Cape Parry Migratory Bird Sanctuary

The Cape Parry Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) is located north of the Northwest Territories. It protects thick-billed murres habitat and offers a nesting and feeding area for wide diversity of birds.

Importance of the sanctuary: migratory birds and other wildlife

The Cape Parry Migratory Bird Sanctuary, located approximately 100 kilometres north of Paulatuk at the northern extremity of the Parry Peninsula in the Northwest Territories, was established to protect the nesting habitat of the only thick-billed murre colony in the western Canadian Arctic. This bird is known to nest in coastal marine colonies throughout the Arctic and Subarctic regions of Eurasia and North America. Of the two subspecies that occur on this continent, the thick-billed murres at Cape Parry likely belong to the western subspecies (uria lomvia arra).

The number of murres nesting in this sanctuary varies between 500 to 900 individuals each year. Numbers of birds nesting at each point in the sanctuary varies with annual environmental conditions.

As the sea ice off the coast of Cape Parry breaks up earlier than the surrounding ice, it provides the murres with their staple food of small fishes and marine invertebrates. This open water, known as a polynya, as well as the associated cracks in the ice are also important resting and feeding areas for waterfowl during their migration to their more northern and eastern breeding grounds. The nearby Devon Point and East Point may also be used as nesting sites.

In total, 23 species of birds, including 17 breeding species, have been recorded within this sanctuary. This includes a small black guillemot colony, made up of only a few pairs of birds.

Did you know?

There are only two known black guillemot colonies in the western Canadian Arctic. The smaller one is located at Cape Parry, while the larger colony is located approximately 550 kilometres to the west on Herschel Island in the Yukon.

This sanctuary is also an important staging area for migrating waterfowl including approximately 20 000 king and common eiders. A large numbers of long-tailed ducks, glaucous gulls, pacific loons and red-throated loons also use the offshore area during spring migration. Water birds and shorebirds breed in the sanctuary, including:

  • glaucous gulls
  • mew gulls
  • Bonaparte's gulls
  • arctic terns
  • red-throated loons
  • arctic loons
  • semipalmated plovers
  • golden plovers
  • black-bellied plovers
  • whimbrels
  • hudsonian godwits
  • red phalaropes
  • red-necked phalaropes
  • Wilson's snipes
  • several species of sandpipers
Cape Parry Migratory Bird Sanctuary. Photo: Marie Fast

At least 12 species of mammals have also been spotted in and around the Cape Parry sanctuary including bowhead whales, an endangered species, which are commonly found in Amundsen Gulf during spring and early summer. 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.


The sanctuary’s two main geological features are the Parry Peninsula Moraine and the Franklin Mountain Formation. The moraine straddles the peninsula and divides the Franklin Mountain Formation into two sections with the Cape Parry Migratory Bird Sanctuary being located in the northern section. The landscape on the peninsula is mostly low profile, rarely exceeding 60 metres in elevation. Three 15-metre limestone cliffs within the sanctuary, Police Point, Devon Point and East Point, face Amundsen Gulf. Numerous bays and small inlets indent the sand and gravel coastline, while further inland an abundance of ponds and lakes dot the landscape. The vegetation within the sanctuary is considered to be polar semi-desert and is dominated by dwarf shrubs, most less than 10 cm tall. The main plant found in this area is mountain avens, which can dominate the landscape on its own or be accompanied by bilberry, mountain cranberry, labrador tea and bearberry. Forbs, grasses, sedges and lichens are also abundant, while mosses are present but restricted to poorly drained areas. Much of the sanctuary has less than 25% plant cover, due to the high lime (calcium carbonate) content of the soils.

Cliffs at Cape Parry Migratory Bird Sanctuary. Photo: Marie Fast

Map of the area

Map of Cape Parry Migratory Bird Sanctuary
  • Long description

    Map showing the location of the Cape Parry Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) in relation to Northwest Territories, Cape Parry and Amundsen Gulf. The map shows the boundaries of the refuge, which is divided in three zones, namely, East Point, Central Point and West Point. Each zone covers a part of Cape Parry and nearby water's. The scale of the map is in kilometers. Permanent waters and intertidal areas 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 Cape Parry, 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. Dogs and cats must not be allowed to run at large inside Migratory Bird Sanctuaries.

Under the Inuvialuit Final Agreement, Inuvialuit beneficiaries have unrestricted right of access for the purpose of subsistence harvest and do not require a permit to carry out activities related to subsistence harvesting. Anyone else wishing to access Cape Parry Migratory Bird Sanctuary must apply for a permit.

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 Cape Parry Migratory Bird Sanctuary in particular, please contact our regional office.

Key facts about Cape Parry Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Protected Area designation Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory Northwest Territories
Latitude/longitude 70°12' N, 124°40' W
Size 300 hectares
Date created (Gazetted) 1961
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management Category 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
Listed species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) Polar bear and bowhead whale
Management agency Canadian Wildlife Service, Northern Region
Landowners Inuvialuit lands and Crown land

Related link

Cape Parry 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 – Northern Region
Canadian Wildlife Service
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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