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.