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Location Canada, Saskatchewan
Central coordinates 109o 37.90' West  50o 58.61' North
IBA criteria A4iii
Area 1,200 ha
Altitude 570 - 684m
Year of IBA assessment 2008

Bird Studies Canada/Nature Canada

Site description This stretch of the South Saskatchewan River runs from the Alberta/Saskatchewan border eastward to the ferry crossing at Lancer. It includes the forks where the Red Deer River joins the South Saskatchewan River. The South Saskatchewan River is a fast-flowing river that courses through a narrow flood plain, while the Red Deer is a much slower river that meanders through a wide flood plain. The riparian woodlands of the Estuary-Leader area are the largest remaining riparian woodlands on the South Saskatchewan River between Medicine Hat, Alberta, and Gardiner Dam, Saskatchewan. In addition to this, it is the largest area of deciduous woodland in the south between the Cypress Hills and the aspen parkland regions, 200 km to the north. Wooded areas along the riverbank are dominated by Eastern Cottonwoods while stands of Manitoba Maple occur in the valley near the confluence of these two rivers. The Peach-leaved Willow is the dominant tree species along the Red Deer River above the forks. The westernmost population of Green Ash can be found near Estuary Ferry. Further eastward along the river, eroded cliffs along the riverbank and associated coulees provide breeding sites for raptors. Most of the uplands, above the river valley are cultivated for agriculture, although some native prairie does exist.

Key Biodiversity A rich diversity of breeding and migrating water and landbirds are found at this site. Over 20,000 Canada Geese, representing about 3.6% of the estimated Short-Grass Prairie population have been recorded along this water system during fall migration. In addition to the geese, over 3,816 ducks have been observed in these waterfowl congregations. Small numbers of Canada Geese also breed here.

Rare species found at this site include: 18 breeding Long-billed Curlew (nationally vulnerable), 1 pair of Piping Plovers (globally vulnerable, nationally endangered), the nationally threatened Loggerhead Shrike (prairie population), Short-eared Owl, Ferruginous Hawk and 1 to 3 pairs of Red-headed Woodpecker (all three species nationally vulnerable). This is the only location in Saskatchewan where Red-headed Woodpeckers regularly occur.

Other birds of interest found at this site include: Prairie Falcon (5 nest sites, plus 3 historic), Turkey Vulture (1 nest), Golden Eagle (3 nests), Great Horned Owl (4 pairs), Western Screech Owl (1 record), Pileated Woodpecker, Western Wood Pewee, Rock Wren, Alder Flycatcher, Yellow-breasted Chat (provincially high concentrations) and a small colony of Great Blue Herons.

Despite the fact that much of this area has yet to be investigated thoroughly for birds, 132 species have been recorded in this region.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
A4iii Species group - waterbirds resident  1990  20,000-49,999 individuals  unknown  A4iii   


IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Forest Temperate deciduous woods  40%
Grassland Steppe & dry calcareous grassland  30%
Wetlands (inland) Cliffs, rocky shores & islets (freshwater)  25%
Artificial - terrestrial Arable land  5%

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
agriculture major
rangeland/pastureland major

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2016) Important Bird and Biodiversity Area factsheet: South Saskatchewan River (Empress to Lancer Ferry). Downloaded from on 20/10/2016

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