Birdwatching Canada

A voice for the northern birds

Goose Overload

What would you think is the most common bird in Canada? If you guessed Canada goose, you would at least be in the correct family!

According to Environment Canada, our snow goose population now stands at over 4.5 million breeding birds, and has tripled over the past 20 years. While it’s nice to see a large, healthy population of any wild creature, these birds are actually eating themselves out of a home.

Snow geese flock

Snow geese flock

The fragile sub-Arctic and Arctic ecosystem where they nest in the summer cannot sustain this many geese. Some coastal salt marsh habitats have been severely degraded already. The geese feed by pulling grasses up by the roots, stripping the ground bare. This leads to erosion, increased evaporation of soil moisture, and an increase in soil salinity that prevents re-growth of vegetation.

There is evidence the birds are now moving inland to feed, threatening other ecosystems such as fresh water wetlands. Due to intense competition for food, thousands of goslings starve to death or die from disease each year.

Several factors appear to have contributed to the huge snow geese population. On their twice-yearly migrations, they eat a rich and plentiful diet of agricultural crops like winter wheat, rice and corn. This readily available food has likely increased survival rates. Warmer temperatures due to climate change in the Arctic may have increased the survival rate of the young birds each spring.

Now authorities are faced with a unique conservation situation. In the past, the snow goose population was low, and hunting quotas were reduced. Management decisions aimed at protecting the geese worked  – maybe too well.

So yes, it is wonderful to read about a conservation success, in this case it may be more of a ‘be careful what you wish for’ scenario. Although I suspect Arctic foxes are happy about the way things are, as adult snow geese, eggs and young birds feature prominently on their menu.

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The Edmonton Nature Club is promoting the Snow Goose Chase, a guided tour to pre-scouted birding locations to view snow geese, swans, cranes, eagles and many more species. The tour of central Alberta takes place April 25 & 26/09, and pre-registration is required. For more details, contact The Edmonton Nature Club, 19 Woodlake Road, Sherwood Park, AB. T8A 4B3 Phone (780) 464-5814.

For more details, contact them at vintagebob@shaw.ca

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