W
Size in hectares (ha)4 ha (dependent on Lake Erie water levels)
Reason for Creation of protected areaIsland habitat is a significant geographic feature in eastern Lake Erie and an important nesting and loafing site for significant numbers and several species of colonial fish-eating waterbirds. Loafing and stopover area for waterfowl and shorebirds during spring and fall migration along the Atlantic and Mississippi flyways.
Date created (Gazetted) 1977-Legal description
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management Category1a: Strict Nature Reserve
Additional designationsNone
Keystone or flagship species Colonial waterbirds including Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Double-crested Cormorant, Common Tern and Caspian Tern.
Listed Species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA)None recorded
Main habitat typeLake Erie Lowland
Invasive speciesZebra Mussels (Dreissena polymorpha), Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), Mute Swans.
Additional links

Birds: Mallard, Canada Goose, Common Goldeneye, Shorebirds, Sandpiper.

Amphibians & Reptiles: Garter Snake.

Main threats and challengesIncreasing boat traffic near the island leading to increased wave action, unauthorized public access, and disturbance to nesting birds. 
Management AgencyEnvironment Canada (Canadian Wildlife Service)
Public access and usageNo public access during nesting season annually (April 1- July 31).

Note: If there is a discrepancy between the information presented on this web page and any notice posted at the NWA site, the notice prevails as it is the legal instrument authorizing the activity.

Contact Information

Environment Canada – Ontario Region
Canadian Wildlife Service
Protected Areas and Stewardship
PO Box 490 Lambeth Station
London, Ontario
N6P 1R1
Toll Free: 1-800-668-6767 (in Canada only)