Banks Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary No. 1

The Banks Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) No. 1 is located south-west of Banks Island, in Northwest Territories. It offers an ideal habitat to rest for many waterfowl.

Importance of the sanctuary: migratory birds and other wildlife

Banks Island, in the Northwest Territories, is the fourth largest and the most western of the Canadian Arctic Islands. Two migratory bird sanctuaries have been established on this island and Banks Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary No. 1 is located adjacent to Sachs Harbour along the southwestern portion of the island.

Each spring, up to 500 000 lesser snow geese fly northward to the eastern Beaufort Sea region, located off of the western coast of Banks Island. These geese are of the Western Arctic population, which spend their winters in California, New Mexico or Mexico. As many as 450 000 geese return yearly to nest in Big River and Egg River located within the sanctuary. This represents approximately 95% of the Western Arctic population and about 15% of the Canadian lesser snow geese population.

Lesser Snow Geese
Lesser snow geese. Photo: Creedence Wood

Black brant, from as far south as Mexico, also migrate northward along the west coast each spring to breed in the Banks Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary No. 1. Approximately 3000 of these birds gather within the sanctuary’s deltas, small lakes and ponds to nest and feed on the abundant sedges and grasses. In addition, an estimated 25 000 king eiders, several thousand long-tailed ducks and lesser numbers of tundra swans, ross’s geese and sandhill cranes nest within the sanctuary.

Did you know?

The long-tailed duck which can be found in the Banks Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary No. 1 is one of the deepest diving ducks. It will plunge down to depths up to 60 meters to feed.

Other bird species are also known or believed to nest in the area including:

  • yellow-billed loon
  • arctic loon
  • red‑throated loon
  • semipalmated plover
  • black-bellied plover
  • American golden-plover
  • ruddy turnstones
  • white-rumped sandpiper
  • Baird’s sandpiper
  • semipalmated sandpiper
  • sanderling
  • red phalarope
  • pomarine jaeger
  • long-tailed jaeger
  • glaucous gull
  • Sabine’s gull
  • arctic tern
  • peregrine falcon
  • snowy owl
  • willow ptarmigan
  • rock ptarmigan
  • horned lark


The majority of the Banks Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary No. 1, located within the Banks Island Coastal Plain Ecoregion, consists of a flat coastal plain several kilometres in width, which gives way to rolling hills covered in glacial drift deposits, sand and gravel. This landscape rises gently until it reaches an interior plain located further inland. A series of westward-flowing rivers, originating in the sanctuary’s central uplands, drain the sanctuary and flow into the Beaufort Sea. As the rivers approach the west coast of the island, they become highly braided, entering the sea through broad, shallow, marshy deltas. These broad deltas have gravelly and sandy alluvial deposits (river deposits) as well as swampy tundra containing many shallow ponds and, where Egg River and Big River meet, wide terraces.

Banks Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary No. 1: landscape. Photo: J. Hodson

The majority of the coast consists of sand or gravel beaches and sandbars or spits are common in the small, coastal bays. Dry mud cliffs can also be found between Sachs Harbour and Cape Kellett as well as in a few other locations within the sanctuary. The vegetation within the Banks Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary No. 1 is mostly typical of a polar desert (or polar semi-desert) area with low precipitation (100 to 200 mm annual mean) and low annual temperatures (summer mean of 1°C and winter mean of -29°C), however there are areas of lush plant cover within the sanctuary. This is particularly true in the low-lying, flat areas along the river valleys, where grasses and sedges grow in abundance. These plants also grow well in sunken or indented areas where soil moisture is high. Plant cover diminishes upslope, and the tops of hills in this area are generally barren with scattered clumps of dwarf shrubs, cushion plants and lichens.

Map of the area

Map of Banks Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary No. 1
  • Long description

    Map showing the location of the Bank Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) No. 1 in relation to the Northwest Territories, Banks Island, Sachs Harbour, Prince-Of-Wales Strait, Beaufort Sea and Kellett, Big, Storkerson and Bernard rivers. The map shows the boundaries of the refuge, which cover the south-western part of the Banks Island, Kellett, Big and Storkerson rivers and a part of the Beaufort Sea water's. The scale of  the map is in kilometers. Permanent waters and intertidal areas 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 Banks Island No. 1, 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.

Under the Inuvialuit Final Agreement, Inuvialuit beneficiaries have unrestricted right of access for the purpose of subsistence harvest and do not require a permit to carry out activities related to subsistence harvesting. Anyone else wishing to access Banks Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary No. 1 is advised to 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 Banks Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary No. 1 in particular, please contact our regional office.

Key facts about Banks Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary No. 1
Category Information
Protected Area designation Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory Northwest Territories
Latitude/longitude 72°40' N, 123°30' W
Size 2,019,997 hectares
Date created (Gazetted) 1961
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management Category Wilderness Area
Additional designations Part of Banks Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary Important Bird Area
Main habitat type Tidal mud flats and open water, river delta, wetland meadow, dryas barrens
Key bird species Lesser snow gooseblack brantking eiderlong-tailed ducktundra swanRoss's goose and sandhill crane
Other species Birds: Yellow-billed loonarctic loonred-throated loonsemipalmated ploverblack-bellied ploverAmerican golden-ploverruddy turnstonewhimbrelwhite-rumped sandpiperBaird's sandpipersemipalmated sandpipersanderlingred phalaropepomarine jaegerlong-tailed jaegerglaucous gullSabine's gullarctic ternperegrine falconsnowy owlwillow ptarmiganrock ptarmigan and horned lark
Mammals: Polar bearpeary caribouarctic fox and muskox
Listed species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) Peregrine falconpolar bear and peary caribou
Management agency Canadian Wildlife Service, Northern Region
Landowners Inuvialuit lands and Crown land

Contact information

Environment and Climate Change Canada - Northern Region
Canadian Wildlife Service
Western Arctic Unit
P.O. Box 2310
5019 52nd Street, 4th Floor
Yellowknife NT  X1A 2P7

Toll Free: 1-800-668-6767 (in Canada only)

Related link

Banks Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary No. 1 on Google Maps (Please note that the Google map is a complementary source of information that can help locate the migratory bird sanctuary and does not represent the official map or site name)

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