Richardson Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Canada Geese and Mallards picture
Photo: © Environment and Climate Change Canada. Canada Geese and Mallards.

Richardson Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) is located 35 km south of Fort Chipewyan, Alberta. Richardson Lake is part of the Peace-Athabasca Delta, one of the largest freshwater deltas in the world, and an internationally significant wetland. The delta is one of the most important waterfowl staging and nesting areas in Canada. Richardson Lake itself is a large (>70 km2) and shallow (maximum depth <1.5 m) lake. It has a single major inlet, the Maybelle River, which flows into the lake’s southeast corner near its only outlet, Jackfish Creek, which flows into the Athabasca River when the Athabasca is low. During high water levels in the Athabasca River, the flow on Jackfish Creek can reverse, and water can flow into Richardson Lake via the creek. Sand and silt are deposited in the channel and have formed a small delta on the east side of the lake. The riparian areas surrounding the lake are composed largely of wetland habitats.

Importance of the Migratory Bird Sanctuary

The Richardson Lake MBS lies within the Peace-Athabasca Delta: a Ramsar wetland and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Richardson Lake was first proposed as a sanctuary by J.D. Soper in 1949 to protect important breeding and staging areas for Ross’s Geese from hunting. Ross’s Geese are no longer of conservation concern, and populations have increased dramatically in recent decades. (The United States declared Ross’s Geese overabundant in 1999. Canada is currently considering a similar action, which would provide managers with tools to increase harvest rates and reduce the population through renewed hunting efforts.)

Prior to the construction of the W.A.C. Bennett Dam and Williston Reservoir in 1968, Richardson Lake and other shallow lakes in the area provided good breeding, moulting and staging habitat for waterfowl. Substantially lower water levels caused by the change in the hydrological regime after the construction of the dam have resulted in the deterioration of the habitat and consequently has reduced its use by waterfowl. Most of the waterfowl that nest in the area are dabblers, primarily Mallard, Northern Pintail, American Wigeon and Northern Shoveler, with smaller numbers of Gadwall and Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal. Snow Geese, Canada Geese, White-fronted Geese, Ross's Geese and Tundra Swans use the lake as a staging area in spring and fall.

Other waterbirds reported to nest in the Lake Athabasca region are American Bittern, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Wilson’s Snipe, Spotted Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, Common Loon, and Horned and Red-necked Grebes. Summer residents are Semipalmated and Spotted Sandpipers; Herring, California, Ring-billed, Franklin's and Bonaparte's Gulls; and Common, Arctic, Caspian and Black Terns. A variety of passerines (songbirds) breed in the area, including flycatchers, thrushes, warblers and sparrows.

In 2012, the Province of Alberta completed a land use planning initiative for the lower Athabasca River region, in which it proposed a provincial protected area (Richardson Wildland Park) designation for a large area that includes Richardson Lake MBS. This wildland provincial park will be officially designated by the Province of Alberta as soon as practicable. The federal legislation and regulations applicable to this MBS will not be impacted or changed by the designation of this wildland provincial park.

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.

Public access to the Richardson Lake MBS is not restricted. The standard prohibitions under the Migratory Bird Sanctuary Regulations apply to this site: 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.

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 Vaseux Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary.
Long description of the map

Map showing the location of Richardson Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary relative to Alberta and Richardson Lake. The map shows the boundaries of the sanctuary, which covers the majority of Richardson Lake and a portion of the surrounding land. The scale of the map is in kilometers.

This map is for illustrative purposes only and should not be used to define legal boundaries. Richardson Lake 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 Richardson Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Category Information
Protected Area designation Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory Alberta
Latitude/longitude 58°24' N, 111°04' W
Size in hectares (ha) 10798 ha
Date created (Gazetted) 1949
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) management category Ib - Wilderness Area
Additional designations None
Main habitat type Open water (65%), marsh/meadow (15%), trees/shrubs (20%)
Key bird species Mallard, Northern Pintail, American Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Blue-winged Teal, Green-winged Teal, Snow Goose, Canada Goose, White-fronted Goose, Ross's Goose and Tundra Swan.
Other species Birds: American Bittern, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Wilson's Snipe, Spotted Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, Common Loon, Horned Grebe, Red-necked Grebe, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, Herring Gull, California Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Franklin's Gull, Bonaparte's Gull, Common Tern, Arctic Tern, Caspian Tern and Black Tern.
Fish: Lake Whitefish, Walleye, Goldeye, Northern Pike
Listed species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) None
Management agency Canadian Wildlife Service, Prairie and Northern Region
Landowner Province of Alberta

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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