Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary

The Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) is located west of Cornwall, Ontario. It offers a resting site for many waterfowl species like the Canada goose.

Importance of the sanctuary: migratory birds and other species

The Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary runs alongside the St. Lawrence River, 30 kilometres upstream (west) from Cornwall, Ontario and extends out in the river to the international boundary with United States. The site is managed by the St. Lawrence Parks Commission and the Province of Ontario. Previous to the creation of this sanctuary, this area was a re-establishment site for Canada geese, which were being kept and fed year-round.

As a result of the presence of resident geese and the readily available food, migrant canada geese were attracted to the site in numbers that steadily increased over the years. In the fall of 1963, a maximum of 980 geese were counted in the sanctuary; 900 of these were migrants. Just one year later, in 1964, 1400 Canada geese were counted while they took a break from their migration to rest and feed in the sanctuary. Fast forward and the numbers of migrant Canada geese stopping in the sanctuary can reach as high as 8000 per season. This is in addition to the 3000 geese and their offspring that nest in the sanctuary and in the surrounding agricultural lands. Similarly high numbers of geese nest, rest and feed in the Wilson Hill Wildlife Management Area located five kilometres away. The numbers of geese on this site have in fact become so high in recent years that control measures have had to be implemented.

Canada Geese
Canada geese

Canada geese are not the only birds that show up in this sanctuary (although they are the most numerous!), many other waterfowl make use of this area including dabbling ducks (ducks that feed near the surface of the water) like mallard, American black duck and blue-winged teal as well as diving ducks (ducks that dive below the surface of the water to feed) such as the common merganser. Ducks are at their most numerous within the sanctuary during the spring and fall migrations when they gather in the protected channels located between the mainland and the islands to feed and rest. While many ducks use the sanctuary as a stopover, few actually nest within the sanctuary and past human attempts to aid in increasing their productivity, through means such as mallard nesting platforms and wood duck boxes, have been unsuccessful. Many other species of birds use this sanctuary during their life cycles; a few of the birds more commonly spotted in the sanctuary include great blue heron, belted kingfisher and double-crested cormorants.

Did you know?

Bird banding stations are very important tools for collecting research information, particularly for migratory birds. At a banding station, birds are carefully caught, then measurements are taken for each bird and finally a tiny band with an identification number is affixed to the bird’s leg before it is released. Tracking banded birds gives researchers information on where, when and how these birds migrate, the range of a particular bird, its life span, etc. Banding stations are often looking for volunteers to learn and help in this process. Is there a banding station near you? See the Canadian Migration Monitoring Network.

The Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary is home to the largest banding station on the Atlantic Flyway and, each year, between 6000 to 7000 geese and 1200 to 1500 ducks are banded. This sanctuary, along with the N.Y. State Wildlife Management Area located across the river, is of great value as it allows waterfowl to gather and move about locally during the hunting season without being disturbed.


The landscape within the sanctuary is varied and, as a whole, the Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary includes diverse plant life and wetland areas that are particularly attractive to waterfowl looking for a place to rest and feed. Some of the wet habitats within the sanctuary support trees such as willows, elm and ash. The exposed shores along the St. Lawrence are mostly sandy or rocky, however, in areas where the shores are artificially protected, such as where the causeways join the islands, the shores are often bordered by wetland vegetation.

Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary: landscape
Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary: landscape

A large portion of the sanctuary is covered by woodlots, particularly sugar maple stands for exploitation, and open grassy parks. As the area covered by the sanctuary extends into the nearby St. Lawrence River, all the way to the United States border, several small islands are included within it. These include Morrison Island, Nairne Island and the northern half of Ault Island as well as several smaller ones.

Portions of the sanctuary have been modified to accommodate the year-round, resident Canada geese. These manmade changes include the creation of two artificial ponds where the geese come to feed as well as areas where corn and buckwheat are grown as feeding crops for the birds. On both the mainland and Ault Island, goose-nesting islands have also been built on 20 ponds and dugouts.

Map of the area

Map of Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary
  • Long description

    Map showing the Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) in relation to Ontario, Ingleside, St. Lawrence River, St. Lawrence Lake and the American border. The map shows the boundaries of the refuge, which cover terrestrial and water zones south of highway 401. The MBS spreads to the American border, in the St. Lawrence River, and is crossed by highway 2. The scale of the map is in kilometers. Permanent waters, international border, roads and highway are shown on the map. An inset on the map shows the location of the shelter in Canada.

Planning your visit

There is so much to see and do in the Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary! History enthusiasts can enjoy a visit of the Crysler Farm Battlefield Park or, at certain times of year, even experience a reenactment of the nationally significant battle in the War of 1812 that stopped the November 1813 invasion of Canada. You can also take a trip back in time and see what life was like in the 1860s at Upper Canada Village, one of the largest living history sites in Canada.

Nature lovers can stretch their legs on a leisurely walk, cycle or ski through the sanctuary’s nature trails or participate in some of the environmental programs that are offered year round. There are also camping and picnic sites to be explored. In addition to the Crysler Farm Battlefield Park and Upper Canada Village, the sanctuary also encompasses a marina, an airfield and a golf course!

Migratory Bird Sanctuaries, such as Upper Canada, 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 Upper Canada Bird Sanctuary in particular, please contact our regional office.

Key facts about Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Protected Area designation Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory Ontario
Latitude/longitude 44°57' N, 75°03' W
Size 2663 hectares
Date created (Gazetted) 1961
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) management category Natural Monument or Feature
Additional designations None
Main habitat type Open water, wetland, upland forest, crop and hay land and parks
Key bird species Canada goose
Other species Birds: Mallard, American black duck, wood duck, blue-winged teal, common merganser, double-crested cormorant, great blue heron and belted kingfisher
Listed species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) None
Management agency Canadian Wildlife Service, Ontario Region
Landowners St. Lawrence Parks Commission 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)
Email: ec.enviroinfo.ec@canada.ca

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