The region’s migratory Canada geese population continued to rebound from an all-time low hit seven years ago, according to results from the spring nesting survey.
This year’s aerial survey of arctic nesting grounds counted 165,000 pairs of geese, up from 147,000 pairs last year — an almost a sixfold increase from the 29,000 counted in 1995.
That count was so low it forced a temporary closure of the hunting season for the birds, which are the waterfowl most closely associated with the Bay, which is their most important wintering ground on the East Coast.
“The population is in great shape,” said Bill Harvey, a biologist with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources who participates in the annual survey. “We have a large breeding population, and we’ve had several good years of production, so over the next few years we expect the breeding population to continue to grow.”
But all the news wasn’t good, he cautioned. A harsh winter resulted in a late spring on the breeding grounds. Many pairs did not attempt to nest, and those that did produced fewer eggs — only about three per nest compared with the normal five.
When spring comes late, the birds have used much of their energy reserves that normally would go toward incubating eggs, Harvey said. “Three weeks doesn’t sound like a lot. but that’s the difference between a bumper crop and a poor hatch,” he said.
The poor egg production should not hurt the population’s overall recovery, he added. “It’s a bad hatch this year, but it’s just one year,” he said. “This is not unexpected.”
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 a five-year hunting moratorium that began in 1995. States have been allowed to reopen their hunting season, but with tighter restrictions, in the past two 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. Earlier this year, the USF&WS proposed making regulatory changes that would give states more flexibility in dealing with the nuisance birds, but it has not announced any final decisions.
Unlike the resident geese, the migratory birds tend to shy away from populated areas, and are present in the region only during the winter.