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Habitat Management for Migrating and Wintering
Canada Geese: A Moist-Soil Alternative

Management Considerations

To optimize food production and habitat use by geese, managers should consider a variety of factors, including suitability and management of land for moist-soil or row crop production, timing and duration of ice cover, seasonal habitat use patterns of geese in relation to environmental conditions, and availability and quality of foods.

Suitability and Management of Land for Moist-soil and Row Crop Production

Many state and federal waterfowl areas were acquired because they included significant wetlands suitable for the provision of food, water, and cover for waterfowl or other wetland species. These sites often include wet or flood-prone lands that cannot be predictably farmed but would be well suited for moist-soil production.

Moist-soil management has been integrated with traditional crop management for Canada geese at Swan Lake NWR. Refuge fields were classified according to drainage and flooding propensity. Flood prone fields are managed primarily for moist-soil plants. One-quarter of these units are disked and planted to a crop such as milo or millet each year to maintain productivity of annuals and prevent encroachment of woody vegetation. The less frequent tillage of these flood-prone lands also minimizes soil erosion. Native seed production on these lands is promoted by carefully timed draw-downs during the years they are not in row crop production (Fredrickson and Taylor 1982). Availability of moist-soil foods, and subsequent goose use, is enhanced by shallow flooding (≤15 cm) timed to goose arrival.

Ice Cover

Canada geese often are observed roosting on ice-covered units (Rundle 1980, McKenzie 1987, Austin 1988) yet will exploit these areas for food when open water becomes available. Although the shallow moist-soil units tend to freeze more quickly than deeper wetlands (McKenzie 1987), they also are among the first wetlands to thaw.

Seasonal Habitat Use Patterns and Long-term Perspectives for Management

Patterns of habitat and food use are related to availability, environmental conditions, and nutritional value of foods. Geese use a variety of habitats and foods in all seasons, but seasonal shifts in the predominant foods sought are apparent (Fig. 3).Geese consistently use native foods, including both seeds and browse, before wetlands become ice-covered. After wetlands are ice-covered and temperatures remain below freezing for extended periods, geese switch to row crops where large volumes of high-energy foods are acquired quickly. During spring migration, geese regularly use newly sprouted vegetation (which is high in protein) both in uplands and wetlands.

GIF -- model of seasonal shifts

Production and availability of foods can be highly variable among years depending on the timing and severity of drought or flooding. In dry years, production of moist-soil foods occurs despite failure of upland crops; however, food availability may be limited unless dependable water sources allow timely flooding. During moderately wet years, production and availability of moist-soil foods and crops is usually ensured. In wet years, crop production may be poor due to flooding during the growing season, but moist-soil habitats at higher elevations should provide at least moderate food production. During severe fall or spring flooding, wetlands are flooded too deep for foraging; however, foods become available in the flooded agricultural fields. By incorporating moist-soil management with crop management, a diversity of foods and habitats can be provided each year under a variety of environmental conditions.

Corn likely will remain a staple for geese in many areas, but a diversity of foods and habitat should be available to optimize land management capabilities and for optimal benefits to geese. Also, integration of moist-soil areas with upland crops increases the diversity of habitat and foods available in all seasons and conditions, and would be compatible with management needs for other wetland species such as ducks and shorebirds. In this way, management for Canada geese need not be exclusive of other wetland values.

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