Sable River Migratory Bird Sanctuary

The Sable River Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) is located on the southwestern coast of Nova Scotia. It offers an ideal habitat for resting and breeding waterfowl.

Importance of the sanctuary: migratory birds and other wildlife

Sable River Migratory Bird Sanctuary is located on the Sable River estuary, one kilometer south of where Highway 103 intersects the community of Sable River in Shelburne County, Nova Scotia.  

This sanctuary is used throughout the fall by several hundred Canada geese and American black ducks along with smaller numbers of American green-winged teal and a variety of other waterfowl species. The water in this sanctuary very rarely freezes over completely, which makes it a very valuable site for overwintering Canada geese populations. During particularly severe winters, the waters in the nearby Port Joli and Port L’Hebert sanctuaries freeze over for a short period of time from mid- to late January. When this happens, overwintering Canada geese in the area move to the portion of the Sable River sanctuary that remains ice-free. During these times, the numbers of Canada geese can exceed 3000 birds.

Did you know?

Canada geese require a lot of food and can spend up to 12 hours a day feeding. These grazers eat all kinds of plant materials including grasses, leaves and roots. Females in particular need to fatten up in the spring when they must ensure that they have enough fat reserves to make it through migration, egg laying and the egg incubation period during which they eat very little.

Canada Geese
Canada geese


Due to local hunting pressure, the Province of Nova Scotia, supported by local residents and landowners, established the Port Joli provincial sanctuary in 1915. Four years later, similar provincial sanctuaries were established for Sable River and Port L’Hebert. In 1941, all three of these sites received federal protection when they were established as Migratory Bird Sanctuaries. 


The Sable River Migratory Bird Sanctuary covers a portion of the Sable River estuary, including all shoals, rocks and islets up to the high-tide mark on land. This sanctuary is an attractive one for migrating wildlife as it not only remains unfrozen all winter long, but it includes a small scattering of salt marshes along both the east and west sides, and eelgrass grows in abundance in the shallow waters near the shore, extending out into the deeper waters.

Map of the area

Map of Sable River Migratory Bird Sanctuary
  • Long description

    Map showing the location of the Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) of Sand River relative to Nova Scotia and Sable River. The map shows the boundaries of the refuge, which covers the northern part of the Sable River and mainly along the shoreline, including some nearby lands. The MBS is located south of Highway 103 and east of Highway 3. The map scale is in kilometers. Permanent waters, intertidal areas, roads and highways are shown on the map. An insert on the map shows the location of the shelter in Canada.

Access to the sanctuary

Migratory Bird Sanctuaries, such as Sable River, 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. It is also important to remember that dogs and cats must not be allowed to run at large inside Migratory Bird Sanctuaries.

American Black Duck
American black duck. Photo: Colin MacKinnon.

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 Sable River Migratory Bird Sanctuary in particular, please contact our regional office.

Key facts about Sable River Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Protected Area designation Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory Nova Scotia
Latitude/longitude 43°49' N, 65°03' W
Size 260 hectares
Date created (Gazetted) 1941
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) management category Strict Nature Reserve
Additional designations Part of Nova Scotia South Shore (Port Joli Sector) Important Bird Area
Main habitat type Open estuarine water (90%), rocky and wooded islands (1%), salt marshes (9%)
Key bird species Canada goose, American black duck and green-winged teal
Listed species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) None
Management agency Canadian Wildlife Service, Atlantic Region
Landowners Province of Nova Scotia and private

Related link

Contact information

Environment and Climate Change Canada - Atlantic Region
Canadian Wildlife Service
Protected Areas Program
17 Waterfowl Lane
Sackville NB E4L 1G6

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

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