McConnell River (Kuugaarjuk) Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Snow geese along a lake within the McConnell MBS picture
Photo: © Environment and Climate Change Canada. Snow geese along a lake within the McConnell Migratory Bird.

The McConnell River (Kuugaarjuk) Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) covers 368 square km of land, coastal tidal flats and open ocean along the west coast of Hudson Bay in the Kivalliq region of Nunavut. The MBS is 35 km southwest of the community of Arviat and is important for geese, as well as many other migratory birds and mammals.

The landscape of the coastal plain of Hudson Bay is low, generally flat and poorly drained. The area is underlain by Precambrian rock and overlain with glacial till and marine sediments; the poorly drained coastal plain is largely sedge lowland interspersed with tundra hummocks or ridges and shallow ponds and lakes. The north and south branches of the McConnell River cut through the lowland in wide braided channels, and the MBS includes the small delta at the mouth of the McConnell River. Vast marshes occur along the coast, extending 3 to 8 km inland, and the shallow coastal waters of Hudson Bay provide good habitat to numerous migratory bird species during nesting, moulting and migration.

Importance of the Migratory Bird Sanctuary

The McConnell River (Kuugaarjuk) MBS is part of a larger area declared a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention in 1982. The area is also recognized as an Important Bird Area through BirdLife International and as a significant site under the International Biological Programme. The Canadian Wildlife Service recognizes the MBS and vicinity as a Key Migratory Terrestrial Bird Habitat site and as an Important Area for Birds in Nunavut.

Established in 1960 to protect what was then a small colony of Lesser Snow Geese, the colony has since experienced rapid growth and spread beyond the boundary of the sanctuary. The MBS is an important breeding ground for Lesser Snow Geese, Ross’s Geese and Canada Geese. The coastal sedge lowlands provide nesting habitat, whereas the adjacent ponds, lakes and inland areas are critical for feeding and moulting.

According to the most recent photo surveys (2008), the area in and adjacent to the MBS is estimated to support a nesting population of 100 100 Lesser Snow Geese, representing more than 5% of the Canadian population. The population of Ross’s Goose is estimated to be more than 90 000 for the colony, which lies in and adjacent to the MBS. The area is also used by small Canada Geese, which nest in loose associations generally inland of the Snow Geese.

The MBS is home to four species of special concern listed under the Species at Risk Act: Polar Bear, Rusty Blackbird, Short-eared Owl and Peregrine Falcon.

Other bird species nesting in the MBS include Long-tailed Duck, Common Eider, King Eider, Greater Scaup, Northern Pintail, Sandhill Crane, Common Loon, Red-throated Loon, Semipalmated Plover, Pectoral Sandpiper, Northern Phalarope, Red Phalarope, Parasitic Jaeger, Long-tailed Jaeger, Rough-legged Hawk, Willow Ptarmigan, Herring Gull, Arctic Tern, Horned Lark, Savannah Sparrow, Tree Sparrow and Lapland Longspur. In all, at least 111 bird species have been recorded in the sanctuary and adjacent area.

As many as 22 species of mammals have been recorded in this region, from Polar Bear to diminutive Masked Shrew. Polar Bears, Beluga Whales and Ringed Seals are common marine mammals along the coast and offshore waters of Hudson Bay. Barren-ground Caribou of the Qaminurjuak herd calve north of the MBS and winter along the coast from the Manitoba border to Arviat. Other mammals include Grizzly Bear, Wolf, Arctic Fox, Wolverine and Arctic Hare. The McConnell River is known for its Grayling fishing, and Arctic Char are found in the waters of Hudson Bay.

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 McConnell River (Kuugaarjuk) MBS, as per the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and the Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement for National Wildlife Areas and Migratory Bird Sanctuaries in the Nunavut Settlement Area, is managed in partnership by Environment and Climate Change Canada and the Nivvialik Area Co-Management Committee (ACMC) of Arviat, Nunavut.

Access to McConnell River (Kuugaarjuk) MBS may be authorized as per the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and the Migratory Bird Sanctuary Regulations. However, under the Nunavut Land Claim Agreement and Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement for National Wildlife Areas and Migratory Bird Sanctuaries in the Nunavut Settlement Area, only Nunavut beneficiaries have the right of access for the purpose of subsistence harvest and do not require a permit to carry out activities related to subsistence harvesting.

For all other users, the standard prohibitions under the Migratory Bird Sanctuary Regulations apply to McConnell River 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. Anyone wishing to access McConnell River (Kuugaarjuk) MBS must apply for a permit.

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 of the  McConnell River (Kuugaarjuk)  Migratory Bird Sanctuary.
Long description of the map

Map showing the location of McConnell River (Kuugaarjuk) Migratory Bird Sanctuary relative to Nunavut, Hudson Bay and the McConnell River. The map shows the boundaries of the sanctuary, which covers a portion of Hudson Bay as well as a section of the McConnell River and extends inland. The scale of the map is in kilometers.

This map is for illustrative purposes only and should not be used to define legal boundaries. McConnell River (Kuugaarjuk) 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 McConnell River (Kuugaarjuk) Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Category Information
Protected Area designation Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory Nunavut
Latitude/longitude 60°50' N, 94°20' W
Size in hectares (ha) 36 803 hectares
Reason for creation of protected area To protect the colony of Lesser Snow Geese
Date created (Gazetted) 1960
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management Category Ia - Strict Nature Reserve
Additional designations
Main habitat type Terrestrial: Sedge lowland (64%)
Marine: Tidal flats and open water (36%)
Key bird species Lesser Snow Goose, Ross's Goose, Canada Goose
Other species

Birds: Arctic Tern, Common Eider, Common Loon, Greater Scaup, Herring Gull, Horned Grebe, Horned Lark, King Eider, Lapland Longspur, Long-tailed Duck, Long-tailed Jaeger, Northern Phalarope, Northern Pintail, Parasitic Jaeger, Pectoral Sandpiper, Peregrine Falcon, Red Phalarope, Red-throated Loon, Rough-legged Hawk, Rusty Blackbird, Sandhill Crane, Savannah Sparrow, Semipalmated Plover, Short-eared Owl, American Tree Sparrow and Willow Ptarmigan

Mammals: Arctic Hare, Barren-ground Caribou, Beluga, Grizzly Bear, Polar Bear, Ringed Seal, Wolf, Wolverine, Masked Shrew and Arctic Fox

Fish: Grayling, Arctic Char

Listed species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) Peregrine Falcon, Polar Bear, Rusty Blackbird, Short-eared Owl
Management agency Canadian Wildlife Service, Prairie and Northern Region, and the Nivvialik Area Co-Management Committee of Arviat, Nunavut
Landowners Inuit-owned land and Crown land

Contact Information

Environment and Climate Change Canada - Prairie and 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)
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