The legacy of Mother Goose is booming almost beyond belief. It’s visible and audible in the avian world’s most awe-inspiring displays – at least 8 million migrating Snow Geese descending in the fall on wildlife refuges in southern Canada and the U.S.
By Rex Graham
Because of favorable conditions, the size of the Snow Goose flock is actually expected to double every 3–4 years across its breeding habitat in northernmost Alaska, Canada, Greenland and Russia’s Wrangle Island.
Huge numbers of Snow Geese will be on the wing during the Winter Wings Festival, Feb. 11-14, 2016, in Klamath Falls, Oregon.
Why is this quintessential Mother Goose species doing so well?
Warming Fuels Goose Boom
“Warming temperatures have created advantageous conditions for successful breeding and molting by geese on the Arctic Coastal Plain,” states a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) report.
The Snow Goose mothers are Snow Geese eggs hatch 4-7 days sooner than they did 30 years ago, which gives them earlier access to food than later-hatching Brent Geese and White-fronted Geese chicks. Nitrogen, an indicator of nutritional value, peaks in plants eaten by geese the early growing season. The tough indigestible growth of plants also is lowest during this time, according to a 2015 study in Avian Conservation Ecology.
Hunting reduced the number of total Snow Geese nesting in the Arctic to only 1,000 individuals in the early-1900s, according to the USGS. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service now calculates that the 6-8 million Snow Geese in the Arctic (and probably elsewhere) could double every 3–4 years.
The warmer Arctic, with earlier snow-free nesting sites is good news for Snow Geese, but not necessarily for other species of geese nesting the same areas. The USGS’s Changing Arctic Ecosystems initiative is monitoring the population explosion “to assess the ecological effects of an expanding Snow Goose population and consider management alternatives.”