Boatswain Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary

The Boatswain Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS), located north of Waskaganish, in Québec, is an important place where many birds feed, rest and nest.

Importance of the sanctuary: migratory birds and other wildlife

Located at the southeastern end of James Bay, approximately 35 kilometres north of Waskaganish, the Boatswain Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary was established in 1941 to protect the large concentrations of waterfowl and shorebirds known to congregate in this area. This sanctuary is an important nesting, resting and feeding site for numerous birds during both the spring and fall migrations.

Yellow rail
Yellow rail. Photo: Michel Robert

The species that can be found within this sanctuary include Canada geese, lesser snow geese, brants and black ducks, along with several species of scoters and scaups. Twenty six species of shorebirds, in particular white-rumped sandpipers and hudsonian godwits, have also been recorded at the site. Shorebirds are particularly abundant in the Boatswain Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary between the months of August and October as they flock to the sanctuary to feed and rest. In fact, up to 10 000 shorebirds have been observed in the coastal areas of the sanctuary. The sanctuary also provides suitable habitats for yellow rails, le conte's sparrows, short-eared owls, Nelson's sparrows and sandhill cranes. The number and variety of birds that use this protected area, including species at risk, supports the fact that this sanctuary is an important site for birds in this region.

Did you know?

The Nelson’s sparrow is a bird of fifteen centimeters in length. The male and the female have identical plumage: brown back, pale belly and scratches on the chest and flanks. The yellow-ochre pattern found on their grey cheeks facilitates their identification.


Boatswain Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary encompasses part of the Boatswain Bay shore within two miles (approximately 3.2 km) of the high water line, including all islands, water, shallow banks and rocks bounded by a straight line in Boatswain Bay between two points of land.

Tidal marsh within Boatswain Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary. Photo: Michel Robert

This 15 465-hectare sanctuary consists mostly of flat terrain dominated by tidal marshes and mud flats that spanning up to several kilometres in width. Sedges (plants that superficially resemble grasses) are the most abundant vegetation within the sanctuary, however alder groves, white spruce forests, stands of black spruce and moss also grow within this area.

Map of the area

Map of Boatswain Bay MBS
  • Long description

    Map showing the location of the Boatswain Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) in relation to Québec, Nunavut, Charlton Island, Carey Island, Danby Island, Tent Island, and James Bay. The map shows the boundaries of the refuge, which enclose Botswain Bay and the surrounding coastal lands. The scale of the map is in kilometers. Permanent waters and the intertidal zone are shown on the map. An inset shows the location of the shelter in Canada.

Access to the sanctuary

Migratory Bird Sanctuaries, such as Boatswain Bay, are established across the country to protect migratory birds during critical periods of their migration. Whether these areas are used for feeding, resting or nesting, they play an important role in the survival of many species. 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, that are in place to conserve the wildlife that call it home. It is also important to remember that pets are not welcome 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 Boatswain Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary in particular, please contact our regional office.

Please note that the Migratory Bird Sanctuary Regulations apply to this protected area unless a permit has been issued or an exception made as specified per the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement and the Eeyou Marine Region Land Claim Agreement.

Key facts about Boatswain Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Protected Area designation Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory Québec
Latitude/longitude 51° 50' N 78° 52' W
Size 15 465 hectares
Date created (Gazetted) 1941
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management Category Strict Nature Reserve (Ia)
Additional designations Boatswain Bay Important Bird Area
Main habitat type Salt marsh, mud flats, alder groves, white spruce forests, stands of black spruce
Key bird species Canada goose, lesser snow goose, American black duck, yellow rail, LeConte's sparrow, short-eared owl, Nelson's sparrow, brant, hudsonian godwit, white-rumped sandpiper and sandhill crane
Other species Plants: buckbean, sedge spp, white spruce and black spruce
Listed species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) Short-eared owl
Management agency Canadian Wildlife Service, Quebec Region

Related links

Boatswain Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary on Google Maps (Please note that the Google map is a complementary source of information and does not represent the official map or site name)

Contact information

Environment and Climate Change Canada – Quebec Region
Canadian Wildlife Service
Protected Areas Unit
801-1550, avenue d'Estimauville
9250 – 49th Street
Québec, Quebec G1J 0C3

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

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