Harry Gibbons (Ikkattuaq) Migratory Bird Sanctuary

The Harry Gibbons (Ikkattuaq) Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) is located on Southampton Island south-west coast, in Nunavut. The site allows the lesser snow goose to securely nest.

Importance of the sanctuary: migratory birds and other wildlife

Harry Gibbons (Ikkattuaq) Migratory Bird Sanctuary is located at the northern extremity of Hudson Bay, 110 kilometres southwest of Coral Harbour on Southampton Island within the Kivalliq Region of Nunavut. In 1957, the Canadian Wildlife Service (Environment Canada) proposed the establishment of a sanctuary within the drainage basin of the Boas River in order to protect this area, an important lesser snow goose nesting site, from potential disturbances due to future prospecting or tourism on Southampton Island. Following this recommendation, the sanctuary was officially established in 1959. This sanctuary is situated within the lower Boas River drainage basin and includes the Boas River delta and estuary, the adjacent tidal flats in Bay of God Mercy, and the surrounding low inland areas. Sitting atop limestone and covered with glacial drift and beach deposits, much of this area lies below a 60-metre elevation.

Did you know?

Harry Gibbons Migratory Bird Sanctuary was named in honour of a prominent Inuit guide and interpreter who assisted many scientists who worked in the area.

By 1957, when the recommendation for protecting this area was made, the Boas River lesser snow goose colony was already the most intensively studied goose colony in the Canadian Arctic. These studies have continued, and the most recent photo surveys, completed in 2008, indicated that an estimated 664 000 lesser snow geese were nesting in and around the sanctuary. The greatest concentration of geese occurred around the Boas River delta, where the grassy islands provide an abundance of nesting sites.

Snow geese on a stretch of water
Snow Geese at Harry Gibbons Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Photo: Alain Fontaine

Many other bird species are known to breed in and around the sanctuary, including:

Did you know?

Glacial drift refers to any material found either on land or in the sea that was left behind by a glacier. These glacial deposits can range from small sediment to large rocks.


The Boas River cuts across an extensive sedge meadow, forming a braided delta that is 5 kilometres wide and 13 kilometers long. This area extends beyond the sanctuary boundaries and provides excellent feeding and moulting habitat. The dominant species of vegetation within the meadow are the grass-like sedges, cotton-grass, bog-rush and a variety of mosses and willows. Extensive tidal flats (at least 13 kilometres wide) occur along the coastline. Scattered throughout the sedge lowlands are numerous lakes bordered by sedge-willow meadows. Areas of higher elevation within the sanctuary are vegetated with lichens and sedges.

Harry Gibbons Migratory Bird Sanctuary: landscape. Photo: Alain Fontaine

Map of the area

Map of Harry Gibbons Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Access to the sanctuary

Migratory Bird Sanctuaries, such as Harry Gibbons, 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.

The MBS is managed by Environment and Climate Change Canada in partnership with the Irniurviit Area Co-management Committee (ACMC) of Coral Harbour, Nunavut.

Please note that, as per the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement for National Wildlife Areas and Migratory Bird Sanctuaries in the Nunavut Settlement Area, Nunavut beneficiaries do not require a permit to carry out activities related to subsistence harvesting in this sanctuary. Other individuals who wish to access Harry Gibbons (Ikkattuaq) 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 Harry Gibbons Migratory Bird Sanctuary in particular, please contact our regional office.

Key facts about Harry Gibbons (Ikkattuaq) Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Protected Area designation Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory Nunavut
Latitude/longitude 63°45' N, 85°40' W
Size 143 811 hectares
Date created (Gazetted) 1959
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management Category Wilderness Area (Ib)
Additional designations
Main habitat type Graminoid-peat-moss lowlands (39%), patterned ground and bare deposits uplands (26%), water bodies and exposed sediment (25%) and lichen-heath and boulder ridge highlands (10%)
Key bird species Lesser snow goose, Atlantic brant, cackling goose, Ross's goose, common eider, king eider, long-tailed duck and tundra swan
Other species Birds: Red-throated loon, pacific loon, Sabine’s gull, herring gull, ruddy turnstone, red phalarope and parasitic jaeger
Mammals: Arctic fox, bearded seal, ringed seal and polar bear
Listed species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) Polar bear
Management agency Canadian Wildlife Service, Northern Region, in collaboration with the Irniurviit Co-Management Committee of Coral Harbour
Landowners Crown land and Inuit-owned land

Related link

Contact information

Environment and Climate Change Canada – Northern Region
Canadian Wildlife Service
Protected Areas and Stewardship
Eastern Arctic Unit
P.O. Box 1714
Iqaluit NU X0A 0H0

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

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