Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary: landscape.
Photo: © Environment and Climate Change Canada, 2014. Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary: landscape.

The Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) is located along the St. Lawrence River 30 km upstream of Cornwall, and extends offshore to the international border. The site is managed by the St. Lawrence Parks Commission and the Province of Ontario. It includes the Crysler Farm Battlefield Park, Upper Canada Village, a marina, an airfield, a golf course, nature trails, and camping and picnic sites. Several islands are located within the sanctuary: Morrison, Nairne, Ault and some smaller ones. The southern half of Ault Island is not part of the sanctuary. Across the St. Lawrence River, the State of New York manages the Wilson Hill Wildlife Management Area, thus creating with Upper Canada MBS a very extensive conservation complex.

A large part of the sanctuary is covered by woodlots (in particular, sugar maple stands), and parks consisting mainly of open grassy areas. There are some wet habitats where species such as willows, elm and ash grow. The exposed shores are sandy or rocky, while artificially protected shores (in the areas where the causeways join the islands) are bordered by wetland vegetation. As a whole, the Upper Canada MBS displays diverse upland flora, and wetland areas that form good waterfowl staging habitat.

Some areas have been developed for the use of Canada Geese. A pen with 2 artificial ponds hosts the geese when they come to feed. In some areas, corn and buckwheat are grown as feeding crops for migratory birds. At Ault Island and on the mainland, goose-nesting islands have been built on 20 ponds and dugouts.

Importance of the Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Before the creation of the Upper Canada MBS, Canada Geese were kept year-round and were fed on the site. As a result of their presence and the availability of food, migrant Canada Geese were attracted in increasing numbers to this staging area. In the fall of 1963, a maximum of 980 geese were counted, 900 of which were migrants. In 1964, the numbers were still increasing, and on October 20, 1400 Canada Geese were staging in the sanctuary during migration. Currently, numbers of staging migrant geese reach as high as 8000 per season, in addition to the 3000 locally nesting birds and their broods that nest in the sanctuary and surrounding agricultural land. Similar high numbers of birds nest and stage 5 km away in the Wilson Hill Wildlife Management Area. The numbers of breeding geese have become so high that control measures have had to be implemented.

Many other waterfowl occur in the Upper Canada MBS, including Mallards, American Black Ducks, Wood Ducks and Blue-winged Teals. Common Mergansers and other diving ducks may be seen, and aquatic birds such as cormorants, Great Blue Herons and Belted Kingfishers are common in the area. The largest numbers of ducks are seen staging during spring and fall migration when the birds gather on the protected channels (between the mainland and the islands) to feed and rest. Few ducks nest in the MBS, and past attempts to increase their productivity (e.g., through Mallard nesting platforms and Wood Duck boxes) were unsuccessful.

The Upper Canada MBS holds the largest banding station on the Atlantic Flyway. Some 6000 to 7000 geese are banded each year, as are 1200 to 1500 ducks. The combination of the Upper Canada MBS and the N.Y. State Wildlife Management Area enables waterfowl to gather in large protected areas and to make local movements without being disturbed during the hunting season. As a result, this area is safe for staging waterfowl.

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 Upper Canada 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 St. Lawrence Parks Commission 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 Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Long description of the map

Map showing the location of Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary relative to Ontario, the St. Lawrence River and the U.S. border. The map shows the borders of the sanctuary, which is split into several pieces along the coast of the St. Lawrence River. The scale of the map is in tenths of a kilometer.

This map is for illustrative purposes only and should not be used to define legal boundaries. Upper Canada 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 Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Category Information
Protected Area designation Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Province or territory Ontario
Latitude/longitude 44°57' N, 75°03' W
Size in hectares (ha) 2601 ha
Date created (Gazetted) 1961
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) management category III - Natural Monument or Feature
Additional designations None
Main habitat type Open water (50%), wetland (10%), upland forest (15%), crop and hay land and parks (25%)
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

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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