Delta Waterfowl Examines Goose Estimates

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When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service releases its annual Waterfowl Population Status report, the total number of ducks, including specific species such as mallards, pintails, and canvasbacks, receives almost all of the attention.

But the report also provides valuable insights about upcoming goose seasons. So, is a honking good time headed to your flyway for the 2023-2024 season? Here’s a breakdown of nesting conditions and breeding population estimates of North America’s light and dark geese.

Central Flyway

For the Central Flyway, the Western Prairie and Great Plains Populations of Canada geese declined a whopping 42% to 1.03 million birds—importantly, however, the birds remain 1% above the 10-year average. Further, habitat conditions were generally good across their vast breeding ranges; Western Prairie geese nest in eastern Saskatchewan and western Manitoba, while Great Plains geese nest in Saskatchewan, the Dakotas and as far south as northern Texas.

Additionally, a state survey by North Dakota estimated a decline among Canada geese by 27%; however they were at an all-time high in 2022. The estimated 297,000 Canada geese still represent a strong population.

And as noted, the mid-continent specklebelly population remains a strong 3.14 million, conditions for nesting are thought to have delivered extraordinary production of specks, as well as mid-continent cacklers, snows, and Ross’s geese.

Mississippi Flyway

The Mississippi Flyway Giant Population of Canada geese is estimated at 1.34 million, a 6% decline but equal to the 10-year average. Despite a late spring in some cases, the birds found strong nesting conditions throughout most of their breeding range, which includes the Mississippi Flyway states, southern Ontario, and southern Manitoba.

The Southern Hudson Bay Population—geese that nest on Hudson and James Bays—was not surveyed this spring. The 2022 survey estimated a breeding population of 113,000 birds.

Minnesota’s state survey of breeding Canada geese was unchanged from 2022. But, its estimate of 115,000 remains 26% below the long-term average.

Resident Canada geese continue to thrive in Wisconsin, though. The state’s estimate of 169,447 geese is down 1% from last year, but still 58% higher than the long-term mean.

Additionally, mid-continent white-fronted geese (specklebellies) were estimated at a thriving 3.14 million birds, just 2% below the 10-year average. However, their breeding conditions—from their western range in Alaska east to Hudson Bay—were exceptional! A nearly stable flight of specks, coupled with a potentially increased proportion of juveniles, is expected for the Mississippi and Central flyways.

These same strong conditions would’ve also benefit mid-continent cackling geese, snows, and Ross’s geese. Federal and provincial banding crews are reporting phenomenal numbers of goslings for these species. However, due to lack of banding during the Covid years, population estimates based off banding and harvest data are not available. Expect updated population estimates next year.

By Kyle Wintersteen (Delta Waterfowl)

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