Cape Parry Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Cliffs in Cape Parry Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Photo: Marie Fast © Environment and Climate Change Canada, Cliffs at Cape Parry MBS.

Cape Parry Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) is located approximately 100 km north of Paulatuk at the northern extremity of the Parry Peninsula in the Northwest Territories. The Parry Peninsula is composed primarily of two geological formations: the Parry Peninsula Moraine and the Franklin Mountain Formation. The moraine straddles the peninsula and divides the Franklin Mountain Formation into southern and northern sections. The northern section includes the Cape Parry MBS. The sanctuary is composed of three separate 15-m limestone cliffs of Silurian and Ordovician origin that face Amundsen Gulf, specifically Police Point, Devon Point and East Point, which provide nesting habitat for a colony of approximately 500 Thick-billed Murres.

The peninsula is characterized by low relief, rarely exceeding 60 m in elevation. Numerous ponds and lakes dot the landscape. Sand and gravel beaches occur along the coastline, which is indented by numerous bays and small inlets. Vegetation consists of polar semi-desert types, and is dominated by dwarf shrubs that seldom exceed 10 cm in height. Two plant communities are common to the area, one dominated by mountain avens only and a second dominated by mountain avens, bilberry, mountain cranberry, Labrador tea and bearberry. Forbs, grasses, sedges and lichens are major components of both communities. Mosses are present but are restricted to poorly drained areas. Much of the area has less than 25% plant cover, due to the highly calcareous nature of the soils.

The sea ice off the coast of Cape Parry breaks up earlier than the surrounding pack ice. This polynya provides the murres with their staple food of small fishes and marine invertebrates. The polynya and series of associated cracks in the ice, or shore leads, also offer important staging areas for waterfowl during their migration to more northern and eastern breeding grounds.

Importance of the Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Twenty-three species of birds, including 17 breeding species, have been recorded within this sanctuary. Cape Parry MBS was established to protect the nesting habitat of the only Thick-billed Murre colony in the western Canadian Arctic. Thick-billed Murres nest in coastal marine colonies throughout the Arctic and Subarctic regions of Eurasia and North America. Two subspecies occur in North America; Thick-billed Murres at Cape Parry probably belong to the western subspecies (Uria lomvia arra). The number of murres nesting at Police Point appears to have increased during recent years. At last count, that location had an estimated 570 nesting birds. Devon Point and East Point are not always used for nesting, perhaps due in part to the persistence of land-fast ice in spring at the bases of these points.

The sanctuary also protects one of two known Black Guillemot colonies in the western Canadian Arctic. The other colony is at Herschel Island, Yukon, approximately 550 km to the west. The Cape Parry colony is small; only a few pairs nest within the sanctuary.The Cape Parry area is an important staging area for migrating waterfowl: an estimated 20 000 King and Common Eiders, as well as large numbers of Long-tailed Ducks, Glaucous Gulls, and Pacific and Red-throated Loons, use the offshore area during spring migration.

Twelve mammal species have been observed within the Cape Parry MBS. The Parry Peninsula is an important Arctic Fox trapping area for the residents of Paulatuk, and their largest harvest of Polar Bears takes place off the shores of Cape Parry. Bowhead Whales, which are an endangered species, are common in Amundsen Gulf in spring and early summer.

Water birds and shorebirds that breed in the sanctuary are Glaucous, Mew and Bonaparte's Gulls, Arctic Terns, Red-throated and Arctic Loons, Semipalmated, Golden and Black-bellied Plovers, Whimbrels, Hudsonian Godwits, Red and Red-necked Phalaropes, Wilson's Snipes, and several species of sandpiper. The endangered Eskimo Curlew formerly nested along the Anderson River; six sightings were reported between 1961 and 1964. Gyrfalcons and Peregrine Falcons nest on bluffs in the sanctuary. A high diversity of passerine species is attracted to the variety of plant communities.

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 Cape Parry MBS 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 Cape Parry MBS: 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 Cape Parry MBS 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 Cape Parry Migratory Bird Sanctuary.
Long description for the Map

Map showing the location of Cape Parry Migratory Bird Sanctuary relative to the Northwest Territories, Cape Parry and Amundsen Gulf. The map shows the boundaries of the sanctuary, which is separated into three sections. Each section covers a portion of Cape Parry and the surrounding water. The scale of the map is in tenths of a kilometer.

This map is for illustrative purposes only and should not be used to define legal boundaries. Cape Parry MBS 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 Cape Parry Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Category Information
Protected Area designation Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory Northwest Territories
Latitude/longitude 70°12' N, 124°40' W
Size in hectares (ha) 227 ha
Date created (Gazetted) 1961
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management Category Ia - Strict Nature Reserve
Additional designations Part of Cape Parry Important Bird Area
Main habitat type Open water, limestone cliffs, freshwater lakes and ponds
Key bird species Thick-billed Murre and Black Guillemot
Other species

Birds: King Eider, Common Eider, Long-tailed Duck, Glaucous Gull, Pacific Loon and Red-throated Loon

Mammals: Arctic Fox, Polar Bear and Bowhead Whale

Plants: Mountain Avens, Bilberry, Mountain Cranberry, Labrador Tea and Bear Berry

Listed species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) Polar Bear and Bowhead Whale
Management agency Canadian Wildlife Service, Prairie and Northern Region
Landowners Inuvialuit lands and Crown land

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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