St. Joseph's Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary

The St. Joseph's Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) is located south of St. Joseph Island, Ontario. It offers a secure resting location for waterfowl species.

Importance of the sanctuary: migratory birds and other wildlife

The St. Joseph’s Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary is located on the tip of St. Joseph’s Island, Ontario, and extends offshore to the International Boundary with the United States on the St. Mary’s River. This sanctuary was established in 1951 in order to protect migratory birds from the extensive hunting that was taking place in the area at that time.

Situated at the west end of the North Channel of Lake Huron, the land in this sanctuary is owned and managed by the Parks Canada Agency as a National Historic Site, while the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry manages the offshore areas.

This sanctuary currently provides protection for both diving ducks (ducks that dive below the surface of the water to feed) and marsh ducks such as American black duck, scaups, common merganser and red-breasted merganser.

Female Common Merganser
Female common merganser

These birds spend time in the open water and the marshy areas of the sanctuary in large numbers during the migration season. Several species are also known to breed here.

Lesser scaup in flight
Lesser scaup in flight


The most common habitat in the St. Joseph’s Island area is dense hardwood forest with scattered conifers; the land within the sanctuary is dominated by red maple, red oak, beech, yellow birch, white birch, black ash, hemlock, black spruce, white spruce and eastern white cedar. In the Southwestern portion of the sanctuary, the grassy knoll containing the ruins of Fort St. Joseph is surrounded by clumps of eastern white cedar.

Did you know?

Fort St. Joseph was a strategic location in the war of 1812. This fort was destroyed on July 3rd, 1814, when an American flotilla composed of five navy vessels and several hundred soldiers landed on the Island and burned it to the ground. This same army was defeated several weeks later when it tried to capture Fort Michilimackinac.

The shoreline of the four small bays within the sanctuary are bordered by bulrush (Scirpus sp.) marsh and backed by a narrow zone of reeds (Phragmites sp.); while further inland grows a strip of bayberry and alder shrub. The sections of the shoreline that are not edged with bulrushes are mostly rocky. A large marsh is located on the St. Mary’s River shoreline of the island to the north of the sanctuary. This marsh stretches from the boundary of the sanctuary northwards to Hay Point and Munuscong Lake and is a very important area for waterfowl and other wetland-dependant migratory birds. Much of the general area is made up of open-river, lakes and swamps. The MBS includes Pirate Island, located offshore from La Pointe; several other islands, including Janden Island, are located to the east of the sanctuary.

Map of the area

Map of St. Joseph's Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Planning your visit

Come explore a piece of Canadian history in the St. Joseph’s Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary. This National Historic Site can be found at the southwestern point of the island, where two hectares of cleared land contain the ruins of Fort St. Joseph as well as the Parks Canada Agency office and an interpretation centre. Don’t forget to bring your camera and, especially if you’re there during the migration season, keep your eyes peeled for visiting wildlife.

Migratory Bird Sanctuaries, such as St. Joseph’s Island, 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 St. Joseph’s Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary in particular, please contact our regional office.

Key facts about St. Joseph’s Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Protected Area designation Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory Ontario
Latitude/longitude 46°04' N, 83°55' W
Size 940 hectares
Date created (Gazetted) 1951
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) management category National Park
Additional designations Fort St. Joseph National Historic Site
Main habitat type Forest, open lake, lakeshore marsh, fort/interpretation site
Key bird species American black duck, common merganser, red-breasted merganser, lesser scaup, greater scaup, 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

Related links

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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