Hannah Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Snow Geese
Photo: © Thinkstockphotos.ca. Snow Geese.

Hannah Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) forms the southernmost projection of James Bay. The lands are managed by the Province of Ontario, and the areas below the high-tide mark are managed by the Government of Nunavut. The MBS is located on the east side of the bay and stretches northward from the mouth of the Little Missisicabi River to East Point. The MBS extends 6.4 km west from East Point and includes open water, shoals and tidal mud flats that are part of Nunavut. In addition to the coastal area, the MBS includes sedge marshes, inland fens and spruce forest that stretch eastward to the Ontario-Quebec border. The northern boundary of the MBS is a line due eastward from East Point to the Ontario-Quebec border, while the north bank of the south branch of the Little Missisicabi River forms the southern boundary.

The Hannah Bay MBS is characterized by areas of extensive tidal mud flats and well-developed sedge marsh interspersed with lakes and streams. The tidal mud flats, which may reach a few kilometres in width, are hard-packed silt and clay; the water in this area is brackish and turbid. Following the flats are sedge-dominated marshes with rush and bulrush on the edges, and occasional pool areas colonized by Potamogeton sp. On higher sites, needlerush and grasses are found, while cattail and mare's tail grow in the numerous shallow ponds. The deeper potholes contain a variety of submergent plants, including Myriophyllum spicatum, Potamogeton sp. Farther inland, extensive wet meadows, freshwater swamps, fens and bogs, and black spruce forest cover the area. Willow species may be found along the banks of streams such as the Little Missisicabi River.

Importance of the Migratory Bird Sanctuary

The funnel-shaped outline of Hudson and James bays causes migrating birds from the Arctic to concentrate at the southern end of James Bay each fall. Extensive tidal flats, coastal marshes and inland fens attract hundreds of thousands of ducks, geese and shorebirds each autumn. The above-noted vegetation zones are common along the southern shore of James Bay, but the coastal sedge marsh zone is considerably wider at the Hannah Bay MBS than along other sections of the shoreline.

The most common fall migrants are Lesser Snow Geese, Canada Geese, Northern Pintails, American Black Ducks, Mallards, Green-winged Teals and White-winged Scoters. Lesser Snow Geese are found in numbers reaching several thousands during the fall and spring migration through the Hannah Bay MBS (see table). In its 1982 Goose Survey, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources recorded over 7000 Lesser Snow Geese in the MBS, which constituted one fifth of the total number counted in southern James Bay in the survey. These habitats are essential for waterfowl as feeding grounds to replenish their fat reserves in order to continue their migratory journey.

Numbers of geese observed in Hannah Bay MBS:
Date Lesser Snow Geese Canada Geese
Oct. 4-6, 1971 35,897 -
Oct. 15-18, 1971 64,538 -
Sept. 19-22, 1972 14,435 1884
Oct. 4-10, 1972 28,560 398

In addition to the MBS's value as a feeding and resting area for migrating geese, the coastal portion of the sanctuary is important as a moulting area for Canada Geese. During spring migration, some ducks may remain in the sanctuary on the offshore islands and the mainland, and attempt to nest. However, severe flood tides restrict the possibility of significant waterfowl production in this area. Large numbers of ducks congregate along the coastal marshes of the MBS each summer to moult. Thousands of ducks utilize the tidal flats, coastal marsh, streams and ponds during the fall migration.

Many shorebirds, including Black-bellied, Golden and Semipalmated Plovers, as well as Yellowlegs, Dunlins, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Hudsonian Godwits, Red Knots and Wilson's Snipes, pass through Hannah Bay MBS during migration.

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.

The standard prohibitions under the Migratory Bird Sanctuary Regulations apply to Hannah Bay 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. Dogs and cats must not be allowed to run at large.

Access prohibitions or restrictions by the MBS landowners (the Province of Ontario manages the land and the Government of Nunavut manages below the high-tide mark) may also apply.

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 showing the Hannah Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Long description for the Map

Map showing the location of Hannah Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary relative to Ontario, Quebec, Ministikamisk Peninsula, Iskoyaskweyau Point, James Bay, Hannah Bay and Missisicabi River. The map shows the boundaries of the sanctuary, which extend into James Bay and Hannah Bay and inland in Ontario to the Quebec border. The scale of the map is in kilometers.

This map is for illustrative purposes only and should not be used to define legal boundaries. Hannah Bay 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 Hannah Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Category Information
Protected Area designation Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory Ontario
Latitude/longitude 51°20' N, 80°25' W
Size in hectares (ha) 25 141 ha
Date created (Gazetted) 1958
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) management category Ib - Wilderness Area
Additional designations
Main habitat type Tidal mud flats (10%), coastal marsh (55%), forest interspersed with grassy meadows (35%)
Key bird species Lesser Snow Goose and Canada Goose
Other species Birds: Northern Pintail, Mallard, Green-winged Teal, yellowlegs, plovers, Atlantic Brant and American Black Duck
Listed species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) None
Management agency Canadian Wildlife Service, Ontario Region
Landowners Province of Ontario and Government of Nunavut

Contact Information

Environment and Climate Change Canada - Ontario Region
Canadian Wildlife Service
Ecosystem Conservation
4905 Dufferin Street
Toronto ON M3H 5T4
Toll Free: 1-800-668-6767 (in Canada only)
Email: ec.enviroinfo.ec@canada.ca
Report a problem or mistake on this page
Please select all that apply:

Privacy statement

Thank you for your help!

You will not receive a reply. For enquiries, contact us.

Date modified: