Shoal Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary

The Shoal Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) is located north of Victoria, in British Columbia. It offers an ideal habitat for seabirds, shorebirds and waterfowl during migration and through winter.

Importance of the sanctuary: migratory birds and other wildlife

Shoal Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary is located 30 km north of Victoria, British Columbia, in a protected bay near Vancouver Island’s Saanich Peninsula. Shoal Harbour Bird Sanctuary was established on April 10, 1931 and includes 144-hectare of sheltered bays and extensive intertidal mudflats in North Saanich and Sidney. This sanctuary, along with the numerous small islands and sheltered marine waters between the southern tip of Vancouver Island and Comox, is part of the Gulf Islands Biotic Area. It is also contiguous with the internationally-recognized Sidney Channel Important Bird Area. The proliferation of marinas and long-term anchored boats within the sanctuary and the associated contamination has raised concerns over their impact on marine birds and their habitat. Ongoing development pressure, urban runoff, land clearing and tree removal on the lands adjacent to the sanctuary are also of concern.

Great blue heron
Great blue heron

Although the sanctuary is now surrounded by dense urban development and includes many marinas, the ecosystem still supports a rich diversity of seabirds, shorebirds and waterfowl during migration and through winter. More than 40 species of marine birds are regularly observed in this MBS, as well as more than forty species of passerine (perching) birds in the uplands, many not found elsewhere in Canada. Pacific great blue herons, a British Columbia listed species at risk, are frequently seen in large numbers feeding in the shallow mudflats.

The main bird species that can be observed in this MBS include:

Protected waters:

Outer coast:

Sidney channel Important Bird Area:

Did you know?

The beautiful harlequin duck is a common, year-round resident in this sanctuary and is often found foraging among the seaweed along marine rocky shores. Their plumage is most beautiful in winter. In summer, flocks of flightless, moulting drakes and hens occur at several sites.


The shoreline within the Migratory Bird Sanctuary alternates between rocky outcrops and beaches of sand, gravel and silt. While the land around the sanctuary is quite developed, bits of natural Garry oak and arbutus communities can be seen. In the estuarine environment, biological productivity is particularly high. The area supports biologically productive mudflats with sea lettuce and eelgrass beds. When exposed at low tide, these areas are very attractive to many species of birds.

Estuarine environments become especially important once the temperate begins to drop in the winter and inland waters begin to freeze. At this time, the sheltered waters of small bays, including the Shoal Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary and channels of the Gulf Islands, become crucial wintering habitat for thousands of aquatic migratory birds. A large number of the birds that rely on this sanctuary are ducks. This includes both dabbling ducks, which feed near the surface of the water such as green-winged teal and American wigeon and diving ducks like the bufflehead, which dives beneath the surface of the water to feed. Horned grebes can be seen in this sanctuary year-round, as can the majestic great blue heron.

Horned grebe
Horned grebe

Did you know?

One of the most abundant ducks in North America, the green-winged teal is among the smallest and fastest, flying at more than 30 miles per hour.

Map of the area

Map of Shoal Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Access to the sanctuary

Migratory Bird Sanctuaries, such as Shoal Harbour, 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.

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 Shoal Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary in particular, please contact our regional office.

Key facts about Shoal Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Protected Area designation
Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory
British Columbia
48°40' N, 123°24' W
150 hectares
Date created (Gazetted)
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) management category
Additional designations
Main habitat type
Tidal mud flats (20%) and shallow marine bay (80%)
Key bird species
Green-winged teal, American wigeon, bufflehead, horned grebe, great blue heron, common goldeneye, mergansers, mallard, cormorants, osprey, bald eagle, gulls, harlequin ducks, black oystercatchers, black-bellied plovers, black turnstones, Eurasian wigeon, Heermann’s gull, glaucous-winged gull, mew gull, Bonaparte’s gull, California gull, laughing gull, pigeon guillemot, rhinoceros auklet, common murre, grebes, loons, cormorants including Brandt’s cormorant, surf scoters , long-tailed ducks, brant
Listed species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA)
Great blue heron
Management agency
Canadian Wildlife Service, Pacific Region
Province of British Columbia

Contact information

Environment and Climate Change Canada – Pacific and Yukon Region
Canadian Wildlife Service
Ecosystem Conservation
5421 Robertson Road
Delta BC V4K 3N2

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

Related links

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