IBA McIntyre Ranch
Magrath, Alberta
Site Summary
AB063 Latitude
49.203° N
112.853° W
1,100 - 1,400 m
226.91 km²
scrub/shrub, native grassland, rivers/streams, freshwater lake, arable & cultivated lands, cliffs/rocky shores (inland)
Land Use:
Agriculture, Rangeland/pastureland
Potential or ongoing Threats:
Arable farming, Disturbance, Introduced species
IBA Criteria: Nationally Significant: Congregatory Species
Conservation status: IBA Conservation Plan written/being written
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Site Description
The McIntyre Ranch is in southernmost Alberta, 13 km north of the U.S.A. border, and 16 km south of the town of Magrath, Alberta. The undulating topography of the ranch contains the western end of the Milk River Ridge. It is a large, almost treeless area of privately held land that is primarily native grassland. It is believed to be the largest undisturbed fescue grassland on the North American continent. While Rough Fescue grassland is the dominant vegetation type of the ranch, several mixed grassland types are found on drier sites. Wetlands occur in the form of three lakes (Ross, Reed, and Anderson), ponds, ephemeral pools, marshes and two discontinuous streams. Many salt-loving plants are found in wetlands, although only two sloughs are considered fully saline. A thorough survey of the property revealed 366 plant taxa, of which 90% were native, and 14 were rare in Alberta. In places, eroding sandstone outcrops and shrubby coulees provide further habitats for birds.

The land provides excellent habitat for several ungulates like Mule Deer, White-tailed Deer and Pronghorn Antelope. The Yellow-bellied Marmot, which is uncommon in Alberta, is found here, and Richardsons Ground Squirrels and Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels are frequently observed.

The McIntyre Ranch has a rich diversity of grassland birds. With only a few thousand Long-billed Curlews remaining in Canada, the presence of 50 or more at the McIntyre Ranch is significant. This probably represents about 1% of the Canadian population of this species. Numerous other grassland specialists, for example Bairds Sparrow, Upland Sandpiper, Spragues Pipit (nationally threatened), and Short-eared Owl (nationally vulnerable), are found here. Two nests of the nationally vulnerable Ferruginous Hawk have also been recorded here, along with nesting Prairie Falcons. Sharp-tailed Grouse are quite common in the area.

The lakes and wetlands support a variety of water birds. A large colony of Eared Grebes nests on Anderson Lake, while smaller numbers of California Gulls, Ring-billed Gulls, Common Terns and American Avocets nest at Ross Lake. Mallards, Northern Shovelers, Lesser Scaup and Ruddy Ducks are all abundant breeding ducks in the lakes and ponds. During the summer, several thousand geese use Ross Lake as a moulting area.

The bird diversity of the ranch is increased by the presence of coulees. Within the rocky outcrops, Rock Wrens and Common Ravens can be found, and in the shrubbier coulees, Gray Catbirds, Brown Thrashers Yellow Warblers and both Western and Eastern Kingbirds breed alongside numerous other species. In total, 133 species of bird have been observed on the McIntyre Ranch.

IBA Criteria
SpeciesT | A | I Links Date Season Number G C N
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
McIntyre Ranch is unique because it is an extensive area that has never been overgrazed; thus the native grasslands have been left in a fairly natural state. As well, only small portions of the property have been cultivated, primarily for grain crops. Some non-native grasses have been introduced as forage in places and others have appeared on their own as weeds, but overall their distribution is very limited. As long as grazing continues to be light, and hunting and recreation continue to be tightly controlled, the native grasslands of the McIntyre Ranch are likely to remain as they are.

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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