The Great Plain of the Koukdjuak is located on the western side of Baffin Island along the southeastern coast of Foxe Basin. It is a broad, flat, water-logged sedge lowland. High tides sweep across the plain from Foxe Basin, and create a tidal zone that extends up to 15 km inland. The landscape is dominated by water, with circular shallow lakes and wetlands crossed by numerous small streams that drain the marshy plain. Raised beach ridges, 25 to 80 km from the coast, mark the inland limit of the plain, while granite outcrops scattered throughout the southern area interrupt the level horizon. The tundra covers marine clay soils, which overlay limestone and shale bedrock. The Great Plain is part of both the Dewey Soper Bird Sanctuary and the Bowman Bay Game Sanctuary. An important caribou migration route crosses the Koukdjuak River inland from the nesting area.
The Great Plain of Koukdjuak supports the largest goose colony in the world. In the summer of 1998, 1,766,500 Lesser Snow Geese migrated here to breed. This is about a third of all the Snow Geese in the world. In late May geese begin arriving at the site, and after the young are hatched both adults and offspring head further inland to feed. The geese depart from the Great Plain by early to mid-September.
Other birds that breed in this area include Sabines Gulls, which nest near the coast in numbers close to 8% of the national population. Canada Geese, Oldsquaw, King and Common Eiders and Atlantic Brants can also be found here. In 1979, 1600 Atlantic Brant bred at this site, representing 1% of the estimated national population. Due to the biological richness and size of this site, about one half of the Eastern Arctic populations of Lesser Snow Goose, Canada Goose, and Atlantic Brant, can be found here. Shorebirds, such as Red Phalaropes, are also likely to be present in large numbers, but no data are available for these species.
Note: species shown in bold indicate that the maximum number exceeds at least one of the IBA thresholds (sub-regional, regional or global). The site may still not qualify for that level of IBA if the maximum number reflects an exceptional or historical occurrence.
The importance of this site as a breeding ground for geese and other bird species led to the establishment of the Northwest Territories Bowman Bay Game Sanctuary and the larger Federal Dewey Soper Migratory Bird Sanctuary, which protect a large part of the plain. The Bowman Bay Wildlife Sanctuary is located within the Dewey Soper Migratory Bird Sanctuary. The Migratory Bird Sanctuary is also a Wetland of International Importance, and is designated as a significant site under the International Biological Programme (IBP). The Great Plain of Koukdjuak has also been identified as a Key Habitat Site for migratory birds in the Northwest Territories.
Since 1997, the Canadian Wildlife Service has banded nearly 2,000 Lesser Snow Geese at this site with red neck bands. This project is designed to study the migration chronology and distribution of birds from this breeding ground, in order to gain information about this little studied colony.
The IBA Program is an international conservation initiative coordinated by BirdLife
International. The Canadian co-partners for the IBA Program are Bird Studies Canada and Nature Canada.