Big Glace Bay Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary

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

Importance of the sanctuary: migratory birds and other wildlife

Located to the east 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.

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 eastern side of Big Glace Bay Lake is vegetated with stunted spruce trees, while the land on the western side is part of the town of Glace Bay and used to support a heavy water plant and thermal power generating facility.

Map of the area

Map of Big Glace Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary
  • Long description

    Map showing location of Big Glacier 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 refuge, which contains most of Big Glace Bay Lake and a parcel of surrounding land. The MBS is located north of Highway 255. The scale of the map is in kilometers. Permanent waters, intertidal areas, roads and highways 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 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

Protected Area designation Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory Nova Scotia
Latitude/longitude 46°10' N, 59°56' W
Size 240 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
Main habitat type Gravel beach (5%), mixed woodland (23%), salt marsh (5%), shallow coastal water and eelgrass flats (67%)
Key bird species American black duck, Canada goose, common goldeneye, bufflehead, piping plover, common tern and willet
Listed species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) Piping plover
Management agency Canadian Wildlife Service, Atlantic Region
Landowners Federal Government, administered by Public Services and Procurement Canada (formerly Public Works and Government Services 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)

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