Did you know Cape Breton Island is home to one of nature's most unique bird species, the Atlantic puffin?
With staycations across the East Coast encouraged, there is no better time to set sail out on the rugged Atlantic Coast to catch a glimpse of these clown-like sea birds that boast bright orange beaks only during the spring and summer seasons.
Puffins spend just a few short months nesting on the Bird Islands before heading out to sea. They will generally pair up with the same partner to mate each year. Puffins only have one egg, and it takes 30 to 45 days until a solo puffling hatches.
You can embark on your Atlantic puffin adventure with Bird Island Boat Tours, operating off the shores of Cape Breton Island. The Van Schaick family has been running bird tours on Big Bras d'Or since 1972. During the almost three-hour tour, Captain Vince Van Schaick and his son Ian offer up a wealth of knowledge about the various avian species that can be found on the Islands.
The “Puffin Express” offers panoramic views, so be sure to pack a camera and binoculars to get a closer look at puffins diving for a fresh catch and hanging out in colonies on the craggy cliffs. The islands are also home to 20 per cent of all the great cormorants nesting in North America, as well as an abundance of bald eagles, razorbills, and black guillemots - identifiable by their orange webbed feet. Keep your eyes peeled for great blue herons and grey seals basking in the afternoon sun.
Surprisingly, puffins are much smaller in real life than you may think (only 25 centimetres tall). They have the incredible ability to flap their wings up to 400 times a minute, which is a great asset to have if they need to escape their only real predator, the herring gull.
Puffins are exceptional fish catchers. They have backwards facing spines in their palette which gives these cute sea birds the ability to hold dozens of fish in their mouth at the same time.
By the time the Bird Island tour comes to an end, and the boat makes its way back across the open water towards the dock, you may just find yourself intrigued to discover more about the world of bird watching.
Want to go? Here’s what you need to know:
How to get there
- Approximately a four-hour drive from Halifax, Bird Island Boat Tours is located at 1672 Old Route 5, Big Bras d'Or, N.S.
- From Baddeck (35 minutes), take highway 105 east to exit 14, turn left and drive six kilometres to #1672
- From North Sydney (20 minutes), take highway 105 west to exit 16, then drive eight kilometres to #1672
Where to stay
- Visit the historic Telegraph House in beautiful Baddeck. It’s the perfect spot to hunker down for a few nights as it is only about a 30-minute drive to Bird Island Tours.
- There are other campgrounds and cottages in the area, and Bird Island Boat Tours also offers a package that combines the bird watching trip and accommodations.