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Band Tales: Snow Goose Shuffle

A band reveals that white geese are changing their migration.

Band Tales: Snow Goose Shuffle

A hunter-harvested leg band provides insight into shifting migration patterns for snow geese. (Photo By: Eric Cote/Shutterstock.com)

Even after nearly 50 years of waterfowling, Morris Buenemann still learns something new from every hunt. He’s also a fan of our Passages and Band Tales sections. “I've always paid special attention to the band reports in the magazine and try to guess each species from the locations of the banding and the harvest,” he says. The December 2020 Passages section especially caught his attention as it contained two reports of blue geese banded in Attawapiskat, Nunavut.

The Bird

It turns out he had taken a blue goose that same month, also banded near Attawapiskat, a location well south of what he believed to be traditional snow goose nesting area. After contacting the USGS Bird Banding Laboratory, Buenemann learned the bird was actually banded on Akimiski Island. Though it lies just offshore of Attawapiskat, Ontario, it is part of Nunavut, as are most of the islands in the James and Hudson Bays.  

While it is indeed well south of their traditional range, some lesser snow geese do nest on Akimiski Island, a relatively recent but growing trend. They were first recorded nesting there sporadically in the late 1950s and early 60s. By the late 60s it became an established colony of less than 200 pairs—a population that increased tenfold over the next two decades.

Blue and snow geese on water
With exploding populations, snow geese may be moving into new areas to find new food sources. (Photo By: David Stimac)

Shifting Patterns

Researchers concluded this increase could not be explained by recruitment alone and suggested it may be partly due to delayed migrants from more northern colonies that simply stopped short, where they and their progeny developed longer term nesting affinity for the island. They also conjectured that the high proportion of blue morph geese (nearly 80%) and leg band recoveries suggested a close relationship with Baffin Island nesting colonies.

Another plausible theory is that the expansion is also related to the geese having become victims of their own success. The mid-continent light geese breeding population has increased by more than 300 percent since the mid-1970s and now exceeds 5 million birds, and this doesn’t include non-breeding geese juveniles or adults that fail to nest successfully. This abundance has led to serious habitat degradation on their Arctic and sub-Arctic nesting grounds, where plant growth is already slow and once removed, cannot recover. The birds may simply be moving to greener pastures. Regardless of the reason or reasons, it’s another fascinating example of what we can learn from band recoveries.

The Band

HUNTER: Morris Buenemann

BAND #: 2177-60943

SPECIES: Lesser Snow Goose (F)

BANDED: 07/25/2019

LOCATION: Near Attawapiskat, NU

RECOVERED: 02/03/2020

LOCATION: Near Carlyle Lake, IL

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