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RAMSAR Criteria

Ramsar Designation Criteria – Niagara River Qualifying Criteria Description

*Only 1 of the following criteria needs to be met to qualify for designation (Niagara River meets all nine)

Ramsar Designation Criteria Qualifying Criteria
1. Is representative, rare, or unique.


Niagara Falls – The Niagara River is unique as it is home to Niagara Falls consisting of three separate waterfalls which combine to form the highest volume waterfall in North America  (168,000 m3 / minute or 2,800 m3 / second).

New York State has identified numerous Significant Coastal Fish and Wildlife Habitats within the Niagara River Corridor, including a riverine littoral (shoreline) zone in the upper Niagara River, a rare ecosystem type in the Great Lakes and extremely valuable fish and wildlife habitat

2. Supports vulnerable, endangered or threatened species.

Lake sturgeon

The Niagara River Corridor supports 1252 species:

  • 338 species of birds
  • 102 species of fish
  • 35 species of mammals
  • 14 species of reptiles
  • 17 species of amphibians
  • 12 species of mussels
  • 734 species of plants
  1. Of these species 59 are protected federally in Canada and 70 provincially in Ontario.
  2. 1 species is protected federally in the USA and 54 species protected by New York State.

The corridor also includes two ecological communities considered vulnerable in New York State, calcareous cliff community and calcareous talus slope woodland, as well as rare old growth forests.

3. Supports keystone or endemic species.

seining_Aug_29_2012_NPCA (44)

A keystone species is a plant or animal that plays a crucial role in the way an ecosystem functions.

An endemic species is unique to a defined geographic location, such as a river.

The Emerald Shiner (Notropis atherinoides) is a keystone species in the Niagara River. They are considered the base of the food web for many fish-eating birds and sports fish. They are a very important food source for the Common Tern (Sterna hirundo), which is a threatened species in New York State.

4. Supports species at a critical stage in their life cycles (migration, breeding).

peregrine falcon

The Niagara River Corridor supports numerous species during critical stages in their lifecycles. These stages include nesting, migration, and overwintering for birds, and spawning for fish.

  • 137 species of birds nest in the Niagara River Corridor, including 42 waterbirds and 7 species of colonial nesting waterbirds (nest together in groups).
  • The Niagara River Corridor forms part of the Atlantic Flyway, one of four major bird migration corridors in North America. The corridor’s habitat supports 232 species of migratory birds, 106 of which are waterbirds.
  • The Niagara River Corridor is a critical overwintering site for waterbirds as it stays unfrozen throughout the cold winter months when most other freshwater bodies are frozen. During this period of extreme hardship, 92 species of birds overwinter in the site, including large congregations of at least 40 species of waterbirds (including gulls and waterfowl).
  • New York State has identified numerous Significant Coastal Fish and Wildlife Habitats within the Niagara River Corridor, mainly because of their importance as freshwater fish spawning ground. At least 41 species of fish have been recorded spawning in the Niagara River.
5. Supports 20,000 or more waterbirds.

Jajean Rose-Burney


More than 100,000 individual gulls (representing 19 species) can be observed foraging along the river during fall and early winter.

More than 20,000 individual waterfowl (representing over 20 species) can be seen in a single day during fall and winter.

6. Supports 1% of the individuals in a population of one species of waterbird.
Herring Gull
At least six waterbirds congregate in the Niagara River Corridor in globally significant numbers based on single day surveys

  • Canvasback (Aythya valisineria): 6,000 to 14,000 or >2%
  • Greater Scaup (Aythya marila): 15,000 or >1%
  • Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator): 9,000 or >1%
  • Bonaparte’s Gull (Chroicocephalus philadelphia): 4,000 to 100,000 or 25%
  • Herring Gull (Larus argentatus): 40,000 to 50,000 or >1%
  • Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis): 27,000 to 32,000 or >1%
7. Supports a significant proportion of indigenous fish species.


Indigenous species occur naturally in a particular place such as a river.

The Niagara River Corridor sustains at least 89 species of indigenous, freshwater fish including Lake Sturgeon, Northern Pike, Muskellunge, Lake Trout, and Walleye.

8. An important food source, spawning area, nursery or migration path for fish.

seining_Sept 12_2012_Biotactic (16)

There are 45 species of spawning fish found in the Niagara River, including Lake Sturgeon, Smallmouth Bass, Yellow perch, and Rock Bass, to name a few.

The Upper Niagara River tributaries function as a spawning and rearing habitat for many species, with adults residing in the Niagara River during summer.  Periodic large migratory runs of species such as emerald shiner, spottail shiner and gizzard shad are evident in the Upper Niagara tributaries.

9. Supports 1% of the individuals in a population of one species or subspecies of wetland-dependent non-avian animal species. (something that is not a bird)

Allegheny Mountain Dusky

The Northern Dusky Salamander (Desmognathus fuscus) – Carolinian population. In Ontario, this species’ entire range consists of a single, cascading stream in the Niagara Gorge on the Canadian side, occupying no more than about 0.005 km2. Surveys have identified some 22 individuals and indicate a total adult population that is probably fewer than 250 individuals. Its minute range makes this salamander highly susceptible to extirpation (elimination from the area) if any change to its habitat were to take place. Major threats to this salamander are activities that could affect the water table and dry out the spring that supports its habitat. Salamanders are representative of pristine habitat conditions, as they cannot tolerate any type of pollution. This species is listed as Endangered in Ontario and is protected under the Endangered Species Act, 2007.

About Us

Efforts from many key partners in the RAP Team continue to help complete priority actions for the restoration, protection, and enhancement of the Niagara River ecosystem. This initiative is made possible through the financial support of the Government of Canada and Ontario, in partnership with the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority.

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