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

Use of Moist-Soil Areas

Austin (1988) evaluated habitat use of Canada geese at Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in northcentral Missouri during 1984-87, using radio-marked and neck-banded birds, habitat mapping, and time-activity budgets. A diversity of habitats was available on private and public lands, including traditional agricultural crops of corn, milo, soybeans, winter wheat, bluegrass pastures, and clover, as well as wetlands (primarily moist-soil areas) and flooded timber. Refuge areas were especially important during the hunting season. Seasonal and yearly variation in use of moist-soil areas largely were related to flooding and environmental conditions, as indicated in earlier food habit studies (Korschgen 1955, Eggeman et al. 1989). Geese used wetlands for overnight roosting and mid-day loafing as well as for feeding. Intensive radio-tracking of individual geese indicated that >50% of geese in later winter 1985-86 and 75% of the geese during 1986-87 used these areas; geese often spent more time in wetlands than in other habitats. In fall, all monitored geese used wetlands at least once each day and spent an average of 73% of their time in these areas. Although telemetry results indicated that the average percent of time on wetlands declined from 73% in fall to 11% in spring, time-activity budgets indicated that the proportion of time geese spent feeding while in wetlands increased.

We combined results from Austin (1988) for telemetry (% of time spent in moist-soil areas/day) and time-activity budgets (% of time spent feeding) to indicate seasonal differences in the average proportion of a day spent feeding in 6 main habitats (Fig. 1). In late fall, geese spent a larger proportion of the day feeding in wetlands than in agricultural crops. In late winter, most feeding activity occurred in wetlands and pastures. In spring, geese spent 14% of the day feeding in harvested soybean fields and 7% in wetlands, whereas other habitats were used for feeding <3% of the day. Differences in foraging efficiency among habitat types probably is an important factor, but we lack information on feeding efficiency of geese in different habitats and under varying environmental conditions.

GIF -- bar graph showing percent of day spent feeding

Time-activity budgets (Austin 1988) also indicated seasonal shifts in how wetland foods were exploited (Fig. 2). Geese fed primarily on the water surface in fall, and by spring spent an increasing portion of foraging time grubbing in shallow puddles or muddy areas. In wetlands where water had been withdrawn, foraging on vegetation was highest in early fall, and digging increased in late winter and spring. These patterns represented a shift from green vegetation and seeds in fall and winter to tubers and rhizomes in spring. Seasonal changes in feeding mode and food selection in wetlands probably are influenced also by foraging efficiency and food availability.

GIF -- graph of seasonal patterns in foraging modes

McKenzie (1987) monitored waterfowl use of 8 moist-soil units on Mingo NWR in southeastern Missouri from November through March, 1985-86. Both ducks and Canada geese responded rapidly to flooding of moist-soil units in fall; ducks consumed primarily seeds of moist-soil plants while geese consumed mostly browse and rootstocks. Goose use of moist-soil units was ≥2 times higher than mallard use before freeze-up. More than 50,000 goose use-days were recorded on the 8 units during the winter; peak use (11,600 use-days/week) occurred in early January, and 75% of the total goose use-days occurred during the second half of the winter. Waterfowl use of the units was hampered by rank vegetation and ice cover (McKenzie 1987).

Investigations of goose and duck use of managed moist-soil units at Mingo NWR are continuing (M. K. Lauban and L. H. Fredrickson, Univ. of Mo., unpubl. data) . During 1989-90, dry conditions in the region concentrated waterfowl on the refuge. Use of moist-soil units proximate to upland fields increased as upland wheat, clover, and other foods were depleted. Use occurred both before flooding (fall) and following inundation (winter-spring). Foods available to geese varied somewhat among the managed units, but buttonweed (Diodia virginiana), chufa (Cyperus esculentus), and millet (primarily barnyard grass, Echinochloa muricata) were common in all units and their roots or seeds were used by geese. Overall, the 382 ha of moist-soil provided over 1.3 million use-days for geese and over 1 million use-days for ducks.

Large-bodied Canada geese (i.e., B. c. maxima and B. c. interior) respond well to moist-soil habitats in Missouri. Favored habitats seem to be associated with plants having large seeds such as millets and smartweeds (Polygonum spp.), good production of underground biomass such as chufa and arrowhead (Sagittaria spp.), or browse such as blunt spikerush (Eleocharis obtusa).

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