Old Wives Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary

The Old Wives Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) is located south-west of Regina, in Saskatchewan. It protects quality habitats for shorebirds, geese and swans.

Importance of the sanctuary: migratory birds and other wildlife

Established 35 kilometers southwest of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, the Old Wives Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary supports a variety of shorebirds including a large portion of the Great Plains piping plover population.

Species commonly seen in the sanctuary during spring and fall migrations include:

  • American avocet
  • killdeer
  • marbled godwit
  • sanderling
  • semi-palmated sandpiper
  • spotted sandpiper
  • willet
  • Wilson’s phalarope
American Avocets
American avocets

Old Wives Lake is an important breeding and moulting area for a small number of Canada geese as well as:

  • mallard
  • gadwall
  • northern pintail
  • American widgeon
  • canvasback
  • redhead
  • lesser scaup
  • ruddy duck

In both spring and fall, many species also use this site to rest and feed during their migratory journey. These include large concentrations of ducks as well as smaller numbers of Canada geese, white-fronted geese, snow geese and tundra swans. Due to its isolation, the Isle of Bays, in Old Wives Lake, provides protected nesting habitat for:

  • American white pelican
  • black-crowned night heron
  • great blue heron
  • double-crested cormorant
  • western grebe
  • California gull
  • ring-billed gull
  • common tern

This island is also protected as a game preserve by the province.

Did you know?

Old Wives Lake is named in honour of an old Cree legend. While there are several versions of this legend, the most well-known features a group of older women who are traveling with a hunting party to look for food for their famished community. When the hunting party discovers buffalo near the shores of Old Wives Lake, the old women tend to the newly hunted food, preparing the meat to be carried home. As they are readying to leave, the hunting party is ambushed by a Blackfoot war party. In order to save their families and community, these brave women sacrifice themselves and allow the hunting party to escape and carry the food home.


As it is the final water body in a large closed-basin watershed, Old Wives Lake receives much of its water as runoff from the surrounding higher landscape. As there are no outlet streams, the minerals within Old Wives Lake have concentrated over time causing an increase in salinity. Current salinity is too high to support fish or even many aquatic plants. Waves within the lake aid in forming gravelly-sandy beaches along a 70-kilometer stretch of shoreline and prevent much plant life from taking root. Fluctuations in the water level also cause the formation of extensive salty mudflats during drought years. In fact, following prolonged drought, the lake basin has been known to become completely dry. The single permanent island within the lake, the Isle of Bays, is vegetated by salt-tolerant herbaceous plants like salt grass, slender wheatgrass and red samphire. As this sanctuary is located in Saskatchewan’s Mixed Grassland ecoregion, the land around the lake is predominantly covered in native mixed-grass prairie, with some annual cropland near the shore.

Old Wives Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Did you know?

Salinity within Old Wives Lake is so high that, during the 1950s and 1960s, it was used to commercially harvest sodium sulfate.

Map of the area

Map of Old Wives Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary
  • Long description
    Map showing the location of the Old Wives Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) in relation to Saskatchewan, Dunkirk, Isle of Bays, Wood River and Old Wives Lake. The map shows the boundaries of the refuge, which contains Old Wives Lake and its islands. The MBS is located between Highways 363 and 2. The scale of the map is in kilometers. Permanent and intermittent waters are shown on the map, as are roads and highways. An inset on the map shows the location of the shelter in Canada.

Access to the sanctuary

Migratory Bird Sanctuaries, such as Old Wives Lake, 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.

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 Old Wives Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary in particular, please contact our regional office.

Key facts about Old Wives Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Protected Area designation Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory Saskatchewan
Latitude/longitude 50°04' N, 106°02' W
Size 26 060 hectares
Date created (Gazetted) 1925
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management Category IV – Habitat/Species Management Area
Additional designations
Main habitat type Open water and mud flats (96%), marsh (3%), rock/sand islands (1%)
Key bird species Canada goose, mallard, gadwall, northern pintail, American wigeon, canvasback, redhead, lesser scaup, ruddy duck, white-fronted goose, snow goose, tundra swan, American white pelican, black-crowned night-heron, great blue heron, double-crested cormorant, western grebe, California gull, ring-billed gull and common tern
Other species Birds: American avocet, marbled godwit, killdeer, willet, spotted sandpiper, long-billed curlew, Wilson’s phalarope, Wilson's snipe, black-bellied plover, semipalmated plover, greater yellowlegs, lesser yellowlegs, hudsonian godwit, ruddy turnstone, red knot, sanderling, red-necked phalarope, short-billed dowitcher, dunlin, semipalmated sandpiper, least sandpiper, white-rumped sandpiper, Baird's sandpiper, pectoral sandpiper, stilt sandpiper, marsh wren, common yellowthroat, red-winged blackbird and yellow-headed blackbird
Listed species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) Piping plover, long-billed curlew (numenius americanus) and red knot
Management agency Canadian Wildlife Service
Landowner Province of Saskatchewan

Related links

Contact information

Environment and Climate Change Canada
Canadian Wildlife Service
Protected Areas – Prairie Region
115 Perimeter Road
Saskatoon, SK S7N 0X4

Toll Free: 1-800-668-6767 (in Canada only)
Email: ec.enviroinfo.ec@canada.ca
Report a problem or mistake on this page
Please select all that apply:

Thank you for your help!

You will not receive a reply. For enquiries, contact us.

Date modified: