Big Glace Bay Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Big Glace Bay Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) is located on the northeastern coast of Nova Scotia. It offers a resting site for waterfowl, such as the Canada goose.

Importance of the sanctuary: migratory birds and other wildlife

Located southeast of the town of Glace Bay in Cape Breton County, Nova Scotia, Big Glace Bay Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary provides safe fall migration habitat for several key bird species. The most abundant of these are the American black duck and Canada goose. On an average winter day, as a portion of the water usually remains unfrozen, several hundred American black ducks and Canada geese can be spotted within the sanctuary along with 40 to 60 common goldeneyes and several buffleheads.

Did you know?

During the breeding season, a male bufflehead shows off for potential mates by flying down to where the female is sitting in the water, skiing to a stop in front of her and bobbing his heads repeatedly. These birds will often remain with the same mate for several years.

Within the sanctuary, several pairs of piping plover are known to nest on Glace Bay barrier beach. This is of note as this species is endangered and protected under the federal Species at Risk Act. Several pairs of common terns and willets also nest in the sanctuary. These birds prefer to nest in the salt marshes where the common terns make their nests in the hummocks within the marsh and the willets along the edges of the marsh. Common terns nest at the high-water mark and adjacent to the marram grass dune at the northern tip of the barrier beach. Willets prefer to nest along the edges of the saltmarsh.

Piping Plover
Piping plover


The body of water known as Big Glace Bay Lake is actually a barrier-beach pond. This type of pond forms next to a large body of water and is therefore in constant flux. In this case the “lake” is located next to the Atlantic Ocean and is influenced by daily tidal fluctuations. A 1.5-kilometre sand and gravel beach separates the ocean from the salt marsh and intertidal flats. As it is protected from the larger body of water by the beach, the water in this site is a combination of brackish (a mixture of salt and fresh water) and saline and it supports beds of eelgrass. This combination makes it particularly attractive to migrating waterfowl.
Big Glace Bay Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary: outflow. Photo: C. MacKinnon

The land on the western side of Big Glace Bay Lake is part of the town of Glace Bay and formerly supported heavy industry. The eastern side of the land is vegetated with coastal coniferous and deciduous tree species such as red spruce, red maple, white birch and beech.

Map of the area

Map of Big Glace Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary
  • Long description

    Map showing the locations of Big Glace Bay Lake National Wildlife Area (NWA) and Big Glace Bay Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) in relation to Nova Scotia, Glace Bay Town, Big Glace Bay, Big Glace Bay Lake and Cabot Strait. The map shows the boundaries of the NWA and MBS, which contains most of Big Glace Bay Lake and a parcel of surrounding land. The NWA and MBS are located north of Highway 255. The scale of the map is in kilometers. Permanent waters, intertidal waters, roads and highways are shown on the map. An inset on the map shows the location of the NWA in Canada.

Access to the sanctuary

Migratory Bird Sanctuaries, such as Big Glace Bay Lake, 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.

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 Big Glace Bay Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary in particular, please contact our regional office.

Key facts about Big Glace Bay Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Summary table for Big Glace Bay Lake MBS
Category Information
Protected Area designation Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory Nova Scotia
Latitude/longitude 46°10' N, 59°56' W
Size 393 hectares
Date created (Gazetted) 1939
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management Category N/A
Additional designations

Part of Big Glace Bay Lake Important Bird Area
Part of Big Glace Bay Lake National Wildlife Area

Main habitat type Gravel beach (5%), mixed woodland (23%), salt marsh (5%), shallow coastal water and eelgrass flats (67%)
Key bird species
Listed species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) Piping plover
Management agency Canadian Wildlife Service, Atlantic Region
Landowners Environment and Climate Change Canada

Related links

Big Glace Bay Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary 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)

Contact information

Environment and Climate Change Canada - Atlantic Region
Canadian Wildlife Service
Protected Areas Program
17 Waterfowl Lane
Sackville NB  E4L 1G6

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

Page details

Date modified: