Red Deer Migratory Bird Sanctuary

The Red Deer Mitratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) is located in Red Deer, Alberta. It preserves a location where many waterfowl species comes to nest.

Importance of the sanctuary: migratory birds and other wildlife

The Red Deer Migratory Bird Sanctuary, locally known as the Gaetz Lakes sanctuary, is located within the city of Red Deer and is the oldest federal migratory bird sanctuary in Alberta. The idea of creating a sanctuary on this land was originally proposed by the local chapter of the Alberta Natural History Society. They suggested to the then owner of the land, Mr. J. J. Gaetz, that he set aside a large portion of his property and allow it to be designated as a protected area. During the time that he owned this land, many developers and timber interests had approached Mr. J. J. Gaetz, however he chose instead to preserve the area for wildlife and the community. Upon his death, the protected area was left to the province.


This sanctuary was established to partially encompass two oxbow lakes where several species of waterfowl are known to nest. These include:

  • mallard
  • gadwall
  • American wigeon
  • northern shoveler
  • canvasback
  • redhead
  • lesser scaup
  • common goldeneye
  • bufflehead
  • ruddy duck
  • Canada goose
  • blue-winged teal
  • green-winged teal

Did you know?

An oxbow lake is created when a winding river bypasses one of its curves to find a shorter, straighter route. The U-shaped section of river then becomes a stand-alone, curved body of water.  In the Red Deer Migratory Bird Sanctuary, the two oxbow lakes used to be part of the Red Deer River.

American wigeon pair
American wigeon pair

Other species of waterbirds also use the sanctuary, but do not nest within it. These include:

  • horned grebe
  • eared grebe
  • pied-billed grebe
  • red-necked grebe
  • western grebe
  • American bittern
  • great blue heron
  • California gull
  • ring-billed gull
  • Franklin's gull
  • Wilson’s snipe
  • killdeer
  • spotted sandpiper
  • solitary sandpiper
  • Wilson’s phalarope
  • American avocet
  • common tern
  • black tern


The sanctuary, which is within Alberta’s Aspen Parkland ecoregion or Prairie ecozone, is composed of mixed poplar-spruce shrub and wetland habitats that attract various species of passerines, commonly known as songbirds, as well as grouse, hawks, owls, and several species of mammals.

Since the time when the sanctuary was created, the city of Red Deer has continued to grow. The natural area that this migratory bird sanctuary is a part of is now bounded on all sides by relatively recent subdivisions. Some of these subdivisions, as well as an urban cemetery, are within the sanctuary boundaries. The sanctuary, which is now considered to be an urban refuge, is owned by the Province of Alberta, the City of Red Deer and private landowners.

The land between the two oxbow lakes is vegetated mostly by aspen and Balsam Poplar trees with Red Osier Dogwood, Wild Rose and Snowberry growing closer to the ground. The steeper slopes above the lakes are dominated by White Spruce; while the less steep slopes are covered in a Balsam Poplar mixed-wood. The area to the north of the lakes is predominantly Sedge meadows. The lakes themselves are shallow, but they are fed year-round by a stream from the southeast as well as groundwater discharge from uplands to the east. The lake’s aquatic vegetation includes pondweed and duckweed, while the shorelines are covered in cattail.

Map of the area

Map of Red Deer Migratory Bird Sanctuary
  • Long description

    Map showing the location of the Red Deer Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) in relation to Alberta, Red Deer, Red Deer River and Gaetz lakes. The map shows the boundaries of the refuge, which form a large rectangular zone, including an entire lake and half of the second. The northern part of the MBS is crossed from west to east by highway 11. The scale of the map is in kilometers. Permanent waters, intermittent waters, roads and highways are shown on the map. An inset on the map shows the location of the shelter in Canada.

Access to the sanctuary

Migratory Bird Sanctuaries, such as Red Deer, 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 Red Deer Migratory Bird Sanctuary in particular, please contact our regional office.

Key facts about Red Deer Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Protected Area designation Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory Alberta
Latitude/longitude 52°17' N, 113°46' W
Size 130 hectares
Date created (Gazetted) 1924
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) management category N/A
Additional designations None
Main habitat type Wetland (12%), shrub/trees (73%), cultivated land (11%) and landscaped area/cemetery (4%)
Key bird species None
Other species Birds: mallard, gadwall, blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, American wigeon, northern shoveler, canvasback, redhead, lesser scaup, common goldeneye, bufflehead, ruddy duck, Canada goose, horned grebe, eared grebe, pied-billed grebe, red-necked grebe, western grebe, American bittern, great blue heron, California gull, ring-billed gull, Franklin's gull, Wilson’s snipe, killdeer, spotted sandpiper, solitary sandpiper, Wilson’s phalarope, American avocet, common tern and black tern
Listed species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) None
Management agency Canadian Wildlife Service, Prairie and Northern Region
Landowners Private, City of Red Deer and Province of Alberta

Related links

Contact information

Environment and Climate Change Canada – Prairie and Northern Region
Canadian Wildlife Service
Protected Areas and Stewardship Unit
Eastgate Offices
9250 – 49th Street
Edmonton AB T6B 1K5

Toll Free: 1-800-668-6767 (in Canada only)

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