St. Joseph's Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Lesser Scaup in flight
Photo: © Female Common Merganser.

St. Joseph Island is located at the west end of the North Channel of Lake Huron. The Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) is situated at the southern tip of the island, which is managed by the Parks Canada Agency as a National Historic Site. The offshore areas are managed by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. The boundary of the MBS extends to the International Boundary with the United States on the St Mary’s River.

A dense hardwood forest with scattered conifers covers most of the mainland portion of the MBS. Dominant trees are red maple, red oak, beech, yellow birch, white birch, black ash, hemlock, black spruce, white spruce and eastern white cedar. This forest habitat is common in the St. Joseph Island area. A cleared area of about 2 ha at the southwest point contains the ruins of Fort St. Joseph as well as a Parks Canada Agency office and interpretation centre. Scattered clumps of eastern white cedar are located around the grassy knoll containing the old fort.

The shorelines of four small bays are composed of a fringe of bulrush (Scirpus sp.) marsh, backed by a narrow zone of Phragmites sp. Inland from this zone is a bayberry/alder shrub strip. Sections of the shoreline not fringed with Scirpus are stony. A very large marsh is located on the St. Marys River shoreline of St. Joseph Island north of the MBS. This wetland area, important to waterfowl and other wetland-dependent migratory birds, stretches from the MBS boundary north to Hay Point and Munuscong Lake. The general area is composed of open river, interspersed emergent vegetation, lakes and swamps.

The MBS also includes Pirate Island offshore from La Pointe. A number of other islands, including Janden Island, are located just to the east of the MBS.

Importance of the Migratory Bird Sanctuary

The St. Joseph’s Island MBS was established in 1951 to protect migratory birds from the extensive hunting occurring in the area at the time. It provides protection to both diving and marsh ducks such as American Black Ducks, scaups, and Common and Red-breasted Mergansers, which frequent the water and marsh areas of the MBS in large numbers during the migration season. A few species also breed in the area.

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.

The standard prohibitions under the Migratory Bird Sanctuary Regulations apply to St. Joseph Island MBS: 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.

Access prohibitions or restrictions by the MBS landowners (the Parks Canada Agency and the Province of Ontario) may also apply.

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 St. Joseph’s Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Long description of the map

Map showing the location of St. Joseph’s Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary relative to Ontario, St. Joseph's Island, Janden Island, Potagannissing Bay and the U.S. border. The map shows the boundaries of the sanctuary, which covers a portion of Potagannissing Bay and extends inland onto St. Joseph's Island. The scale of the map is in hundreds of meters.

This map is for illustrative purposes only and should not be used to define legal boundaries. St. Joseph Island 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 Joseph's Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Category Information
Protected Area designation Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory Ontario
Latitude/longitude 46°04' N, 83°55' W
Size in hectares (ha) 983 ha
Date created (Gazetted) 1951
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) management category II - National Park
Additional designations Fort St. Joseph National Historic Site
Main habitat type Forest (40%), open lake (50%), lakeshore marsh (8%), fort/interpretation site (2%)
Key bird species American Black Duck, Common Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, scaups, Black Tern, Herring Gull and Bald Eagle
Listed species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) None
Management agency Canadian Wildlife Service, Ontario Region
Landowners Parks Canada Agency and Province of Ontario

Contact Information

Environment and Climate Change Canada - Ontario Region
Canadian Wildlife Service
Ecosystem Conservation
4905 Dufferin Street
Toronto ON M3H 5T4
Toll Free: 1-800-668-6767 (in Canada only)
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