S9

Migratory Species

This evaluation tracks the number and status of migratory species in Canada.

Nearly

of migratory species are at some level of risk

Birds and fishes represent the group with the highest number of migratory species.

The greatest threats to Canada’s migratory species are habitat loss, barriers to movement, and climate change. 

Why do migratory species matter?

Nearly one quarter of the 577 migratory animals found in Canada are at some level of risk.

 

  • Birds (70%) and fishes (19%) represent the groups with the highest number of migratory species in Canada. Canada also has migratory insects, sea turtles, and terrestrial and marine mammals.
  • Canada’s Arctic Tern and Caribou have some of the longest migrations on Earth (Figure 1).
  • Threats to migratory species in Canada include habitat loss, barriers to movement, and climate change. Migratory species are particularly vulnerable when they form large aggregations or rely on a few key stopover sites or ecological corridors.
  • Protecting migratory species is challenging because it requires the conservation of wintering, feeding, and breeding grounds, as well as corridors connecting these sites. Effective conservation actions will require the participation and collaboration of international partners.
  • Canada is a signatory of the Migratory Bird Treaty with the United States. However, Canada is not a member of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals a global treaty intended to bring international participants together with the objective to coordinate conservation actions to protect migratory species and their habitat, in the form of a legally binding agreement.

Calls to action

Addressing the biodiversity crisis in Canada will require transformative change. See our backgrounder on transformative change for more information. Specific actions for migratory species include:

Federal, provincial, territorial & Indigenous governments:  

  • Canada can continue to explore opportunities to participate in international efforts that conserve migratory species to protect critical habitats for migratory species within and outside of Canada’s borders. While Canada is an observer, it has not signed the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals.
  • Continue to identify migratory animal aggregations and important areas to improve habitat connectivity using Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) in Canada. Support other countries in developing national KBA programs, particularly in jurisdictions that also support Canada’s migratory species. The connectivity between KBAs identified for migratory species should also be a focus of conservation efforts.
  • Include conservation actions for migratory species that build capacity and partnerships with countries and parties outside of Canada in the 2030 Biodiversity Strategy (Target 20). Work with partners and government agencies outside of Canada to develop action plans to protect migratory species.
  • Link infrastructure approvals and funding to conditions that ensure habitat connectivity for migratory species is improved for new projects.
  • Establish and effectively manage a well-connected network of protected and conserved areas to protect the habitat and movement of migratory species.
  • Support surveying, population monitoring, and mapping of migratory species.

Local governments & communities:

  • Develop programs and capacity to monitor and manage migratory species, particularly for local stop-over and breeding sites, and other seasonal aggregations.
  • Inventory and remove human-made barriers such as fences or dams to restore habitat connectivity between landscapes. When developing new infrastructure projects, integrate designs that actively minimize or avoid areas that impact long-distance migratory species.
  • Explore Bird Friendly City certification to help conserve migratory birds.

Civil societies, community organizations, universities, colleges & museums:

  • Support and advocate for the designation of KBAs that include migratory
  • Continue research to develop a better baseline of population trends and habitat requirements for migratory species in Canada, and how the impacts of human activities, including climate change, may alter or shift migration in the future.
  • Educate the public on the current threats to migratory species and their conservation status.
  • Land trusts and naturalist groups can target migratory animal aggregations for land protection and stewardship actions, particularly for at risk and declining species.

Businesses & corporations:

  • Use the Key Biodiversity Areas registry and other resources to identify migratory species and sites that can be protected and stewarded by your business.
  • Small-scale fisheries can implement tools such as net illumination to mitigate the incident catch of non-target migratory species.
  • Avoid projects that could impact migratory species and their habitat and seek opportunities for ‘nature-positive’ actions that will improve their status.
  • Implement ‘bird safe’ practices in your office during migration.
  • “Adopt” migratory species and fund communities and organizations that are protecting these species.

Everyone:

  • Learn and talk about at-risk migratory species found in your area.
  • ‘Bird safe’ your home.
  • Contribute to citizen science efforts and report sightings of migratory species using iNaturalist or EDDMapS.
  • Join societies and local groups that advocate for the conservation of migratory biodiversity.
  • Support Key Biodiversity Areas or other conservation projects near you that help to highlight and conserve at-risk migratory species. Volunteer as a KBA caretaker or create a caretaker group.

