Full Site

McConnell River (NU020)


McConnell River (NU020)

West Hudson Bay, Nunavut

Latitude 61.111°N
Longitude 94.381°W
Altitude 0 - 60m
Area 5,820.89km²

Site Description

The McConnell River site is a large area of primarily coastal habitat situated on the west coast of Hudson Bay about 50 km north of the Manitoba border. It is a primarily flat landscape composed of coastal sedge marshes, which in some locations, extend as far as 8 km inland. Beyond the coastal marshes there are low hills interspersed with lakes and ponds. Austin Island is the only area containing rocky outcrops. The Thlewiaza River is the south border of the site; the Maguse River is the north border, and the McConnell River runs through the middle. The small coastal community of Arviat is located in the middle of the site. Numerous large mammals are found here, including the Kaminuriak herd of Barren-ground Caribou, which winter as far north as Arviat. Ringed Seals, White Whales and Polar Bears use the coastal and offshore waters.


The McConnell River coastal marshes and adjacent inland areas are of great importance for an impressive number of Snow Geese. In 1997, just over 150,000 geese bred in the sedge marshes. This is 3 % of all Snow Geese, and about 4 % of the late 1990s population of Lesser Snow Geese that breeds in the low arctic from James Bay to Victoria Island. This Snow Goose colony is unusual in that it is the only large colony that has actually decreased over the last two decades, unlike most Snow Goose colonies that have increased immensely in numbers. In 1985, 436,400 birds bred here. After breeding, in mid August, the geese move inland to ponds and lakes to feed and moult. In 1973, 1,300,000 snow geese were recorded at McConnell River during this post-breeding season. This number would include young of the year, successful breeding birds as well as non-breeding birds. By mid September most geese have left the area. Another white goose, the Ross Goose, also breeds at McConnell River. In 1997 or 1998, about 50,000 Ross Geese were counted. This is the about 5% of the worlds population of this species that only breeds in a few locations in the Canadian Arctic.

The McConnell River area also hosts breeding Canada Geese and Sandhill Cranes. Over the years, 111 bird species have been recorded for the area, including some unexpected prairie and woodland species.

Conservation Issues

The McConnell River area has already been recognized as a place of importance, although only about a sixth of the site is protected under the McConnell River Migratory Bird Sanctuary. This sanctuary encompasses much of the prime Snow Goose breeding habitat. The area has also been designated a Wetland of International Importance, and a Key Migratory Terrestrial Bird Habitat site of NWT/Nunavut , and was also identified as a significant site under the International Biological Programme.

While there are no commercial activities occurring at this site, Snow Geese are sensitive to human disturbance. If mineral exploration activities were to take place at this site, degradation of lowland terrestrial habitat would likely occur. All-terrain vehicles driven across arctic soils in the summer can cause ruts in the soil that remain for decades or centuries.

IBA Criteria Habitats Land Uses Potential or Ongoing Threats Conservation Status
Snow Goose
Number Year Season
390,000 - 1,300,0001973Summer
Ross's Goose
Number Year Season
Number Year Season