After nearly a decade of increases, the number of reproducing pairs of Atlantic population Canada geese counted in their Arctic breed grounds appears to have stabilized in recent years.
This year, biologists counted 160,000 pairs of the migratory birds during their annual survey in northern Quebec.
That is generally similar to the numbers seen over the past five years, and a bit less than the 162,400 counted last year. But it is still more than five times higher than the record low count of 29,000 pairs in 1995, which spurred a five-year hunting moratorium.
“It’s been a remarkable recovery,” said Larry Hindman, waterfowl project manager with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
Migratory Canada geese are the waterfowl most closely identified with the Bay, and the Eastern Shore is their most important wintering ground on the East Coast.
A series of late springs in the early 1990s, coupled with high hunting pressure, caused a population dive for migratory geese along the Atlantic Flyway, prompting the hunting moratorium. When the population reached a short-term goal of 60,000 pairs on the breeding grounds, states were allowed to reopen restricted hunting seasons.
The long-term goal of the Atlantic Flyway Council, an international group responsible for managing geese, is to build the population to 250,000 pairs on the breeding ground. That is a number which biologists estimate would restore the population to levels seen in the 1970s, when migratory geese peaked on the flyway. Instead, the numbers have remained relatively stable.
“Whether or not we get to 250,000 remains to be seen,” Hindman said. “Everything in terms of harvest rate that we are measuring with band recovery data tells us that we are still harvesting at a fairly moderate rate, and the population should continue to increase. But ironically, the pair index from the survey shows that it has kind of flat-lined.”
He noted, though, that good weather conditions on the breeding grounds led to better than normal production of young in the last two years, which could trigger another burst in population growth.
“I think that will build some momentum in the population,” Hindman said. “You will probably see in a few years an increase in the number of breeding pairs.”