Little Fish Lake

Country/territory: Canada

IBA Criteria met: -
For more information about IBA criteria please click here

Area: 3,500 ha

Protection status:

Birds Canada / Nature Canada

Site description
The Little Fish Lake area of south-central Alberta is about 34 km southeast of Drumheller. The IBA includes Little Fish Lake itself, the provincial park on the east side of the lake, and Hand Hills Ecological Reserve on the northwest. The 7 km2 lake is shallow, alkaline, slightly saline and very productive. The 14 km shoreline contains extensive gravel beaches with alkali deposits that are between 10 and 30 m wide. The Hand Hills are an unusual feature in Alberta they are a remnant Tertiary plateau that rises 146 m above the surrounding area. Extensive areas of relatively undisturbed northern rough fescue grassland are found here.

Three rare plants grow in the Little Fish Lake area; they are Crowfoot Violet, Few-flowered Rush and Small Yellow Evening Primrose. The uplands hold a locally high population of Richardsons Ground Squirrel.

Key biodiversity
The Little Fish Lake area has been an excellent area for both lake and upland birds. In 1990 as many as 48 Piping Plovers were recorded along the lakeshore. This species, which breeds on sandy shorelines, is endangered in Canada. By the time of the 1991 Piping Plover survey, the numbers at Little Fish Lake had declined to 8 pairs (about 1% of the Canadian prairie population), and then between 1995 and 1998, the population dropped further from 2 pairs to 0 birds. Thus, although currently the species is not present, the lake still has the potential to be an important breeding site for Piping Plovers. Also, at least 5,000 geese use the lake for staging, and during the breeding season, 876 California Gulls nest within the lake.

The Hand Hills are an excellent place for prairie- breeding land birds. Bairds Sparrow, Spragues Pipit, Ferruginous Hawk (nationally vulnerable), Loggerhead Shrike (prairie population, nationally threatened), Upland Sandpiper and Long-billed Curlew (nationally vulnerable) are all species that breed in the hills. Large populations of the first two species are found here. In the past, Sharp-tailed Grouse maintained two leks in the Hand Hills area.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2020) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Little Fish Lake. Downloaded from on 03/08/2020.