Akimiski Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Group of Lesser Snow Geese  picture
Photo: © Credence Wood. Lesser Snow Geese.

Akimiski Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) is situated adjacent to the west coast of James Bay, with the closest community being Attawapiskat in Ontario, approximately 80 km west of the MBS. Akimiski Island is the largest island located in James Bay. Like all islands in James Bay and Hudson Bay, Akimiski is part of Nunavut. The MBS comprises about two thirds of the terrestrial island portion as well as a marine portion extending 10 km offshore in James Bay. It has a steep south shore and a gently sloping north shore with extensive mud flats and coastal marsh. These fertile flats, which support dense stands of grass and sedge, become narrower along the northeast shore where willows fringe the sedge marsh. From the north shore, sedge fens with numerous hummocks or frost palsas extend inland. Muskeg occurs from the top of the south bank as far north as the sedge meadows. The southeastern part of the island near Cape Duncan is characterized by sedge flats and open ponds. Several small islands occur offshore from Cape Duncan. Offshore waters here contain eelgrass beds. The coastal marshes interspersed with beach ridges, extensive mud flats and eelgrass beds make the MBS attractive to migratory birds during the spring and autumn migrations as well as during the breeding season.

Importance of the Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Historically, up to 250 000 Lesser Snow Geese and several thousand Cackling Geese, which breed on Baffin Island, used the MBS during spring and fall migrations. More recently, fewer than 20 000 Lesser Snow Geese have been recorded in spring. About 1 000-2 000 pairs of Lesser Snow Geese nest in the coastal marsh and in the sedge-willow fringe at the edge of the sedge meadow along the northern coast, extending west of the MBS boundary. Canada Geese from the Southern James Bay population nest throughout the island, with highest densities on coastal marsh near the willow fringe, but also on the permafrost hummocks and spruce islands in the inland sedge fens. These habitats of short grasses and sedges provide brood-rearing areas that are important for growing goslings. Other waterfowl that use the sanctuary for nesting, moulting and/or staging are American Black Duck, Mallard, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck, Black Scoter and Red-breasted Merganser. Atlantic Brant are also abundant each spring, their numbers having been estimated at about 10 000.

Common Eider, Herring Gull and Arctic Tern nest on the small islands near Cape Duncan. Large numbers of Black Scoter (approximately 20 000-30 000, primarily males) congregate off the northeastern and southeastern coastline of the island for wing feather moult during late summer. Although the northwest and north coast of the island (which is not within the MBS) are considered the most important areas for shorebirds, large concentrations of over 20 species of migrant shorebirds also use the MBS and other coastal areas on the island. Semipalmated and White-rumped Sandpipers are particularly abundant migrants. Small numbers of Marbled Godwit nest along the north coast and to a lesser extent in the interior sedge meadows; these are part of a disjunct James Bay population, and the nearest other breeding grounds are on the prairies. Semipalmated Plovers also nest on the north shore of the island.

Access and Activities

MBSs are established for the protection and conservation of migratory birds. Activities that could harm migratory birds, their nests or their eggs are prohibited.

MBSs can be and have been established on private, provincial, territorial and federally owned lands. Access to each MBS varies by site and is at the discretion of the landowner and land manager.

Where MBSs are located on federal land, Environment and Climate Change Canada is responsible for the management and protection of migratory birds, nests, eggs and habitat. Where MBSs are located on provincial land, Environment and Climate Change Canada is responsible for the protection of migratory birds and their nests, while the chief game officer of the province is responsible for the management of habitat. Where MBSs are located on private or municipal land, Environment and Climate Change Canada is responsible for the protection of migratory birds and their nests. Habitat management is the responsibility of the landowner.

The standard prohibitions under the Migratory Bird Sanctuary Regulations apply to Akimiski MBS: hunting migratory birds is prohibited, and no person shall disturb, destroy or take the nest of a migratory bird or have in his or her possession a live migratory bird, or a carcass, skin, nest or egg of a migratory bird, except under the authority of a permit issued by Environment and Climate Change Canada or unless authorized by the Regulations. Possession of firearms or other hunting appliances is prohibited. Dogs and cats must not be allowed to run at large.

For more information on entry, activities and permits in MBSs, please visit the Management and Activities section of the Migratory Bird Sanctuaries website. For more information on Environment and Climate Change Canada's protected areas, please contact the regional office.

For greater certainty, nothing in this document shall be construed so as to abrogate or derogate from the protection provided for existing Aboriginal or treaty rights of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada by the recognition and affirmation of those rights in section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

Map of the Area

  • Map of the  Akimiski Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary.
Long description for the Map

Map showing the location of Akimiski Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary relative to Nunavut, Akimiski Island and James Bay. The map shows the boundaries of the sanctuary, which covers a portion of Akimiski Island and the surrounding waters of James Bay. The scale of the map is in kilometers.

This map is for illustrative purposes only and should not be used to define legal boundaries. Akimiski MBS can also be viewed using Google Maps. Please note that the Google map is a complementary source of information and does not represent the official map or site name.

Summary table

Summary Table for Akimiski Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Category Information
Protected Area designation Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory Nunavut
Latitude/longitude 53°02' N, 81°15' W
Size in hectares (ha) 353 421 ha (including a marine portion of 147 232 ha)
Date created (Gazetted) 1941
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management Category Ib - Wilderness Area
Additional designations Part of Akimiski Island Important Bird Area
Main habitat type Tidal mud flats and open water (40%), sedge meadow, muskeg, spruce forest
Key bird species American Black Duck, Arctic Tern, Black Scoter, Atlantic Brant, Canada Goose, Green-winged Teal, Herring Gull, Lesser Snow Goose, Mallard, Marbled Godwit, Northern Pintail, Red-breasted Merganser, Ring-necked Duck, Semipalmated Plover, Semipalmated Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, White-winged Scoter, Cackling Goose and Common Eider
Other species None
Listed species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) Mammals: Polar Bears and Belugas likely use the marine portion of the MBS.
Management agency Canadian Wildlife Service, Prairie and Northern Region
Landowners Crown land

Contact Information

Environment and Climate Change Canada - Prairie and Northern Region
Canadian Wildlife Service
Protected Areas and Stewardship
Eastern Arctic Unit
P.O. Box 1714
Iqaluit NU X0A 0H0
Toll Free: 1-800-668-6767 (in Canada only)
Email: ec.enviroinfo.ec@canada.ca
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