McConnell River (Kuugaarjuk) Migratory Bird Sanctuary

The McConnell River (Kuugaarjuk) Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) is located west of the Hudson Bay, in Nunavut. It ensures the protection of many birds, and allows many ducks and geese to nest.

Importance of the sanctuary: migratory birds and other wildlife

Situated 35 kilometres southwest of the community of Arviat, Nunavut, McConnell River (Kuugaarjuk) Migratory Bird Sanctuary is an important site for geese as well as many other migratory birds and mammals. This sanctuary was established in 1960 in order to protect a small breeding colony of lesser snow geese, ross’s geese and Canada geese. Since that time, the colony has undergone rapid growth and spread beyond the sanctuary’s boundary. The coastal sedge landscape of the sanctuary provides ideal nesting habitat for these birds, while the adjacent ponds, lakes and inland areas are critical for feeding and moulting.

Lesser snow geese on the McConnell River. Photo: © Frank Baldwin.

In the most recent photo survey, completed in 2008, it was estimated that the area in and around the sanctuary supported a nesting population of 100 100 lesser snow geese, representing more than 5% of the Canadian population and the ross’s goose population was estimated to be over 90 000 birds. The smaller number of Canada geese that also use the sanctuary generally nest in loose association inland of the snow geese.
In total, over 111 bird species have been recorded in the sanctuary and its adjacent areas including three bird species of special concern listed under the Species at Risk Act: the rusty blackbird, short-eared owl and peregrine falcon. polar bears, another species of concern, are also found within this protected area. Other species of birds nesting in the sanctuary include:

Numerous mammal species have also been spotted in this area; ranging in size from the polar bear to the tiny masked shrew. In total, 22 species of mammals can be seen within the sanctuary including beluga whales and ringed seals, which are often spotted along the coast and in the offshore waters of Hudson Bay. The barren-ground caribou of the qaminurjuak herd calve just north of the sanctuary and winter along the coast from the border of Manitoba up to Arviat. Other mammals that may be observed include grizzly bear, wolf, Arctic fox, wolverine and Arctic hare. The McConnell River, which runs through the sanctuary, is known for its grayling fishing, and arctic char can be found in the waters of Hudson Bay.


The McConnell River (Kuugaarjuk) Migratory Bird Sanctuary covers 368 square kilometres of land, coastal tidal flats and open ocean along the west coast of Hudson Bay in the Kivalliq region of Nunavut. This sanctuary is part of a larger area declared a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention in 1982 and the Canadian Wildlife Service (Environment and Climate Change Canada) recognizes the sanctuary and its vicinity as a Key Migratory Terrestrial Bird Habitat site and as an Important Area for Birds in Nunavut. The area is also recognized as an Important Bird Area through BirdLife International and as a significant site under the International Biological Programme.

Did you know?

Nunavut’s Kivalliq region is located on the west coast of Hudson Bay and is Canada’s blizzard capital! A blizzard is defined as six consecutive hours of visibility under 400 metres due to blowing snow. In 2008, a blizzard hit the Rankin Inlet area that raged for over 7 days!

Habitat within the McConnell River (Kuugaarjuk) Migratory Bird Sanctuary


The sanctuary’s landscape is Precambrian rock covered in glacial till and marine sediment and, as is characteristic of the terrain in the coastal plain of Hudson Bay, it is low, mostly flat and poorly drained. Along the coast, vast marshes extend three to eight kilometres inland and the shallow coastal waters of Hudson Bay provide good habitat for many species of migratory birds during nesting, moulting and migration. McConnell River itself, both the north and south branches, cuts through the sanctuary in wider braided channels. The sanctuary also includes the small delta at the mouth of the McConnell River.

Map of the area

Long description

Map showing the location of the McConnell River Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) in relation to Nunavut, Hudson Bay ant McConnell River. The maps shows the boundaries of the refuge, which contains part of Hudson Bay water's and a section of McConnell Rivers, the refuge then runs from the coast towards inland. The scale of the map is in kilometers. Permanent waters are shown on the map. An insert on the map shows the location of the shelter in Canada.

Access to the sanctuary

Migratory Bird Sanctuaries, such as McConnell River, 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 Nivvialik Area Co-management Committee (ACMC) of Arviat, 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 McConnell River (Kuugaarjuk) 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 McConnell River Migratory Bird Sanctuary in particular, please contact our regional office.

Key facts about McConnell River (Kuugaarjuk) Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Protected Area designation Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory Nunavut
Latitude/longitude 60°50' N, 94°20' W
Size 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 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

Related link

McConnell River (Kuugaarjuk) 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 –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)

Page details

Date modified: