A look at goose nesting habitat in 2010

What a difference a year makes

Canada geese in flight
Photo: Robert Sendlein

Canada goose hunters who experienced their fair share of disappointment in the field last season can be more optimistic in 2010.


Dr. Robert Rockwell of the American Museum of Natural History, based at La Perouse Bay snow goose camp, and Dr. Andrew Raedeke of the Missouri Department of Conservation conducted range-wide surveys for Canada geese in northern Manitoba, along with Brian Lubinski of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and John Wollenberg of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Their findings are the basis for the contrasting reports in two consecutive breeding seasons—2009 and 2010.

One look at the Eastern Prairie Population survey reports from West Hudson Bay in 2009 and 2010 reveals striking differences in goose breeding numbers. The EPP of Canada geese and lesser snow geese nesting in the same region fared well in the south, but their productivity in nesting areas farther north remains uncertain. The differences are twofold: Not only was there a distinct shift in phenology (timing of nesting) between 2009 and 2010, but also there was a stark contrast between the phenology in southern versus northern portions of the EPP range in 2010.

A difference across time

The first contrast comes down to one thing: early versus late snow melt between 2009 and 2010. The two years represent the extremes in terms of phenology and nesting success. Delayed snow melt in 2009 resulted in late nesting, below-average production and a fall flight predominated by adult geese, which are less vulnerable to hunting. This year's near-record early snow melt, however, triggered a very early start to the nesting season. Early nest initiation, and thus higher nesting success, was the result. Once these nests hatch, the fall skies will be filled with younger geese, which can make for a more successful hunt—an exciting prospect for hunters across the country 

A difference across landscapes

The second key difference proves to be a reflection of the first, but across landscapes rather than years. The EPP survey for 2010 shows a one-month differential between nesting in the southern versus northern portions of the EPP range. Snow-free landscapes and open water to the south were in sharp contrast to ice-covered lakes and extensive snow in the north. Raedeke's report of advanced Canada goose nesting was quite difference from Rockwell's report of 150,000 to 250,000 snow geese that had yet to move on to breeding areas in the Arctic.

Early to mid-June hatch in much of northern Manitoba should lead to higher goose production there than their counterparts farther north, where goose production was more variable in 2010. This is true in the west, where parts of the central arctic are likely to have slightly reduced fall flights of some goose populations such as white-fronted geese.

Ducks Unlimited Chief Biologist Dale Humburg says the reports show give hunters reason to hope. "Regardless of contrasting reports for 2010 goose production, fall flights from the areas surveyed in northern Manitoba should be at least as high as last year and should include quite a few more young birds, which sets the stage for a more successful hunting season."