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Giant Canada Goose Flocks in the United States


uring the past 40 years, there have been some outstanding examples of intensive management of Canada geese in North America. Accomplishments can be attributed to a variety of research and management activities conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Canadian Wildlife Service, provincial and state agencies, universities, private organizations, and individuals (Nelson and Bartonek 1990).

The research and management steps that have led to our current understanding of these birds include taxonomic clarification, racial distribution, population delineation, population management, cooperative programs, restoration, and introduction of local breeding populations (Nelson and Oetting 1981); this paper concerns the latter.

While management of wild migratory populations of Canada geese was progressing during the past 40 years, increased attention was given to establishing breeding populations in the northern tier of states and in southern Canada (Nelson 1963). Trial-and-error transplants and introductions over the period 1935-65 have shown that giant Canada geese were well suited for these attempts (Hansen and Nelson 1964, Lee et al. 1984). While much of the early work took place on federal lands and state or provincial areas, many of these introductions also were successful in urban areas and subsequently led to local problems with these prolific birds.

We stressed in earlier papers that we have little knowledge about the population ecology and adaptive characteristics of the many Canada geese in our cities and suburbs. Urban Canada geese, giant Canada geese, resident Canada geese, restoration geese, or simply "giants," are becoming one of our most readily observed migratory waterfowl resources and are being managed more intensively (Nelson and Oetting 1982). Information gaps are beginning to be filled, however, as indicated by new studies and management programs being reported at this symposium. We know that, compared to other races of Canada geese, giant Canada geese nest in more southerly latitudes, reach sexual maturity earlier, have large clutch sizes and high nest success, and generally high survival rates. Their migrations are usually short and most do not face multiple hunting seasons like the northern breeders. Many reside in protected urban areas where hunting is prohibited. There is no appreciable subsistence use of these birds. They also have access to better food sources throughout most of the year. These may be some of the reasons for their phenomenal population growth.

As resident Canada goose populations have continued to increase, they have been dubbed nuisances and pests in many urban locations. Some urban and rural groups have objected to further population growth because of airport hazards, crop depredation, fouling of lawns and golf courses, and contamination of water supplies. We have these negative reactions on one hand, and sheer love for the birds on the other. In some areas, management has consisted largely of attempts to reduce populations by trapping, translocation, nest and egg destruction, relaxation of hunting regulations, and even sterilization.

While our information on population size and distribution of resident Canada geese is incomplete, field reports clearly indicate that this resource is immense and growing. We have resident Canada geese across southern Canada from Alberta to Quebec and through most of the northern and central states. They are found in urban and suburban areas from Vancouver to Toronto and from Seattle to Boston.

Our objective was to summarize what is known about the current population of resident Canada geese and their distribution in each of the 4 flyways. In this paper, we have used the terms "resident Canada geese" or "giant Canada geese," depending upon types of geese present and local or regional application. The most definitive information was available for the Mississippi Flyway, followed by the Atlantic, Central, and Pacific. Because of these differences and the emphasis we placed on giant Canada geese, we were not able to treat each flyway in a similar manner. Although information gaps exist, what was known about resident Canada geese from other stocks in the western states was included to the best of our ability.

Special thanks to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service flyway representatives Jerry Serie, Kenneth Gamble, David Sharp, and James Bartonek, who provided current flyway information. Thanks also to the many state waterfowl biologists who provided more specific information concerning population status and management issues in their respective states.

A special salute to the late Robert Oetting, personal friend and professional colleague, who was dedicated to promoting better public understanding and improved management of giant Canada geese. The spirit behind this paper is his.

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