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Niagara River Ecology

Niagara Falls – The Niagara River is unique as it is home to Niagara Falls.  Niagara Falls consists of three separate waterfalls which combine to form the highest volume waterfall in North America (168,000 m3 / minute or 2,800 m3 / second).
The Niagara River Corridor supports 1252 species:

  • 338 species of birds
  • 102 species of fish
  • 35 species of mammals
  • 14 species of reptiles
  • 17 species of amphibians
  • 12 species of mussels
  • 734 species of plants
  • Of these species 59 are protected federally in Canada and 70 provincially in Ontario.
  • 1 species is protected federally in the U.S. and 54 species protected by New York State.

Juvenile Lake Sturgeon. Photo courtesy of USFWS

The Upper Niagara River tributaries function as a spawning and rearing habitat for many species, with adults residing in the Niagara River during summer. Periodic large migratory runs of species such as emerald shiner, spottail shiner and gizzard shad are common in the Upper Niagara tributaries.





  • There are 45 species of spawning fish found in the Niagara River, including Lake Sturgeon, Smallmouth Bass, Yellow Perch, and Rock Bass, to name a few.
  • The Niagara River corridor also includes two ecological communities considered vulnerable, Calcareous Cliff Community and Calcareous Talus Slope Woodland, as well as rare old growth forests.
  • The Emerald Shiner (Notropis atherinoides) is a keystone species in the Niagara River. They are considered the base of the food web for many fish-eating birds and sport fish. They are a very important food source for the Common Tern (Sterna hirundo), which is a threatened species in New York State.
returning to the nest

Bald eagle returning to its nest.

The Niagara River Corridor supports numerous species during critical stages in their lifecycles. These stages include nesting, migration, and overwintering for birds, and spawning for fish.

  • 137 species of birds nest in the Niagara River Corridor, including 42 waterbirds and 7 species of colonial nesting waterbirds (nest together in groups).
  • The Niagara River Corridor forms part of the Atlantic Flyway, one of four major bird migration corridors in North America. The corridor’s habitat supports 232 species of migratory birds, 106 of which are waterbirds.
  • The Niagara River Corridor is a critical overwintering site for waterbirds as it stays unfrozen throughout the cold winter months when most other freshwater bodies are frozen. During this period of extreme hardship, 92 species of birds overwinter in the site, including large congregations of at least 40 species of waterbirds (including gulls and waterfowl).

At least six waterbirds congregate in the Niagara River Corridor in globally significant numbers based on single day surveys

  • Canvasback (Aythya valisineria): 6,000 to 14,000
  • Greater Scaup (Aythya marila): 15,000
  • Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator): 9,000
  • Bonaparte’s Gull (Chroicocephalus philadelphia): 4,000 to 100,000
  • Herring Gull (Larus argentatus): 40,000 to 50,000
  • Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis): 27,000 to 32,000
Hooded merganser

Hooded Merganser

The Northern Dusky Salamander (Desmognathus fuscus) – Carolinian Population

In Ontario, this species’ entire range consists of a single, cascading stream in the Niagara Gorge on the Canadian side of the river, occupying no more than about 0.005 km2. Surveys have identified some 22 individuals and indicate a total adult population that is probably fewer than 250 individuals. Its minute range makes this salamander highly susceptible to extirpation (elimination from the area) if any change to its habitat were to take place. Major threats to this salamander are activities that could affect the water table and dry out the spring that supports its habitat. Salamanders are representative of pristine habitat conditions, as they cannot tolerate any type of pollution. This species is listed as Endangered in Ontario and is protected under the Endangered Species Act, 2007.

About Us

Efforts from many key partners in the RAP Team continue to help complete priority actions for the restoration, protection, and enhancement of the Niagara River ecosystem. This initiative is made possible through the financial support of the Government of Canada and Ontario, in partnership with the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority.

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