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Lake Ontario Islands Bird Conservation Area

General Site Information: The Lake Ontario Islands Bird Conservation Area, consisting of the Lake Ontario Islands Wildlife Management Area (WMA), is situated in the eastern basin of Lake Ontario. The BCA is comprised of four parcels including Little Galloo Island, Gull Island, and two holdings on Galloo Island. Little Galloo Island is a spectacular colonial waterbird rookery with one of the largest Ring-billed Gull colonies in North America, and New York's only Caspian Tern colony. Double-crested Cormorants, Herring Gulls, Great Black-backed Gulls and Black-crowned Night Herons also nest on the island. Gull Island is also used by nesting colonial waterbirds and contains a stable population of Black-crowned Night-Herons and Herring Gulls.

The two parcels on Galloo Island are former Coast Guard properties which include an old lighthouse site on the southwest end of the island and an old Coast Guard station on the east side of the island. Use of the Lake Ontario Islands BCA by shorebirds and waterfowl is primarily limited to migration with significant use of adjacent shallow water habitats by waterfowl, and some resting/ feeding activity by shorebirds. Little Galloo is designated as an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society. The Eastern Lake Ontario Islands and their adjacent shoals are considered a Significant Coastal Fish and Wildlife Habitat by the New York State Department of State.

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Lake Ontario Islands BCA Management Guidance Summary

Site Name: Lake Ontario Islands Bird Conservation Area

State Ownership and Managing Agency: Department of Environmental Conservation

Location: Little Galloo Island, Gull Island and parts of Galloo Island; Jefferson County; Town of Hounsfield.

Size of Area: 64 acres (43 acres Little Galloo Island, 1 acre Gull Island, 20 acres 2 parcels on Galloo Island)

DEC Region: 6

Vision Statement: Protect, maintain and manage the diversity of colonial waterbirds nesting on the Lake Ontario Islands BCA, to enhance their suitability for the full range of colonial waterbird species found within the Lake Ontario eastern basin. Improve public appreciation, use, and enjoyment of the Lake Ontario Islands BCA colonial waterbird resources. Foster and promote greater appreciation for the unique resources of the Lake Ontario Islands BCA, and the eastern basin.

Key BCA Criteria: Waterfowl concentration site, pelagic seabird concentration site, shorebird concentration site, wading bird concentration site, diverse species concentration site, individual species concentration site, species at risk site, and bird research site (ECL § 11-2002, 3.a, b, d, f, g, h and i). Species of interest include: ring-billed gull, Caspian tern, double-crested cormorant, herring gull, great black-backed gull, and black-crowned night-heron.

Critical Habitat Types: The islands and shoals comprise a rare ecosystem in New York State and serve as important habitat for colonial waterbirds, waterfowl and shorebirds. The ecological communities present at Gull Island are classified, according to Reschke (1990), into two ecological communities, Terrestrial Open Uplands Cobble Shore, and Successional Shrubland. The ecological communities of Little Galloo and Galloo Islands have not been classified to date.

Operation and Management Considerations:

  • Identify habitat management activities needed to maintain site as a BCA.
    Habitat management activities on Lake Ontario Islands BCA should be limited, particularly on the parcels supporting waterbird colonies. Habitat alterations designed to favor less abundant species should be considered, as necessary, to meet the waterbird objectives for the site.

  • Identify seasonal sensitivities; adjust routine operations accordingly.
    Limit disturbance to colonial waterbirds on Little Galloo and Gull Islands, especially during the nesting season, through posting, consolidation of research and management activities and other protective measures.

  • Identify state activities or operations which may pose a threat to the critical habitat types identified above; recommend alternatives to existing and future operations which may pose threats to those habitats.
    Research and management activities on Lake Ontario Islands have the potential to negatively impact waterbird species and the habitats utilized. Activities by those parties involved in these activities should be coordinated to minimize the number of site visits required to the islands during the nesting season.

  • Identify any existing or potential use impacts; recommend new management strategies to address those impacts.
    Illegal access on islands containing active colonial waterbird colonies should be discouraged. Posting of parcels should be done annually, as necessary, and patrol by Department personnel should occur as part of the local Environmental Conservation Officers' routine boat patrol.

Education, Outreach, and Research Considerations:

  • Assess current access; recommend enhanced access, if feasible.
    Public access to the waterbird nesting colonies included in the Lake Ontario islands BCA, is limited to boaters, and is currently restricted to protect the islands value as one of the premier colonial waterbird nesting areas in North America. Limited, unintrusive public use opportunities should be developed/maintained to accommodate public interest in visiting the islands as a "Watchable Wildlife" site.

  • Determine education and outreach needs; recommend strategies and materials.
    Develop and distribute periodic informational material about Lake Ontario Islands BCA, its unique resources, and opportunities for enjoyment, (e.g. kiosks at shoreline access points, interpretive brochures).

  • Identify research needs; prioritize and recommend specific projects or studies.
    Annually monitor the status of colonial waterbird species using the Lake Ontario Islands BCA to detect long term trends in abundance. This should include ring-billed gull, Caspian tern, double-crested cormorant, herring gull, great black-backed gull, and black-crowned night-heron.

    Conduct research and management activities as necessary to ensure a diverse complement of colonial nesting species.

    Promote colonial waterbird related research by university and other qualified interests to further our understanding of the ecology of the eastern basin of Lake Ontario.

Other Issues: Double-crested cormorant management within the eastern basin of Lake Ontario has become a significant political, social and biological issue over the past several years. Growing cormorant populations have displaced black-crowned night-heron from Little Galloo Island and could threaten their continued existence on Gull Island. The Department has actively managed Gull Island to protect black-crowned night herons from displacement by cormorants since 1994. Continued expansion of the cormorant population on Lake Ontario also has increased the potential for colonization of new sites, raising concerns about private property and potential impacts to other colonial waterbird colonies.

Following the results of studies conducted in 1998, which established a link between reduced smallmouth bass numbers and cormorant predation, the Department, in 1999, initiated a management program to reduce cormorant numbers. The current management program has a goal of restricting nesting to Little Galloo Island within U.S. waters of the eastern basin, and reducing the nesting population on Little Galloo to 1,500 pairs. The techniques used since 1999 included removal of cormorant nests from Gull and privately owned Bass Island, and the oiling of all accessible cormorant nests on Little Galloo Island to reduce hatching success. Under the USFWS Depredation Order of 2003, lethal take of adult cormorants may be utilized to meet the population objective of 1,500 pairs.

DEC Region 6 Wildlife Manager: 315-785-2261

New York Natural Heritage Program. 1994. Gull Island Wildlife Management Area: Biodiversity Inventory Final report. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Albany, NY.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2002. Lake Ontario Islands Wildlife Management Area Management Plan. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Watertown, NY.

Reschke, Carol. 1990. Ecological Communities of New York State. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. 95 pp.

Wells, J. V. 1998. Important Bird Areas in New York State. National Audubon Society, Albany, New York.

Date BCA Designated: 8/18/05

Date MGS Prepared: 1/3/05

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