Saskatoon Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary

The Saskatoon Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) is located near Grande Prairie, Alberta. It conserves habitat for trumpeter swans and many other bird species.

Importance of the sanctuary: migratory birds and other wildlife

If you drive 24 kilometers northwest of Grande Prairie, Alberta, you’ll find the Saskatoon Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary. This sanctuary was established in 1948 due to this site being recognized as an important place not only for waterfowl, but also for the once-rare trumpeter swan. Since then, trumpeter swan numbers have risen greatly and they can be seen yearly during their migration, breeding and nesting on Little Lake and sometimes in the larger basin of Saskatoon Lake itself.

Trumpeter swans
Trumpeter swans

This area is also important for tundra swans as well as many species of ducks, including those known to nest in the sanctuary, such as:

  • mallard
  • northern pintail
  • gadwall
  • American wigeon
  • lesser scaup
  • redhead
  • canvasback
  • white-winged scoter
  • ring-necked duck
  • ruddy duck
American wigeon and redhead
American wigeon and redhead

Other water, marsh or shore birds that are known to, or believed to, nest in the sanctuary include:

  • Canada goose
  • eared grebe
  • horned grebe
  • common tern
  • black tern
  • Franklin's gull
  • American bittern
  • sora
  • red-winged blackbird
  • yellow-headed blackbird
  • rusty blackbird
  • killdeer
  • black-bellied plover
  • spotted sandpiper

In the area surrounding the lakes, the diverse vegetation also makes wonderful nesting habitat for several species of sparrow and birds of prey as well as:

  • northern flicker
  • yellow-bellied sapsucker
  • downy woodpecker
  • eastern kingbird
  • tree swallow
  • barn swallow
  • black-capped chickadee
  • warbling vireo
  • yellow-rumped warbler
  • western meadowlark
  • pine siskin
  • ruffed grouse


The lakes located in the Boreal Parkland ecoregion of northern Alberta, have shorelines that vary between the muddy-marshy areas found particularly in the bays to the long stretches of stony beach and gravelly or boulder-strewn points. The water levels in Saskatoon Lake average approximately 2.5 metres and, for both lakes, these levels are completely dependent on the runoff from the surrounding, gently rolling terrain as there are no streams that flow in or out of either lake. Little lake was at one point a large bay in Saskatoon Lake, but low water levels over the years have resulted in the bay being cut off from the larger lake to form a separate small lake.

Did you know?

One of the main reasons that the trumpeter swan population decreased in North America was due to overhunting by early European settlers. These swans were prized for their feathers, which were sent back to Europe and used to make fashionable accessories and writing quills.

Map of the area

Map of Saskatoon Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary
  • Long description

    Map showing the location of the Saskatoon Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) in relation to Alberta, and Saskatoon Lake, Little, Bear and Cutbank lakes. The map shows the boundaries of the refuge, which encloses Saskatoon Lake, Little Lake as well as the lands between these two lakes. The MBS is located east of road 724 and north of highway 43. The scale of the map is in kilometers. Permanent waters, intermitent waters, roads and highways are shown on the map. An inset on the map shows the location of the shelter in Canada.


Planning your visit

Most of the land between Saskatoon Lake and Little Lake is part of the Saskatoon Island Provincial Park. Opportunities to see wildlife are offered here throughout the year, but spring and fall are particularly great times to see migratory birds from the bird-viewing platform, equipped with a telescope, that you will find near Little Lake. The Friends of Saskatoon Island Cooperating Association also organize a yearly swan festival in the park each April to celebrate the spring migration of the Trumpeter Swan.

Migratory Bird Sanctuaries, such as Saskatoon Lake, 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 Saskatoon Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary in particular, please contact our regional office.

Key facts about Saskatoon Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Protected Area designation Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory Alberta
Latitude/longitude 55°13' N, 119°05' W
Size 1135 hectares
Date created (Gazetted) 1948
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management Category Habitat/Species Management Area (IV)
Additional designations Part of Grande Prairie – Trumpeter Swan Important Bird Area
Main habitat type Marsh (32%), open water (60%) and grassland/shrub/trees (8%)
Key bird species Trumpeter swan and tundra swan


Other species Birds: Mallard, lesser scaup, white-winged scoter, ruddy duck, canvasback, American wigeon, gadwall, ring-necked duck, bufflehead, northern pintail, redhead, Canada goose, eared grebe, horned grebe, common tern, black tern, Franklin's gull, American bittern, sora, red-winged blackbird, yellow-headed blackbird, rusty blackbird, killdeer, black-bellied plover, spotted sandpiper, northern flicker, yellow-bellied sapsucker, downy woodpecker, eastern kingbird, tree swallow, black-capped chickadee, warbling vireo, yellow-rumped warbler, western meadowlark, pine siskin and ruffed grouse
Listed species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) Rusty blackbird
Management agency Canadian Wildlife Service, Prairie Region
Landowner 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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