The number of reproducing pairs of Canada geese counted in their Arctic breeding grounds declined this spring, causing game managers along the East Coast to continue strict hunting restrictions this year.
The 2003 aerial survey in northern Quebec counted 156,000 pairs, about 5 percent fewer than last year’s estimate of 164,800 pairs. That’s still significantly higher than the low of 29,000 pairs counted in 1995—spurring a five-year hunting moratorium. 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.
Bill Harvey, a biologist with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources who participates in the annual survey, said this year’s drop was probably the result of poor reproduction three years ago—it’s thought that it takes the birds about three years to mature and begin breeding.
Nonetheless, after working to rebuild the population from its all-time low, biologists decided against relaxing hunting restrictions any further for now.
“It’s nothing really unexpected. but we are apprehensive about liberalizing [hunting restrictions] when the breeding population, even if we can explain it, has stabilized for the moment,” Harvey said.
Although fewer pairs were counted, he said the geese appeared to have had good nesting success, with on-the-ground nest surveys indicting the average clutch size was an above-average 4.5 eggs per nest. That should bode well for the population when this year’s goslings mature in about three years.
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. States have been allowed to reopen their hunting season, but with tighter restrictions, in the past three years.
Most people would be shocked to know that Canada geese were ever in trouble, because the geese are commonly seen at parks, golf courses and other open areas throughout the watershed—often causing trouble and leaving huge amounts of waste.
But those are “resident” geese, believed to have escaped from captive stocks decades ago, which never learned to migrate. Spared the hazards of migration, and often living in places where they are protected from hunting, their population has been growing by about 6 percent a year, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Along the Atlantic Flyway, resident geese outnumber the migratory population. The USF&WS has made regulatory changes that give states more flexibility in dealing with the nuisance birds.
Unlike the resident geese, the migratory birds tend to shy away from populated areas, and are present in the region only during the winter.