Queen Maud Gulf (Ahiak) Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Aerial photograph of the west half of Queen Maud Gulf MBS
Photo: Jennie Rausch © Environment and Climate Change Canada. Aerial photograph of the west half of Queen Maud Gulf Migratory Bird Sanctuary.

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

The Queen Maud Gulf’s lowlands are among the most extensive wetlands in the central Arctic, providing essential habitat for globally significant populations (over 1% of global populations) of white geese. Additionally, the MBS maintains important habitat for other species of migratory birds including various shorebirds, landbirds, waterbirds and other waterfowl. In 1982, Queen Maud Gulf MBS was further recognized under the Ramsar Convention 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 Important Area for Birds in Nunavut.

The landscape of the MBS is a generally flat plain of post-glacial marine emergence, extending 135 km inland from the coast. The western upland, which rises from 300 to 600 m above sea level, is characterized by rock outcrops, drumlins and boulder fields. The slopes of hills show prominent old beach ridges. Relief on the central lowland, a vast expanse of tundra meadows and marshes, is provided by rock outcrops, drumlins, streams and shallow lakes. The eastern upland, ranging in elevation from 60 to 90 m above sea level, is characterized by abrupt hills, ridges and boulder fields.

Numerous lakes varying in size and shape occur on the hilly plains. Large rivers such as the Tingmeak, Ellice, Perry, Armark, Simpson and Kaleet rivers are a major component of the landscape of the MBS, and wildlife make use of the extensive vegetation-rich river valleys.

Importance of the Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Over 90% of the world's population of Ross's Goose and 8% of the Canadian population of Snow Goose (which includes more than 30% of the Western Canadian Arctic Lesser Snow Goose population) nest within the sanctuary. This amounts to over 2 million white geese. As well, the area supports smaller populations of nesting and moulting Canada Goose, Greater White-fronted Goose, Brant and Tundra Swan. Most of the geese, which arrive in the area in late May, moult on the inland lakes and rivers, and leave the area in late August and early September.

Other common bird species that breed in the sanctuary are Long-tailed Duck, King Eider, American Golden-Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Pectoral Sandpiper, Dunlin, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Red Phalarope, Glaucous Gull, Herring Gull, Arctic Tern, Pacific Loon, Red-throated Loon, Parasitic Jaeger, Long-tailed Jaeger, Common Redpoll, Lapland Longspur, Savannah Sparrow, Peregrine Falcon, Rough-legged Hawk and Snowy Owl. Species listed under the federal Species at Risk Act that breed in and/or use the area include the Barren-ground Caribou (Dolphin and Union population), Peregrine Falcon and Red Knot (rufa subspecies).

All of the Queen Maud Gulf (Ahiak) MBS 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 originating stock for most of present-day mainland muskoxen. These ungulate herds, combined with the vast open habitat, support substantial populations of predators. Wolves, Grizzly Bears, foxes and Wolverines are all regularly observed. In addition, the 300 km of Arctic coastline provides an important marine component, and numerous lakes, ponds and rivers supply freshwater habitat for aquatic species. Several species of fish, in particular Arctic Char, are regularly harvested and known to be abundant. Offshore waters are used by Ringed Seals, the most abundant marine animal in the area.

The land within the MBS has been, and continues to be, identified by Inuit as a place of cultural significance, and the area is known to harbour numerous archaeological features. Inuit from Cambridge Bay, Gjoa Haven and Umingmaktok regularly journey to the MBS to harvest wildlife, birds, eggs, berries and fish, mainly during the open water season.

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.

Access to Queen Maud Gulf (Ahiak) MBS may be authorized as per the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and the Migratory Bird Sanctuary Regulations. However, under the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement for National Wildlife Areas and Migratory Bird Sanctuaries in the Nunavut Settlement Area, only Nunavut beneficiaries have 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 Queen Maud Gulf (Ahiak) 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 Queen Maud Gulf (Ahiak) 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  Queen Maud Gulf (Ahiak)   Migratory Bird Sanctuary.
Long description of the map

Map showing the location of Queen Maud Gulf (Ahiak) Migratory Bird Sanctuary relative to Nunavut, Kent Peninsula, Cambridge Bay and Queen Maud Gulf. The map shows the boundaries of the sanctuary, which covers a portion of Queen Maud Gulf 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. Queen Maud Gulf (Ahiak) MBA 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 Queen Maud Gulf (Ahiak) Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Category Information
Protected Area designation Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory Nunavut
Latitude/longitude 67°00' N, 100°30' W
Size in hectares (ha) 6 292 818 ha including 655 334 ha of marine habitat
Date created (Gazetted) 1961
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management Category Ib - Wilderness Area
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, 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, Prairie and 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 Links

Queen Maude Gulf YouTube video

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)
Email: ec.enviroinfo.ec@canada.ca
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