Akimiski Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary

The Akimiski Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) is located in the middle of James Bay, in Nunavut. It offers an ideal habitat for waterfowl, such as the lesser snow goose, to rest.

Importance of the sanctuary: migratory birds and other wildlife

Akimiski Island is the largest island in James Bay and is, along with all of the islands in both James Bay and Hudson Bay, part of the territory of Nunavut. The closest community to the island is Attawapiskat, Ontario, located approximately 80 kilometres to the west.

Lesser snow geese, numbering between 10 000 to 20 000 individuals, can be spotted here each year. While these numbers are large, they are eclipsed by the 250 000 lesser snow geese that were once recorded here. Today, approximately 1000 to 2000 pairs of lesser snow geese nest in the coastal marshes and sedge-willows bordering the sedge meadow on the northern coast.

Lesser Snow Geese
Lesser snow geese. Photo: Credence Wood

Canada geese, of the Southern James Bay population, nest throughout the island, favoring the coastal marsh near the willow fringe, the permafrost hummocks, and the spruce islands in the inland sedge fens. These geese prefer these areas as the short grasses and sedges are ideal habitats for raising their goslings.

This sanctuary is also used as a nesting, moulting and/or staging area for resting and feeding during migration by:

  • American black duck
  • mallard
  • northern pintail
  • green-winged teal
  • ring-necked duck
  • black scoter
  • red-breasted merganser

Atlantic brant are also abundant on the island each spring, reaching numbers of approximately 10 000 birds.

Brant on Akimiski Island. Photo: Jean Iron

Black scoter are another species that can be found in great numbers of 20 000 to 30 000 birds. The majority of these black scoters are males, which congregate off of the northeastern and southeastern coastlines of Akimiski Island for wing feather moult in late summer.

Did you know?

Male black scoters remain with the females until their eggs have been laid. At this point, the males depart for their molting area where they gather by the thousands to undergo their annual wing molt. As the males shed their old wing feathers and grow new ones, they are unable to fly. This process can take three to four weeks.

Shorebirds can also be found on the island and, while they prefer the northwestern portion (which is not included in the Migratory Bird Sanctuary), large numbers of over 20 different species of shorebirds can be found within the sanctuary. The most abundant shorebirds are the semipalmated and the white-rumped sandpipers. Marbled godwits can also be found on the island, nesting along the northern coast and the interior sedge meadows, as well as semipalmated plovers, which nest on the north shore of the island.


The Akimiski Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary covers roughly two thirds of the island and extends approximately 10 kilometres offshore. The island’s coastal marshes, which are interspersed with beach ridges, extensive mud flats and eelgrass beds make this sanctuary attractive to migratory birds during both spring and fall migrations, as well as during the breeding season.

Map of the area

Map of Akimiski Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Long description

Map showing the location of the Akimiski Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) in relation to Nunavut, Akimiski Island, North twin Island, South Twin Island, Attawapiskat, Attawapiskat River and James Bay. The map shows the boundaries of the refuge, which include most part of the Akimiski Island and surrounding water of the James Bay. The scale of the map is in kilometers. Permanent waters are shown on the map. An insert on the map shows the location of the shelter in Canada.

Access to the sanctuary

Migratory Bird Sanctuaries, such as Akimiski Island, are established across the country to protect migratory birds during critical periods of their life cycle. Whether these areas are used for feeding, resting or nesting, they play an important role in the survival of many species. Access to each migratory bird sanctuary varies by site and is at the discretion of the landowner and land manager. Please ensure that you are aware of how you can help protect this sanctuary and please read the restrictions, including those on firearms and hunting, which are in place to conserve the wildlife that call it home. Dogs and cats must not be allowed to run at large inside Migratory Bird Sanctuaries.

Akimiski Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary has been established on provincial Crown land. First Nations have a right to access and hunt within the sanctuary; however, other individuals who wish to access Akimiski Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary must apply for a permit.

If you would like further information on what is permitted in Migratory Bird Sanctuaries, please visit the Management and Activities section of the website. For more information on Akimiski Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary in particular, please contact our regional office.

Key facts about Akimiski Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Protected Area designation Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory Nunavut
Latitude/longitude 53°02' N, 81°15' W
Size 353 421 hectares (including a marine portion measuring 147 232 hectares)
Date created (Gazetted) 1941
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management Category 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 sanctuary.
Management agency Canadian Wildlife Service, Prairie and Northern Region
Landowners Crown land

Related links

Contact information

Environment and Climate Change Canada – 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

Page details

Date modified: