SHIFT­ING MI­GRA­TIONS

Outdoor Life - - SHOOTING -

Waves of black, honk­ing Vs point­ing south, rid­ing a cold tail­wind, is a har­bin­ger of win­ter. But fewer south­ern and mid­coun­try states are see­ing the mas­sive mi­gra­tions of Canada geese that they used to, ac­cord­ing to Dr. Tom Moor­man, chief sci­en­tist for Ducks Un­lim­ited.

Canada geese are big-bod­ied, hardy birds, and they can store plenty of fat to sur­vive in cold weather. Mis­sis­sippi Fly­way geese, for ex­am­ple, breed around James Bay and Hud­son Bay and will mi­grate only as far south as nec­es­sary to find open wa­ter and a good food source. So, eas­ier win­ters with min­i­mal snow­fall and farm­ing prac­tices that leave more food in the field up north means that geese don’t have to mi­grate as far south.

“It takes a tough win­ter to push them south,” Moor­man says. “Geese will win­ter as far north as Wis­con­sin if they don’t get pushed.”

And be­cause geese mi­grate in fam­ily groups, when young geese are con­di­tioned to short­stop their mi­gra­tion, they’ll con­tinue do­ing so as adults, he says.

Moor­man has wit­nessed the mi­gra­tion shift on his home hunt­ing grounds in Arkansas. Decades ago, Moor­man used to kill piles of Canadas there dur­ing the fall, and now that’s a rar­ity. How­ever, these days white-fronted geese (aka specks) and snow geese reg­u­larly show up dur­ing the duck sea­son. Tra­di­tion­ally, these birds win­tered down on the Texas coast.

Over­all, Canada goose pop­u­la­tions in ev­ery fly­way are ei­ther sta­ble or in­creas­ing, ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent U.S. Fish & Wildlife sur­vey. And boom­ing lo­cal pop­u­la­tions of Canada geese con­tinue to give hun­ters an op­por­tu­nity at special early sea­sons in some states (North Dakota, for ex­am­ple, has an Au­gust sea­son). But other tra­di­tional waterfowl hunt­ing des­ti­na­tions are on the out­side look­ing in when it comes to mi­grat­ing honkers.

“The [win­ter­time] dis­tri­bu­tion of Canada geese has changed, and it’s been go­ing on for a while,” Moor­man says, “These are highly adapt­able birds do­ing what they do best.” —A.R.

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