Kendall Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary

The Kendall Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) is located north-west of Northwest Territories. It offers an ideal habitat for shorebirds, song birds and waterfowl to feed and breed.

Importance of the sanctuary: migratory birds and other wildlife

Located in the Northwest Territories, on the outer Mackenzie Delta, Kendall Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary was established in 1961 to provide long-term protection for a colony of lesser snow geese. This sanctuary supports over 100 species of birds including many species of shorebirds, songbirds and waterfowl, which rely on its resources for feeding and nesting.

An estimated 375 000 lesser snow geese, 23 700 white-fronted geese, 12 200 black brants, 1 100 Canada geese and 3 400 tundra swans use the islands of the outer delta within the sanctuary and adjacent areas as resting and feeding grounds in the spring and fall. Two shorebirds of limited breeding distribution within Canada, the Hudsonian godwit and the long-billed dowitcher, nest in and around this sanctuary and a colony of lesser snow geese, ranging in size from 200 to 8800 birds, is established in the northwestern portion of the sanctuary. Many birds nest and moult throughout the sanctuary including greater white-fronted geese, black brants, tundra swans, sandhill cranes, dabbling ducks and sea ducks. Dowitchers are also known to pass through this area during the fall migration, as are thousands of other shorebirds that stop in the Mackenzie Delta to nest, feed and rest during their migration.

Did you know?

Dowitcher parents share the responsibility of incubating their eggs. Once they hatch however, the male takes over the responsibility and cares for the chicks alone.

Long-billed Dowitchers
Long-billed dowitchers


This 60 900-hectare sanctuary lies 120 kilometres west of Tuktoyaktuk, 140 kilometres north of Inuvik and borders the Beaufort Sea. As it is situated in the active part of the Mackenzie Delta, the area within the Kendall Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary is a mosaic of flat islands separated by meandering, shifting channels often less than one metre deep and with abundant mud flats at low tide. The terrain in this area, which is within the Tuktoyaktuk Coastal Plain Ecoregion, has very little variation in elevation and is characterized by an acidic soil type (muskeg). The sanctuary is underlain by silt and fine sands, 70 to 150 metres thick (deltaic and alluvial). With an average elevation of 15 metres above sea level, much of the area is wet and swampy during the spring and early summer, drying out later in the season. 

Kendall Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary landscape. Photo: Kim Jones

Numerous lakes and ponds dot the landscape and the river channels are bordered by raised banks (levees) due to the aftermath of ice during spring break-up. This results in a build-up of silt along the shores of the surrounding islands. While the tidal range in this area is small, variations of up to two metres can regularly occur due to winds and storms. These high waters can reverse the flow on some of the smaller channels and cause considerable flooding inland. Water action also impacts the Beaufort Sea shoreline, a shallow shoreline with shifting shoals, sandbars and beaches, as coastal erosion averages 30 to 60 centimetres per year. Some areas can lose as much as 4.6 metres yearly.

Since the sanctuary lies north of the tree line, the tallest vegetation to be found in the area generally consists of tall shrubs that grow along the banks of some of the watercourses. Portions of the landscape consist of muskeg and wet meadow, which support buckbean, horsetails, sedges and other grass-like plants (graminoids), while the more elevated and dryer areas within the sanctuary are vegetated by sedges and willows. The islands that are very low lying (less than 30 cm above low-tide level) are generally unvegetated.

Map of the area

Map of Kendall Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Access to the sanctuary

Migratory Bird Sanctuaries, such as Kendall Island, 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 Kendall Island 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 Kendall Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary in particular, please contact our regional office.

Key facts about Kendall Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Protected Area designation Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory Northwest Territories
Latitude/longitude 69°20' N, 135°30' W
Size 60 900 hectares
Date created (Gazetted) 1961
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management Category Wilderness Area
Additional designations Part of Mackenzie River Delta Important Bird Area
Main habitat type Tidal beaches and open water, tundra sedge lowland, freshwater lakes and ponds
Key bird species Lesser snow goose, white-fronted goose, Canada goose, tundra swan, black brant and sandhill crane
Other species Birds: Long-billed dowitcher
Mammals: Beluga whale and grizzly bear
Listed species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) None
Management agency Canadian Wildlife Service, Northern Region
Landowner Canadian Wildlife Service

Related link

Kendall Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary on Google Maps (Please note that the Google Maps 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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