email a friend
printable version
Location Canada, Alberta
Central coordinates 113o 45.00' West  53o 35.40' North
IBA criteria A4i, A4iii
Area 2,100 ha
Altitude 650 - 655m
Year of IBA assessment 2008

Bird Studies Canada/Nature Canada

Site description Big Lake is located on the western edge of the city of St. Albert in central Alberta. The city of Edmonton is situated directly to the east. This freshwater lake is a large body of water that supports extensive stands of emergent vegetation. During low water years mudflats are also present along the north shore. The south shore supports large stands of mature aspen, birch and White Spruce.

Key Biodiversity Big Lake is recognized as an important waterfowl moulting and staging site, and in other studies it has been recognized as one of the 20 most important waterfowl habitat units in Alberta. Estimates of peak numbers of staging waterfowl in the 1970s and 1980s range as high as 26,000, with totals for the entire fall migration period likely being much higher once turnover rates are factored in. Although recent estimates are not available the general consensus is that waterfowl usage remains at about the same level. Although most of the waterfowl consist of dabbling and diving ducks, large numbers of Tundra Swans are also present during the last few weeks of October. Numbers general range in the low thousands (about 1% of the western North American Tundra Swan population), although in some years much larger numbers are recorded (e.g., an estimate of 12,000 in October, 1998).

In addition to its importance for staging waterfowl, Big Lake also supports a large colony of nesting Franklin's Gulls in the west bay of the lake. In the 1980s, this colony was estimated to contain between 500 and 3000 nests (the latter number, when doubled, is greater than 1% of the world's estimated population). Recent estimates of this colony's size have not been obtained due to its inaccessible nature. Nesting colonies of Eared Grebes and Black Terns are also present.

In years when water levels are low, a variety of migrating shorebirds can also be observed at the north end of the lake. Common species include yellowlegs, dowitchers, Pectoral Sandpipers, American Avocets, and a variety of small sandpipers.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Tundra Swan Cygnus columbianus passage  1998  12,000 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
A4iii Species group - waterbirds passage  1985  20,000-49,999 individuals  poor  A4iii   


IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Forest Temperate coniferous forest; Temperate deciduous woods  -
Wetlands (inland) Freshwater lakes and pools; Freshwater marshes/swamps  -
Artificial - terrestrial Arable land; Improved pasture land  -

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
agriculture minor
hunting major
rangeland/pastureland minor
tourism/recreation major
urban/industrial/transport minor

Contribute  Please click here to help BirdLife conserve the world's birds - your data for this IBA and others are vital for helping protect the environment.

Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2016) Important Bird and Biodiversity Area factsheet: Big Lake. Downloaded from on 27/10/2016

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife