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National wildlife areas
Algonquin Park
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Canada plays a vital role in protecting the world’s migratory bird population. The first Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) was established at Last Mountain Lake in Saskatchewan after the Migratory Birds Convention Act was passed in 1917.

Canada and the United States passed the Act to protect birds from hunting and physical disturbances. Other Migratory Bird Sanctuaries were established across Canada — except in Manitoba and the Yukon — to provide havens for migratory birds.

Currently, there are 98 MBSs in Canada covering 11.3 million hectares — a land mass two times the size of the province of Nova Scotia! MBSs function as nesting grounds, feeding areas and resting spots at various times throughout the year; birds stop over as they fly south in the fall and return again as they fly north in the spring.

Eleanor Island, ON
The smallest Migratory Bird Sanctuary is a mere 0.6 hectares. Eleanor Island located in Lake Muskoka in Ontario is a haven for:

  • Great Blue Herons
  • Ring-billed
  • Herring gulls.

Ile Sainte-Marie, PQ
On the north shore of the Gulf of the St. Lawrence, Ile Sainte-Marie is a major nesting site for thousands of seabirds.

Vaseaux Lake, BC
Vaseaux Lake MBS comprises 282 hectares in the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, and is one of Canada's foremost birding areas. It is home to Tundra and Trumpeter Swans, Great Horned Owls, and tiny Canyon Wrens, which inhabit the cliffs away from the lake.

Queen Maude Gulf, NWT
The largest sanctuary is Queen Maude Gulf in the Northwest Territories; a MBS set up in 1961. More than 90% of the world’s small white goose population nest in the Queen Maude Gulf MBS.

National Wildlife Areas
Migratory birds can also be found in any of the 48 National Wildlife Areas (NWAs) set up under the Canada Wildlife Act. NWAs exist everywhere in except in Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island. They were established to conserve habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife species, particularly those considered endangered species.

Point de l’Est,
for example, is a nesting site in Quebec for the Piping Plover, an endangered species in Canada. Lesser Snow Geese, ducks and shorebirds use British Columbia’s Alaksen NWA in the Fraser River estuary as a migration stopover and wintering area.

Point Pelee National Park
in Southern Ontario may perhaps be the most renowned bird migration spot. More than 360 species of bird pass through Pelee. Experienced bird watchers can sometimes spot 100 species in a single day! The best spot to bird watch is along the southern most tip of the Point.

Fall migration can be viewed as late as mid-December. And even though fewer birds are spotted in autumn, extreme rarities are more likely to appear at this time of year. Point Pelee may be the best location in North America to view the northward migration of birds. Beginning in March, great flocks of blackbirds, robins, geese, swans, ducks, gulls and morning doves return. Mid-May marks the height of migration; more birds are spotted in May than at any other time of the year.

Algonquin Park, ON
Not all birds leave the frigid climate behind. Algonquin Park is well known for its bird population and is home to several permanent residents such as the Gray Jay, Boreal Chickadee and the Spruce Grouse. The Gray Jay, for example, lives in the black spruce forests of the Park. During the summer and fall the Gray Jay busily stores berries, insects and other tidbits of food all over its territory so that it will have enough food to survive the rough Canadian winter.

Other species such as the Golden Eagle, the Bald Eagle, the Red Crossbill, the Pine Grosbeak and the Common Redpoll are only spotted in Algonquin Park during the colder months. The Pine Grosbeak, as one example, migrates south to the Park in the fall. It arrives in late October and leaves to return to the far North in early March. The Pine Grosbeak is a finch from the boreal forests.

Most Migratory Bird Sanctuaries and National Wildlife Areas are open to the public, except those that remain closed seasonally and permanently for wildlife preservation and due to their remote geographic location. Most do not have guides on hand, however, visitors are welcome to catch a glimpse of Canada’s migratory bird population.

By: Tammy McCausland

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Article Resources

Environment Canada
National Wildlife Areas and Migratory Bird Sanctuaries.

The Canadian Wildlife Service
Conservation and research programs and general publications.

Canadian Bird Checklist program
Bird checklists for each province and territory.

Birding in Canada
Events, locations, guide books and clubs.

Bird Studies Canada
Migrant bird trends and regular updates.

Migratory Bird Sanctuaries in Quebec
Information on 28 migratory bird sanctuaries in Quebec.

National Wildlife Areas in Quebec
Learn about eight National wildlife areas in Quebec.

Quebec’s birding places
For bird enthusiasts, most information is in French.

Vaseaux Lake Provincial Park
British Columbia migratory bird sanctuary.

Queen Maude Gulf, NWT
Largest migratory bird sanctuary in Canada.

National Wildlife Areas in Ontario
Find National Wildlife areas in Ontario.

Point Pelee National Park
Most renowned bird migration spot.

Long Point Bird Observatory Program
Migration monitoring, bird checklist, long-term studies.

Algonquin Park
Home to many bird species even in the winter.

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