Hannah Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary

The Hannah Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) is located south of James Bay, Ontario. It offers many birds a place to rest and feed.

Importance of the sanctuary: migratory birds and other wildlife

The Hannah Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary is formed by the southernmost terrestrial projection of James Bay. The MBS lands are within the homelands of the Moose Cree First Nation. While the Province of Ontario manages the lands within the sanctuary, the Government of Nunavut manages all of the areas below the high-tide mark.

The funnel-shaped outlines of Hudson Bay and James Bay cause birds migrating from the Arctic to group together in the southern end of James Bay each fall. During this same time, the extensive tidal flats, coastal marshes and inland fens attract hundreds of thousands of ducks, geese and shorebirds.

Hannah Bay is within a designated Important Bird Area (IBA) supporting large numbers of Snow Goose, Brant and waterbirds. Other birds have been recorded at the MBS, such as:

Snow Geese
Snow geese

The fall migrant waterfowl most commonly spotted include:

Canada Goose
Canada goose

This area is an essential feeding and resting ground for waterfowl and shorebirds, allowing them to replenish their fat reserves in order to continue their migratory journeys. Historically, during both the spring and fall migrations, thousands of lesser snow geese migrated through the Hannah Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary. For example, in its 1982 Goose Survey, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources recorded over 7000 lesser snow geese in the sanctuary. This constituted one fifth of the total number of this species counted in southern James Bay during the survey. More recent survey work indicates that the area now supports less than 5% of the lesser snow goose population. This change in use is due to changing migration routes used by lesser snow geese, rather than a population decline or changing suitability of the area to support migrant birds. Snow geese now migrate along the shores of Hudson Bay to the Prairie Provinces, rather than through southern James Bay.

Of the large numbers of ducks that frequent the sanctuary during spring migration, some remain to nest on the offshore islands and the mainland. Flood tides in the area however, do severely restrict this waterfowl nesting. This does not stop waterfowl from using the site for other purposes. Large numbers of ducks gather in the sanctuary each summer to moult and thousands of ducks make use of the tidal flats, coastal marsh, streams and ponds during the fall migration. In addition, large numbers of Canada geese migrate to the MBS in the summer from the U.S.A to moult.

Significant numbers of shorebirds stage in the MBS for between 2 and 4 weeks, these include:


Hannah Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary extends 6.4 kilometres west from East Point and includes open water, shoals and tidal mud flats that are part of the Territory of Nunavut. This sanctuary is characterized by areas of extensive tidal mud flats and well-developed sedge marshes interspersed with lakes and streams. The tidal mud flats are composed of hard-packed silt or clay and can reach several kilometres in width, while the waters in the area are turbid and brackish.

Inland, past the mud flats, are sedge-dominated marshes with rush and bulrush along their edges and the occasion pool area with pondweeds (Potamogeton sp). This coastal sedge marsh zone is considerably wider in the sanctuary then in other areas along the southern shore of James Bay. The vegetation in areas of higher ground includes needlerush and grasses, while cattail and mare’s tail grow in the numerous shallow ponds. Deeper potholes can also be found in the area and contain a variety of underwater plants including Eurasian Watermilfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum) and pondweeds (Potamogeton sp).

Further inland, freshwater swamps, fens, bogs, black spruce forests and extensive wet meadows dominate the landscape. Willow species also grow along the backs of streams in the sanctuary such as the Little Missisicabi River.

Hannah Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary is bounded to the east by the Ontario-Quebec provincial border and by the Little Missisicabi River to the south.

Did you know?

The large body of water known as James Bay is the southernmost part of the Arctic Ocean. While its waters often freeze over during the winter months, James Bay is generally the last water in the area to freeze and the first to thaw each year. Therefore, James Bay provides a favorable feeding area for ducks such as American black duck who tend to return in fall and winter to the same marshes that they visited in previous years. 

Map of the area

Map of Hannah Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Map of Hannah Bay MBS

Access to the sanctuary

Migratory Bird Sanctuaries, such as Hannah Bay, 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 Hannah Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary in particular, please contact our regional office.

Key facts about Hannah Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Summary table
Protected Area designation Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory Ontario
Latitude/longitude 51° 20' N, 79° 38' O
Size 25,231 hectares
Date created (Gazetted)  1939
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) management category Wilderness Area (Ib)
Additional designations
Main habitat type Intertidal mudflats and open waters, coastal marshes, spruce forests, bogs
Key bird species
Other species


Listed species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA)
Management agency Canadian Wildlife Service, Ontario Region
Landowners Province of Ontario and Government of Nunavut

Related Link

Hannah Bay 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 – Ontario Region
Canadian Wildlife Service
Protected Areas
4905 Dufferin Street
Toronto ON
M3H 5T4

Toll-Free: 1-800-668-6767 (in Canada only)
Email: enviroinfo@ec.gc.ca

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