Archived Story

Large Canada geese in abundance [UPDATED]

Published 10:02am Monday, December 10, 2012 Updated 12:13pm Monday, December 10, 2012

People in and around Fergus Falls and throughout Otter Tail County have noticed large numbers of Canada geese.

Waterfowl biologists, as noted in the November/December issue of “Ducks Unlimited,” believe there are more Canada geese in North America today than at any time in history.

The annual Canada goose harvest in the United States has soared from an average of less than 500,000 birds during the 1960s to more than 2.5 million in recent years.

“Much of this harvest increase can be attributed to the growth of giant Canada goose populations,” said Dr. John Coluccy of DU’s Great Lakes office in Ann Arbor, Mich.

He said that in the early 1980s, giant Canada geese comprised only about 15 percent of the total Canada goose harvest in the Mississippi Flyway. This proportion increased to more than 70 percent by the year 2010.

Coluccy said the giant Canada goose is the largest of seven generally recognized subspecies.

“Historically, the nesting range of these large geese extended from the prairies of southern Canada across the Upper Midwest to the Great Lakes and south through the Mississippi River Valley to Tennessee,” said Coluccy. “Lewis and Clark, in 1804, observed giant Canada geese nesting near the Missouri River during their westward journey.”

By the early 20th century, however, this subspecies was thought to be extinct.

During the early 1960s a small remnant population was discovered near Rochester, Minn.

In the early 1960s, the Fergus Falls Fish and Game Club made a major effort to restore Canada geese. Although nearly depleted, the geese were native to the Fergus Falls area. Sixteen breeding pairs of geese were delivered to the Fergus Falls levee near the Otter Tail River, northeast of downtown Fergus Falls. That’s where goose pens and fencing were located.

Over the years the geese learned they that would have open water and food along the Otter Tail River. In 1964, a flock of about 50 Canadian geese stopped by the pens in Fergus Falls, on their way north. Those flocks, and others, paid return visits, with many geese staying over.

“The Canada goose mates for life, but will re-mate the next spring if a mate is lost,” said Fergus Falls area goose hunter Mark Ronning. “I’ve taken geese as old as 16 (by band) from the Fergus flock, but now I mostly get migrants. The locals are really decoy-shy, and they know just how far a shotgun can reach.”

Also writing for the same “Ducks Unlimited” article was David Graber, a regional conservation coordinator. He shared some views about why giant Canada geese have thrived.

“In general, Canada geese are long-lived birds with relatively high survival and low reproductive rates,” said Graber. “However, larger bodied subspecies have higher survival and reproductive rates than their smaller cousins.”

He said that giant Canada geese begin nesting at a younger age and can defend themselves and their nests from most predators.

“Giant Canada geese nest in temperate regions where the weather is more favorable and the breeding season is longer,” said Graber. “This gives the birds time to renest if their initial nesting attempts are unsuccessful.”

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