Moose River Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Lesser Snow Geese in flight
Photo: © Lesser Snow Geese in flight.

The Moose River Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) is composed of two separate units at the mouth of the Moose River on the southwest side 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. These two areas are Ship Sands Island, located along the west side of the Moose River at its mouth, and a section of mainland on the east side of the river mouth from Arnold Point (Long Point) east to Partridge Creek. The coastal boundary for both units extends 61 m offshore from the normal high-tide mark.

The downstream end (northeast) of Ship Sands Island is divided by numerous tidal creeks. Only a small portion of the extensive tidal mud flats adjoining the island is included within the sanctuary. A flooded sedge marsh begins immediately inland from the mud flats. Many pools containing marsh arrowgrass are scattered throughout this large zone of Carex sp. Along much of the shoreline, bulrush, cattail and compositae are found between the tidal flat and sedge areas.

Inland on the island, on slightly higher ground, the sedge marsh gradually grades into a grassy meadow as the soil becomes less saturated. In much of this zone, willow and alder shrubs are becoming established. Much of the upstream (southwest) half of the island is covered by forest vegetation of varying density. The main tree species present are black spruce, white spruce, tamarack and balsam poplar. Examination of past and current aerial photographs indicates that vegetation succession has been occurring. The forest and shrub zones have been expanding at the expense of sedge marsh areas.

The pattern of vegetation zones in the upstream (southwest) half of Ship Sands Island is similar to that in the downstream half; however, the flats and sedge marsh zones are much narrower. The mainland portion of the Moose River MBS is composed almost entirely of flooded sedge marsh. Tidal mud flats form the northern boundary. To the south, the broad area of sedge grades into willow thicket. In some sections of the coast, a clear distinction between willow and sedge zones is apparent. In others, fingers of willow growth extend into the sedges, while, in many areas, scattered clumps of low willow are isolated from the main zone of willow growth.

Numerous tidal creeks cut back into the MBS, and a number of freshwater creeks cross the MBS and flow into James Bay. The pattern of vegetation present in the MBS is common along most of the James Bay coast. Coastal sedge marsh is bordered on the shore by extensive tidal mud flats and on the inland side by shrub willow/spruce forest. Fens are scattered throughout the forested zones. The habitat types within the MBS are not considered unusual or of critical importance.

Importance of the Migratory Bird Sanctuary

The MBS is an important migratory staging area for the Lesser Snow Goose. The geese generally concentrate in the lower part of the Ship Sands Island during the early fall, and gradually shift upstream as the food resources of the lower area are depleted. Many geese remain in the area until ice prevents access to food. During spring, Lesser Snow Geese are most numerous during breakup when sea ice is still solid but streams and river mouths are open. The Snow Geese appear to travel north along the James Bay coast in relatively small groups.

Canada Geese also utilize the MBS, but in much smaller numbers than Lesser Snow Geese. Canada Geese tend to feed along the tide line and therefore do not rely on the coastal marsh zone to the same extent as Lesser Snow Geese. In the spring, Atlantic Brant may stop on the open waters between Arnold Point and Ship Sands Island and at the mouth of the Partridge River.

Dabbling ducks (Northern Pintail, Mallard, Green-winged Teal, American Black Duck) tend to concentrate in the open tidal marshes of the MBS during spring; however, the area is not of particular importance for nesting. Dabbling ducks moult along the whole coast of James Bay in relatively small numbers, and the MBS does not contain an unusually high concentration. During fall migration, the above-noted species of dabbling ducks frequent the coastal marshes and creeks of the MBS.

The Moose River MBS also provides habitat for migrating shorebirds such as yellowlegs and plovers. These birds may be found on tidal mud flats from mid-July until October. The MBS offers a large undisturbed area of tidal flat and coastal marsh, but the extent to which shorebirds depend on this MBS habitat is not known. Staging areas are critical to the survival of shorebirds.

Moose River MBS provides a large, undisturbed feeding and resting area for migrating geese in an area of heavy hunting pressures. Geese likely concentrate in the MBS and stay for an extended period of time because the area is protected. This benefits the geese, which are allowed to feed undisturbed.

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 Moose 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. Dogs and cats must not be allowed to run at large.

Access prohibitions or restrictions by the MBS landowners (the Province of Ontario, which manages the land, and the Government of Nunavut, which manages the area 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 of Moose River Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Long description for the Map

Map showing the location of Moose River Migratory Bird Sanctuary with respect to Ontario, Ominik Creek, Hudson Bay and Moose River. The map shows the boundaries of the sanctuary, which is separated into two sections that cover a small portion of Hudson Bay, extending inland on either side of Moose River. The scale of the map is in tenths of a kilometer.

This map is for illustrative purposes only and should not be used to define legal boundaries. Moose River 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 Moose River 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) 2678 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)
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