Queen Maud Gulf (Ahiak) Migratory Bird Sanctuary

The Queen Maud Gulf (Ahiak) Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) is located south-west of Victoria Island, in Nunavut. It protects quality habitat for many birds, including geese, brants and swans.

Importance of the sanctuary: migratory birds and other wildlife

Established in 1961, the Queen Maud Gulf (Ahiak) Migratory Bird Sanctuary covers 62 920 square kilometres of land and sea. Located on Nunavut’s central mainland coast, this expansive track of intact natural land is the only migratory bird sanctuary within the Kitikmeot Region of Nunavut and it remains rich in both wildlife and cultural resources. The original purpose of this sanctuary was to protect the largest variety of geese found in any nesting area in North America. However, because of its size, and the variety of habitats that it covers, the sanctuary is important not only for geese, but also for the many other species of migratory birds and wildlife that it supports.

Queen Maud Gulf (Ahiak) Migratory Bird Sanctuary encompasses the most extensive wetlands in the central Arctic, which provide essential habitat for over 1% of the global white geese population. Over 2 million white geese nest within the sanctuary. This includes over 90% of the world’s Ross’s goose population and 8% of the Canadian snow goose population (including over 30% of the western Canadian arctic lesser snow goose population). The sanctuary also supports smaller populations of nesting and moulting Canada goose, greater white-fronted goose, brant and tundra swan. The geese arrive in the sanctuary in late May to moult in the inland lakes and rivers; remaining until late August or early September when they leave the area.

This sanctuary is also important for many other species of migratory birds - from waterbirds and waterfowl to shorebirds and landbirds. Other species of migratory birds that breed in the sanctuary include:

Several species listed under the federal Species at Risk Act either breed within or utilize the sanctuary, including the barren-ground caribou (dolphin and union population), peregrine falcon and red knot (rufa subspecies). The entirety of the sanctuary is used by the barren-ground caribou (beverly ahiak herd) as part of its traditional calving grounds. It also supports an estimated 6000 muskoxen and is believed to be the original stock for most of the present-day mainland muskoxen. These ungulate herds, and the vast open habitat, also support substantial populations of predators like wolves, grizzly bears, foxes and wolverines.

Caribou. Photo: Jennie Rausch

The most abundant marine animals in the area are the ringed seals that spend their time in the offshore waters, while the sanctuary’s numerous lakes, ponds and rivers are home to several species of fish. The most abundant of these is the arctic char.

Did you know?

Queen Maud Gulf was named by the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen in 1905 in honour of the Queen of Norway Maud Charlotte Mary Victoria of Wales.

This sanctuary was recognized under the Ramsar Convention, in 1982, as the world’s second largest Wetland of International Importance. It is also part of BirdLife International’s Queen Maud Gulf Lowlands Important Bird Area and is a Canadian Wildlife Service Key Migratory Bird Terrestrial Habitat Site and an Important Area for Birds in Nunavut.


The terrain within the Queen Maud Gulf (Ahiak) Migratory Bird Sanctuary is a generally flat plain extending 135 kilometres inland from the coast. The western landscape, characterized by rock outcrops, drumlins and boulder fields, rises 300 to 600 metres above sea level. The central lowlands are a vast expanse of tundra meadows and marshes broken up by rock outcrops, streams and shallow lakes. The eastern landscape has abrupt hills, ridges and boulder fields and ranges in elevation from 60 to 90 metres above sea level. Numerous lakes of various shapes and sizes are scattered across the hilly plains. Large rivers, such as the tingmeak, ellice, perry, armark, simpson and kaleet, play an important role in shaping the landscape, and wildlife make extensive use of the vegetation-rich river valleys.

Aerial photograph of the west half of Queen Maud Gulf Migratory Bird Sanctuary. Photo: Jennie Rausch

The land within the Queen Maud Gulf (Ahiak) Migratory Bird Sanctuary has been, and continues to be, identified by Inuit as a place of cultural significance and the area is known to have numerous archaeological features. Inuit from Cambridge Bay, Gjoa Haven and Umingmaktok regularly journey to the sanctuary to harvest wildlife, birds, eggs, berries and fish, mainly during the open water season. 

Map of the area

Map of Queen Maud Gulf Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Access to the sanctuary

Migratory Bird Sanctuaries, such as Queen Maud Gulf, 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 Ahiak Area Co-management Committee (ACMC). ACMC members represent these communities of 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 Queen Maud Gulf (Ahiak) 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 Queen Maud Gulf Migratory Bird Sanctuary in particular, please contact our regional office.

Key facts about Queen Maud Gulf (Ahiak) Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Protected Area designation Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory Nunavut
Latitude/longitude 67°00' N, 100°30' W
Size 6 292 818 hectares including 655 334 hectares of marine habitat
Date created (Gazetted) 1961
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management Category Wilderness Area (Ib)
Additional designations
Main habitat type Wet meadow and marsh tundra, lakes and rivers, dry tundra, heath tundra, rocks/boulder fields, open water (10%)
Key bird species Brant, buff-breasted sandpiper, Canada goose, dunlin, greater white-fronted goose, pectoral sandpiper, peregrine falcon, Ross's goose, lesser snow goose and tundra swan
Other species Birds: Arctic tern, black-bellied plover, common redpoll, glaucous gull, American golden-plover, herring gull, hoary redpoll, king eider, lapland longspur, long-tailed duck, long-tailed jaeger, pacific loon, parasitic jaeger, red phalarope, red-necked phalarope, red-throated loon, rough-legged hawk, Sabine’s gull, savannah sparrow, semipalmated plover, semipalmated sandpiper, snowy owl, stilt sandpiper, ruddy turnstone, red knot, white-rumped sandpiper and yellow-billed loon
Mammals: Arctic fox, arctic wolf, barren-ground caribou (beverly ahiak herd as well as dolphin and union population), grizzly bear, muskox, ringed seal and wolverine
Fish: Arctic char, lake whitefish, arctic cod, lake trout
Listed species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) Peregrine falcon, barren-ground caribou (dolphin and union population) and red knot (rufa subspecies)
Management agency Canadian Wildlife Service, Northern Region, in collaboration with the Ahiak Co-Management Committee of Cambridge Bay, Gjoa Haven and Umingmaktok
Landowners Crown land and Inuit-owned land

Related link

Contact information

Environment and Climate Change Canada – Northern Region
Canadian Wildlife Service
Protected Areas
Eastern Arctic Unit
P.O. Box 1714
Iqaluit NU X0A 0H0

Toll Free: 1-800-668-6767 (in Canada only)
Email: ec.enviroinfo.ec@canada.ca

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