Other information

In recent decades, many migratory animals have experienced massive population declines. The causes to these declines depend upon the location and species. Long-distance migrants that cross oceans or other continents are especially vulnerable to human activities and habitat loss or degradation because they must travel vast geographic areas to complete their annual cycles (Schuster et al. 2019). The potential to face several threats that occur outside of Canadian jurisdiction in stopover sites or at their final wintering/breeding destination is what makes protecting migratory species so complex.

Habitat loss, physical barriers (e.g., dams or fences), overexploitation (e.g., intentional or incidental harvest), and climate change are the primary threats to migratory species globally (Wilcove & Wikelski 2008) and also in Canada. The complexity of climate change in combination with other threats creates uncertainty on its impacts on long-distance migrants. For example, some migratory caribou populations in Canada may see their range restricted while other populations may exhibit an expansion of their territory (Sharma et al. 2009). Some Arctic bird species may experience severe losses of suitable breeding habitat, lengthening of migratory distances, or stop migration altogether and become increasingly reliant on the Canadian high Arctic habitat (Clairbaux et al. 2019; Wauchope et al. 2017). Continuing to monitor impacts of climate change such as the shifts in species home ranges and changes in the timing of important seasonal activities (e.g., breeding) will be vital to develop a better understanding of the state of migratory species as the climate changes and determine which high-quality habitat areas require conservation.

The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) (1979) was established to foster international collaboration in the preservation of migratory species. The CMS has recognized 1,189 animal species as needing international protection and are listed under CMS In addition, there are over 3,000 additional ‘non-CMS’ migratory species. The inaugural State of the World’s Migratory Species report in 2024 (UNEP-WCMC, 2024) highlighted that approximately 20% of CMS-listed species face extinction threats including habitat loss, overexploitation, pollution, and climate change. These activities disrupt migration corridors and stopover habitats, impeding the fundamental phenomenon of migration. Anthropogenic barriers, including infrastructural developments and industrial encroachments, further compound these threats. The report recognizes the urgency of expanding habitat conservation initiatives, including Key Biodiversity Areas, protecting and restoring habitat connectivity, mitigating overexploitation, and the importance of participation from governments and local communities. The conservation of migratory species transcends individual species preservation, constituting a pivotal component in the intricate tapestry of global ecological stability.

Canada must cooperate and coordinate conservation actions with other nations to protect migratory species. Canada has a history in joint legislative efforts to conserve migratory with the United States, via the Migratory Birds Convention (1916), but greater progress is needed to help migratory species. In 2024, CMS brought 135 countries together, to determine the relationship between the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework to reverse biodiversity loss and how to conserve migratory species. Canada follows activities of the CMS, but has not signed the treaty or participated in the CMS Conference of the Parties.

A significant challenge in conserving migratory species is the gap in knowledge on spatial distribution data and changes to population abundances. Knowing where and when species travel throughout their migratory cycle and understanding how the influences of human disturbances may disrupt a section of their migratory journey is important to track the health of migratory species populations overall (Wilcove & Wikelski 2008). A lack of critical information hinders developing effective conservation management strategies and enable greater uncertainty for how to allocate resources for species in urgent need of protection (Martin et al. 2007; Schuster et al. 2019).

Confidence and limitations

High confidence – this information is based on the 2020 General Status Report and published assessments by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada and the IUCN Red List, and status ranks assigned by NatureServe. 

The General Status reports use NatureServe for their data summaries. Species rankings are maintained and regularly updated by NatureServe and the IUCN and they provide the most comprehensive assessment of species ranks in Canada. Some status rankings may have changed since the query for this evaluation was done. Populations in NatureServe are based on populations identified through Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) assessments. See our backgrounder on species assessments for more information on the methods used by NatureServe, COSEWIC and the IUCN Red List.

 

S5_New sea sponge_Sally Leys

The Whooping Crane population in Canada nests in Wood Buffalo National Park and migrates roughly 4,000 km to Texas, USA. It is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

Photo: Christian Artuso (iNaturalist)

 

 

S5_Hine's Emerald_Bonnie Kinder

Hoary Bat (left) is assessed as Endangered by COSEWIC. This bat migrates over 1000 km round trip from Canada to the USA and Mexico.

