Birds protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act

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Most species of birds in Canada are protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 (MBCA). The MBCA was passed in 1917, and updated in 1994 and 2005, to implement the Migratory Birds Convention, a treaty signed with the United States in 1916. As a result, the Canadian federal government has the authority to pass and enforce regulations [Migratory Birds Regulations (C.R.C., c. 1035)] to protect those species of birds that are included in the Convention. Similar legislation in the United States [Birds Protected By The Migratory Bird Treaty Act] protects birds species found in that country, though the list of bird species protected by each country can be different.

“Migratory birds” are defined by Article I of the Convention which names the families and subfamilies of birds protected, and provides some clarification of the species included. This list is provided as a policy interpretation of Article I. Bird species not listed here may, or may not, be protected under provincial or territorial legislation, the Convention on Biodiversity, or the Species at Risk Act (2002). Persons making any decisions regarding the protected status of a bird species in Canada should consult these other statutes. Environment and Climate Change Canada requires that all three criteria below be met to qualify a species for the list of bird species protected in Canada under the MBCA. These criteria do not represent a reduction in Environment and Climate Change Canada's mandate or the families of birds previously protected under the MBCA:

  1. Birds referred to in Article I of the Migratory Birds Convention as amended under the 1995 Protocol, either directly by species name, directly by the listing of their family, or indirectly by interpretation of the original ConventionFootnote1.
  2. Species that are native or naturally occurring in Canada:
    • A native migratory bird is one that is present entirely as a result of natural biological or ecological processes.
  3. Species known to have regularly occurred in Canada. Although species that occur infrequently (i.e., “accidentals”) and that meet criteria 1 and 2 are not included on this list, they continue to be considered as having protection under the MBCA any time they occur in Canadian territory.

In general, birds not falling under federal jurisdiction within Canada include grouse, quail, pheasants, ptarmigan, hawks, owls, eagles, falcons, cormorants, pelicans, crows, jays, kingfishers, and some species of blackbirds.

Three introduced species do not meet criterion 2 but continue to appear on the MBCA list: Mute Swan (Cygnus olor, family Anatidae), Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto, family Columbidae) and Sky Lark (Alauda arvensis, family Alaudidae). Environment and Climate Change Canada will consult provincial and territorial governments, who share responsibility for the management of birds in Canada, regarding a proposal to remove these species from the list of MBCA birds. Until a decision is reached by the concerned parties, these species will remain under MBCA protection.

The list of birds protected under the MBCA follows the American Ornithologists' Union's Check-list of North American Birds (American Ornithologists' Union [AOU] 1998), and its supplements to 2014, on matters of taxonomy, nomenclature, and sequence.

Other Jurisdictions

Birds in Canada are protected under provincial and territorial statute in addition to the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994. Please consult the legislation of the relevant jurisdiction before making any decisions regarding the protected status of a bird species in Canada. The following links are provided for convenience, but may not be current.

This table provides information on legislation of other jurisdictions regarding migratory birds in Canada.

Table 1: Other Jurisdictions
Province/Territory Law URL
British Columbia Wildlife Act
Alberta Wildlife Act
Saskatchewan Wildlife Act, 1998
Manitoba Wildlife Act
Ontario Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, 1997
Quebec An Act Respecting the Conservation and Development of Wildlife
New Brunswick Fish and Wildlife Act
Nova Scotia Wildlife Act
Newfoundland and Labrador Wildlife Act
Prince Edward Island Wildlife Conservation Act
Nunavut Wildlife Act
Northwest Territories Wildlife Act
Yukon Territory Wildlife Act

Families included in Article I of the Migratory Birds Convention

The following list presents the families of migratory birds named in Article I of the Convention as amended by the 1995 Protocol. It incorporates changes to family taxonomy as published in the American Ornithologists' Union Check-list of North American Birds, seventh edition, up to and including the 55th Supplement to the check-list, published in the scientific journal The Auk (Chesser et al., 2014).

