Banks Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary No. 2

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

Banks Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) No. 2 is located in the north-central portion of Banks Island, Northwest Territories. Banks Island MBS No. 2 was established in 1961 to protect concentrations of moulting Lesser Snow Geese along the Thomsen River valley and adjacent wetlands. It now lies entirely within the Aulavik National Park, which was established in 1992. The north end of the sanctuary is an area of high to moderate relief, with elevations rising from sea level to 350 metres. Along the Thomsen River valley, the topography is characterized by undulating lowlands, gently rolling hills and a diversity of wetlands, including wet sedge meadows, tundra lakes and ponds, and ice-wedge polygons. A rugged plateau with steep-sided ravines and scarps occurs east of the river valley. The influence of permafrost on the land’s surface is evident throughout the area, with vast expanses of patterned ground and other periglacial features.

The flora of the sanctuary is a mixture of High and Low Arctic species. Polar semi-desert and desert communities are dominant, with localized areas of arctic tundra. The general vegetation pattern comprises lush graminoid meadows in wetlands and other lowland sites, moderately vegetated slopes consisting of dwarf shrubs and herbaceous plants, and sparsely vegetated uplands consisting of dwarf shrubs, cushion plants and lichens.

Importance of the Migratory Bird Sanctuary

An estimated 25 000 Lesser Snow Geese use the Thomsen River valley as a moulting area. Observations indicate that most of these birds are likely non-breeders from the nesting colony at Egg River in Banks Island MBS No. 1. The sanctuary provides habitat for moulting Black Brants from Banks Island, islands north of Banks Island, and the Northwest Territories mainland. The moulting birds concentrate at the lower end of the Thomsen River and in Castel Bay. The number of Brants varies from year to year; up to 5000 birds have been recorded. Departure from the sanctuary begins in early to mid-August. Peregrine Falcons (subspecies tundrius) have been observed along the Thomsen and Muskox rivers, and 2 eyries have been reported along the Thomsen River. Moulting Canada Geese have also been observed on the Thomsen River and its delta.

The many lakes and ponds along the Thomsen River valley provide nesting and feeding habitat for Pacific and Yellow-billed Loons, Glaucous Gulls, Long-tailed Jaegers, Red Phalaropes, and other shorebirds. Peregrine Falcons and Rough-legged Hawks nest along the scattered cliff faces overlooking the Thomsen and Muskox rivers. Upland species are present in low numbers and include Lapland Longspurs, Horned Larks, Snow Buntings, Baird’s Sandpipers, Buff-breasted Sandpipers and Black-bellied Plovers.

Fourteen species of mammals have been recorded within Banks Island MBS No. 2. The Thomsen River area consistently supports high densities of Muskoxen and is among the most important year-round habitats for Muskoxen on Banks Island. Peary Caribou are observed periodically in the sanctuary, although the Banks Island population has declined considerably in the last two decades.

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.

Access to Banks Island MBS No. 2 may be authorized as per the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and the Migratory Bird Sanctuary Regulations. However, under the Inuvialuit Final Agreement, only Inuvialuit beneficiaries have right of access for the purpose of subsistence harvest and do not require a permit to carry out activities related to subsistence harvesting.

For all other users, the standard prohibitions under the Migratory Bird Sanctuary Regulations apply to Banks Island MBS No. 2: 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. Anyone wishing to access Banks Island MBS No. 2 is advised to apply for a permit.

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 Banks Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary No. 2.
Long description of the map

Map showing the location of Banks Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary No. 2 relative to the Northwest Territories, Banks Island, M'Clure Strait and Thomsen River. The map shows the boundaries of the sanctuary, which covers a large portion of the Thomsen River and some surrounding land roughly following the river. The scale of the map is in kilometers.

This map is for illustrative purposes only and should not be used to define legal boundaries. Banks Island MBS No. 2 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 Banks Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary No. 2
Category Information
Protected Area designation Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory Northwest Territories
Latitude/longitude 74°00' N, 119°45' W
Size in hectares (ha) 14 302 ha
Date created (Gazetted) 1961
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management Category Ia - 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, Glaucous Gull, 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, Prairie and Northern Region
Landowner Parks Canada Agency

Contact Information

Environment and Climate Change Canada - Prairie and Northern Region
Canadian Wildlife Service
Protected Areas and Stewardship
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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