 Photo: Jared Hobbs (WCS Canada)

Applications and next steps

This evaluation highlights migratory species in Canada that are at risk, and their conservation will require international coordination and cooperation. This information can be used to identify high priority species for conservation actions and build awareness of decision-makers and the pubic on the conservation status and needs of migratory species.

Area-based conservation planning and actions that align with the targets set out in the Global Biodiversity Framework and Canada’s 2030 Biodiversity Strategy will be vital to protect important habitats for migratory species. Identifying key migratory aggregation sites in Canada can be accomplished using the Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs). Consideration for how to keep KBAs connected to the larger landscape and other habitat outside of the KBAs will be crucial to their management. Acknowledging the ecological importance of suitable habitat within and outside of Canada is crucial to provide protection for Canadian migratory species and requires a coordinated effort with global partners. 

Future iterations of this SHAPE will continue to build on the list of migratory species in Canada, analyze the threats and policies in greater detail.

 

Number of Native Canadian Wild Species by Status Category

                     Figure 1. Examples of Migration Routes of Canadian Species

Related Evaluations

S2: Globally Threatened Species 

S3: Species at Risk 

For More Information

Contact us for more information or for a copy of the data at https://shapeofnature.ca/take-action/ or wcscanada@wcs.org

How to Cite

Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Canada. 2024. Migratory Species (version 1.0), in SHAPE of Nature. https://shapeofnature.ca/  

Prepared by: Meagan Simpson, Dan Kraus (Wildlife Conservation Society Canada)

Reviewers: Justina Ray, Ciara Raudsepp-Hearne (Wildlife Conservation Society Canada)

Updates

This evaluation is updated every year on World Bird Migratory Day, the second Saturday of May. Next update in 2025.

Data sources & Methods

The Wild Species: The General Status of Species in Canada 2020 report was used to identify and gather conservation status ranking on the migratory species found in Canada. The General Status report defines migratory species as a “species that leaves a region (nation, province, territory, or ocean region) to engage in long-distance seasonal movements” and this is the definition used for this evaluation. The query was generated on March 20, 2024, and is available in XL format.

The NatureServe Biotics database was used to identify migratory terrestrial mammal species in Canada not included in the Wild Species 2020 report.

NatureServe Explorer: Select Location as “Canada”. Under “Classification”, search = “Animalia” + “Craniata”. Under “Mammalia”, select “Artiodactyla” + “Carnivora” + “Chiroptera” + “Cingulata” + “Didelphimorphia” + “Diprotodontia” + “Eulipotyphla” + “Lagomorpha” + “Perissodactyla” + “Primates” + “Rodentia”. The query includes subspecies, varieties, and populations, and species with provisional and nonstandard taxonomy. The query was generated on March 26, 2024, and is available in XL format.  

Terrestrial mammals that were listed as “Yes” for the ‘Long Distance Migrant’ category were added to the Wild Species 2020 dataset. The compilation from both datasets resulted in a total of 577 species.

The number and status of Canada’s migratory species is summarized every five years in “General Status” reports. The last report was for 2020 (published 2021). The next report will be based on 2025 data and likely published in 2027. More species are added to each reporting cycle, generally according to taxonomic groups.

NatureServe and the IUCN Red List use are complementary but use different criteria for assessing conservation status. Status assessments by NatureServe have been completed for a much larger number of species than IUCN Red List assessments.

Additional background in species assessments can be found in in our backgrounder on species assessment and these sites:

IUCN Red List     NatureServe     COSEWIC

Species

S1 Edge of Extinction

S2 Globally Threatened Species

S3 Species at Risk

S4 Endemic Species

S5 Knowledge of Species

S6 State of Canada's Trees

S7 State of Canada's Whales

S8 State of Canada's Frogs

S9 Migratory Species

Habitats

H1 Globally Threatened Ecosystems

H2 Wetland Loss

Actions

A1 Protected & Conserved Areas

A2 Recovery Plans for Species at Risk

Policies

P1 Biodiversity Laws, Policies & Plans

P2 Provincial & Territorial Species at Risk Laws

P3 Delays in Protecting Species at Risk