Willowbunch Lake is located in the Missouri Coteau region of Saskatchewan, 8 km north of the town of Willowbunch. It is a 30 km long and 1-2 km wide saline lake. Extensive mudflats usually develop at the east and west ends of the lake in the early summer, providing substantial Piping Plover habitat. Much of the land immediately adjacent to the lake is native prairie. Many intermittent creeks drain into Willowbunch Lake from the surrounding uplands, many of which contain steep coulees. Most of the outlying and less rugged areas have been converted to agriculture.
Breeding pairs (124 plovers in total) were recorded at Willowbunch Lake. This total represents 2.1% of the worlds Piping Plover population, a population that has been identified as globally vulnerable. In Canada, Piping Plovers are designated as nationally endangered. The nesting population at this site represents about 7.4% of the Canadian Northern Great Plains population; and in 1996 it was one of the three largest breeding concentrations in the Canadian prairies (the other two being Chaplin Lake and Big Quill Lake, both of which have also been identified as IBAs).
Substantial numbers of Piping Plovers were also recorded at this site during the 1991 International census, when 16 pairs were observed.
On the prairies, this globally vulnerable (nationally endangered) species prefers to nest along the gravel beaches of alkaline lakes, many of which have widely fluctuating water levels. As a result, population numbers and breeding success of the Piping Plovers may vary from year to year depending on water levels. Thus, one of the main threats to the nesting plovers is long-term drought from low spring runoff and lack of seasonal rains. The entire Willowbunch Lake basin is designated as critical Piping Plover habitat under the provincial Wildlife Habitat Protection Act. This designation protects the shoreline (to the high water mark) from development.IBA Criteria Habitats Land Uses Potential or Ongoing Threats Conservation Status