IBA Peace-Athabasca Delta
Fort Chipewyan, Alberta
Site Summary
AB002 Latitude
58.653° N
111.813° W
250 m
7,584.60 km²
native grassland, rivers/streams, freshwater lake, freshwater marsh
Land Use:
Nature conservation and research, Not Utilized (Natural Area)
Potential or ongoing Threats:
Dykes/dam/barrages, Industrial pollution
IBA Criteria: Globally Significant: Threatened Species, Waterfowl Concentrations
Conservation status: National Park, Ramsar Site (Wetland of International Significance), World Heritage Site (UNESCO)
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Site Description
Located in the northeast corner of Alberta, the sprawling Peace-Athabasca Delta is one of the largest freshwater deltas in the world. It covers much of the southeastern portion of Wood Buffalo National Park, and includes the deltas of the Athabasca, Peace, and Birch rivers. Four major lakes are present; all are very shallow (less than 3 m deep) and characterized by thick growths of submergent and emergent vegetation. Large open grasslands are interspersed with numerous river channels and ponds that are slightly elevated above the surrounding plain. These features have created thousands of kilometers of shoreline habitat that is ideal for nesting waterfowl

This area contains critical spawning and nursery habitat for fish coming from Lake Claire and Lake Athabasca. Over 20 fish species are known to occur in the area including Lake Trout, Lake Whitefish, Arctic Grayling, Northern Pike and the nationally threatened Shortjaw Cisco.

The wetlands and grasslands of the Peace-Athabasca Delta provide vital resting and feeding area for ducks and geese, migrating to and from their breeding grounds on the Mackenzie River lowlands, Arctic river deltas, and western Arctic islands. The site is located far enough north that it supports waterfowl from all four major continental flyways. In this respect, it is a globally significant area for waterfowl.

Over 400,000 waterfowl have been recorded during spring migration, and during fall migration estimates have exceeded 1 million. In the late 1950s and early 1960s estimates were as high as 320,000 pairs of breeding ducks. More recently, breeding estimates have been lower, with about 120,000 pairs of dabbling ducks (Mallard, Gadwall, American Wigeon and Northern Pintail) and about 40,000 pairs of diving ducks (Canvasback, Redhead, Lesser Scaup) being recorded.

Some of the breeding waterfowl species found in abundance on the delta include Canada Goose, Mallard, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler and Canvasback. In all, 215 bird species have been recorded, including the globally endangered Whooping Crane, the nationally vulnerable Tundra Peregrine Falcon (ssp. tundrius), Bald Eagle, and Osprey. A colony of Black Terns is found on Richardson Lake, and other waterbirds recorded here include Western Grebe, Eared Grebe, Ring-billed Gull, and Common Tern.

IBA Criteria
SpeciesT | A | I Links Date Season Number G C N
Rusty Blackbird 2014 FA 23
Tundra Swan 2015 FA 2,400
Tundra Swan 2015 - 2016 SP 1,926 - 3,000
Waterbirds 1985 FA 1,000,000
Waterbirds 1985 OT 320,000
Waterbirds 1985 SP 400,000
Whooping Crane 2001 FA 2
Whooping Crane 2019 SP 5
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.
Conservation Issues
About 80% of the Peace-Athabasca Delta is within Wood Buffalo National Park; the remainder is provincial crown land. It has been recognized as a wetland of global significance under the Ramsar Convention and the entire national park has been identified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Peace-Athabasca Delta Ecosystem Management Plan (implemented in 1993) is undergoing a cooperative study between Parks Canada, the Alberta government and local native organizations.

Although the delta's size, isolation, and wilderness character have provided protection for many of its ecological features, it is being affected by external factors. The construction of two hydro-electric dams in British Columbia (about 800 km upstream on the Peace River) have disrupted the delta's hydrology by creating relatively stable water levels. The lack of rising and receding flood waters have severely damaged the delta ecosystem and greatly reduced its productivity. The delta is also being affected by industrial pollutants from pulp mills in the B.C. and Alberta portions of the Peace-Athabasca watershed.

The IBA Program is an international conservation initiative coordinated by BirdLife International. The Canadian co-partners for the IBA Program are Birds Canada and Nature Canada.
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