1. Migratory Game Birds:

  • Anatidae, or waterfowl (ducks, geese and swans);
  • Gruidae (cranes);
  • Rallidae (coots, gallinules and rails);
  • Charadriidae (lapwings and plovers);
  • Haematopodidae (oystercatchers);
  • Recurvirostridae (stilts and avocets);
  • Scolopacidae (sandpipers and allies); and
  • Columbidae (doves and wild pigeons).

2. Migratory Insectivorous Birds:

  • Aegithalidae (long-tailed tits and bushtits);
  • Alaudidae (larks);
  • Apodidae (swifts);
  • Bombycillidae (waxwings);
  • CalcariidaeFootnote2 (longspurs and buntings);
  • Caprimulgidae (goatsuckers);
  • CardinalidaeFootnote2 (tanagers, cardinals, grosbeaks and buntings);
  • Certhiidae (creepers);
  • Cinclidae (dippers);
  • Cuculidae (cuckoos);
  • EmberizidaeFootnote2 (emberizid sparrows);
  • Fringillidae (cardueline finches);
  • Hirundinidae (swallows);
  • IcteridaeFootnote3 (bobolinks, meadowlarks, and orioles, but not including Icterid blackbirds and cowbirds, as was clarified in the 1995 Protocol);
  • Laniidae (shrikes);
  • Mimidae (catbirds, mockingbirds, thrashers, and allies);
  • Motacillidae (wagtails and pipits);
  • MuscicapidaeFootnote4 (Old World flycatchers);
  • Paridae (titmice);
  • ParulidaeFootnote2 (wood-warblers)
  • Picidae (woodpeckers and allies);
  • RegulidaeFootnote4 (kinglets);
  • Sittidae (nuthatches);
  • PolioptilidaeFootnote4 (gnatcatchers);
  • Trochilidae (hummingbirds);
  • Troglodytidae (wrens);
  • TurdidaeFootnote4 (robins and thrushes);
  • Tyrannidae (tyrant flycatchers); and
  • Vireonidae (vireos).

3. Other Migratory Nongame Birds:

  • Alcidae (auks, auklets, guillemots, murres, and puffins);
  • Ardeidae (bitterns and herons);
  • Threskiornithidae (ibises)Footnote5;
  • Diomedeidae (albatrosses)Footnote5;
  • Ciconiidae (storks)Footnote5;
  • Hydrobatidae (storm petrels);
  • Procellariidae (petrels and shearwaters);
  • Sulidae (gannet);
  • Podicipedidae (grebes);
  • Laridae (gulls and terns);
  • Stercorariidae (jaegers)Footnote6, and
  • Gaviidae (loons).

Families not included in Article I of the Migratory Birds Convention

The following list presents the families of birds not named in Article I of the Convention, but whose member species occur in Canada (including accidental, exotic, undetermined and extirpated status from Wild Species 2010). These families and their species are not protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 but may be protected under provincial or territorial legislation or other federal conventions.

  • Accipitridae (osprey, kite, eagles, harrier, hawks)
  • Alcedinidae (kingfisher)
  • Anhingidae (anhinga)
  • Aramidae (limpkin)
  • Cathartidae (vultures)
  • Corvidae (jays, crows and ravens)
  • Falconidae (caracara, falcons)
  • Fregatidae (frigatebirds)
  • Odontophoridae (quail)
  • Passeridae (weaver finches)
  • Pelecanidae (pelicans)
  • Phaethontidae (tropicbirds)
  • Phalacrocoracidae (cormorants)
  • Phasianidae (partridges, pheasants, grouse, ptarmigan, sage-grouse, prairie-chicken, turkey)
  • Phoenicopteridae (flamingo)
  • Prunellidae (accentor)
  • Ptilogonatidae (silky-flycatcher)
  • Strigidae (owls)
  • Sturnidae (starlings, mynas)
  • Tytonidae (barn owl)

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