Nature Note – Where Are All the Snow Geese?

Snow geese: a highlight of autumn in the Champlain Valley. Photo from Wikipedia.

The flocks of snow geese that cruise through the Champlain Valley lift our hearts during the autumn. The numbers and locations of these flocks rise and fall and shift through time. Once they were common on the Vermont side of the lake in Addison, now one is more likely to encounter them on the New York side of the lake in Pt. Au Roche.

Writer and field biologist Bryan Pfeifer has written an excellent summary of the changes in the snow goose population over time from about the 1980s, when the geese first began to appear in Addison. At that time the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department encouraged agricultural practices that would entice the birds to land. Their actions coincided with tremendous growth in the snow goose population. In the three decades between 1980 and 2010, the snow goose population in their breeding grounds increased from about 200,000 to upwards of 1-million. The increased population put pressures on the ecology of the breeding grounds where they overtaxed the resources available and the economy of farms in the wintering grounds where they devastated croplands. This led to efforts to control the population by increasing hunting pressure during migration and on the breeding grounds. As a result the population  has since stabilized at about 800,000. Now the geese find food available throughout the Champlain Valley as corn production has increased.

Pfeifer also compiles the latest reports of snow geese numbers in the region. The largest number of snow geese in the Champlain Valley this year has been reported from the fields and waters around Pt. Au Roche State Park. Upwards of 10,000 birds were there as of November 11th. The Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area in Addison, VT still hosts large numbers of birds, though fewer than in the past. Approximately 3,200 geese were reported on November 10th. We can expect the birds will continue to stream through the region at least through December.