Banks Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary No. 2

The Banks Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) No. 2 is located north of Banks Island, in Northwest Territories. It offers an ideal habitat for waterfowl to nest, rest and feed.

Importance of the sanctuary: migratory birds and other wildlife

Banks Island, 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. 2 is located in the north-central portion. This sanctuary was established in 1961 to protect the estimated 25 000 lesser snow geese that moult in the Thomsen River valley and adjacent wetlands. Observations indicate that most of these birds are likely non-breeders from the nesting colony at Egg River in Banks Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary No. 1.

Bank Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary No. 2 also provides habitat for moulting black brant that make their way to the sanctuary from other areas of Banks Island as well as several islands to the north and the Northwest Territories mainland. The number of brant found here varies from year to year, however up to 5000 birds have been recorded and the highest concentrations of birds are generally at the lower end of the Thomsen River and in Castel Bay. These brant usually begin to depart the sanctuary in early to mid-August.

Moulting Canada geese have also been observed on the Thomsen River and its delta and the many lakes and ponds along the Thomsen River valley provide nesting and feeding habitat for pacific loon, yellow-billed loon, glaucous gull, long-tailed jaeger, red phalarope and other shorebirds. Peregrine falcon (subspecies tundrius) and rough-legged hawk nest along the scattered cliff faces overlooking the Muskox River and the Thomsen River where two peregrine falcon eyries have been reported. Other species of birds present within the sanctuary in smaller numbers include:

  • lapland longspur
  • horned lark
  • snow bunting
  • Baird’s sandpiper
  • buff-breasted sandpiper
  • black-bellied plover

Did you know?

While the pacific loon is supremely graceful under the water, it is very awkward on land and is unable to take flight from solid ground. Even when it is in its element, this bird needs 30 to 50 metres of open water and a lot of vigorous wing flapping to become airborne.

Pacific Loon
Pacific loon. Photo: Alvan Buckley

Fourteen species of mammals have also been recorded within Banks Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary No. 2. The Thomsen River area is one of the most important year-round habitats for muskoxen on Banks Island and it consistently supports high densities of this animal. Peary caribou are also observed periodically within the sanctuary, although the Banks Island population has declined considerably in the last two decades.

Did you know?

Since the 1950s, the number of muskoxen on Banks Island has risen from several hundred to 68 788 in 2001. However, muskoxen population has experienced a sharp decline (~70%) in the last few years mostly due to bacterial infection caused by the erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae bacteria.


This sanctuary, established in 1992, lies entirely within the Aulavik National Park. Elevations at the northern end of the sanctuary range from sea level to 350 metres. Along the Thomsen River valley, the land is made up of gently rolling hills and a diversity of wetlands including wet sedge meadows, tundra lakes and ponds as well as ice-wedge polygons. To the east of the river valley is a rugged plateau with steep-sided ravines and scarps. The influence of permafrost on the land’s surface is obvious throughout the sanctuary with vast expanses of patterned ground.

Banks Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary No. 2 landscape. Photo: J. Hodson

The biomes within the sanctuary are considered to be mostly polar semi-desert and polar desert with localized areas of arctic tundra. The vegetation is a mixture of high arctic and low arctic species with lush, grassy meadows growing in the low, wetland areas, dwarf shrubs and herbaceous plants on the surrounding moderately vegetated slopes and dwarf shrubs, cushion plants and lichens in the higher altitudes.

Map of the area

Map of Banks Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary No. 2
  • Long description

    Map showing the location of the Banks Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) No. 2 in relation to the Northwest Territories, Banks Island, M'Clure Strait, Thomsen river, Mahogamy Point, and Castel and Mercy bays. The map shows the boundaries of the refuge, which covers a large portion of Thomsen river, and a few banks of the river. 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. 2, 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. It is also important to remember that 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. 2 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. 2 in particular, please contact our regional office.

Key facts about Banks Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary No. 2

Protected Area designation Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory Northwest Territories
Latitude/longitude 74°00' N, 119°45' W
Size 17 000 hectares
Date created (Gazetted) 1961
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management Category Strict Nature Reserve
Additional designations Part of Thomsen River Important Bird Area
Main habitat type Tidal mud flats and open water, wetland meadow, dryas barrens
Key bird species Lesser snow goose, Canada goose, glaucous gull, Baird's sandpiper, peregrine falcon, gyrfalcon, rough-legged hawk, pomarine jaeger, snowy owl, rock ptarmigan, sanderling, semipalmated sandpiper, Sabine's gull, horned lark, American pipit and snow bunting
Other species Birds: Pacific loon, yellow-billed loon, long-tailed jaeger, red phalarope, lapland longspur, buff-breasted sandpiper and black-bellied plover
Mammals: Muskoxen, peary caribou and barren-ground caribou
Listed species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) Peregrine falcon, peary caribou and barren-ground caribou
Management agency Canadian Wildlife Service, Northern Region
Landowner Parks Canada Agency

Related links

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)

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