Management Implications of Molt Migration by the Atlantic Flyway Resident Population of Canada Geese, Branta canadensis


  • Susan E. Sheaffer Department of Natural Resources, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853
  • Richard A. Malecki U.S. Geological Survey, New York Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Department of Natural Resources, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853
  • Bryan L. Swift New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Bureau of Wildlife, Game Bird Unit, 625 Broadway, Albany, New York 12233
  • John Dunn Pennsylvania Game Commission, 911 Big Spring Road, Shippensburg, Pennsylvania 17257
  • Kim Scribner Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan 48824



Branta canadensis, Canada Geese, molt migration, temperate-nesting, Resident Population, Atlantic Flyway


We used satellite-tracked transmitters in 2001 and 2003 to document the timing, location, and extent of molt migrations by female Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) affiliated with the Atlantic Flyway Resident Population (AFRP) of Canada Geese that breed in the temperate region of eastern North America. Twenty-seven adult females were captured during the nesting period in late May and fitted with a satellite transmitter mounted either on a plastic neck collar or backpack harness. Nests of 24 birds were destroyed late in incubation to prevent renesting and ensure nest failure; three females did not have nests. Twelve of the 27 birds (44%) made a northward migration to molt in northern Quebec, Canada: seven to the eastern coast of Hudson Bay (58°12'N, 76°60'W), three to lowland areas east of James Bay (53°30'N, 79°02'W), and two to interior locations south of Ungava Bay (55°54'N, 68°24'W). Molt migrants were present in northern Quebec from June to September, a period that coincides with breeding ground aerial surveys and banding operations conducted for Atlantic Population (AP) Canada Geese that breed in this same region of northern Quebec. With >1 million AFRP geese estimated in the Atlantic Flyway, the potential exists for substantial numbers of yearling, sub-adult, and nest-failed or non-breeding adults to molt migrate to northern breeding areas and bias efforts to survey and mark AP geese. Within AFRP breeding areas, many local flocks have reached nuisance levels. We hypothesized that by inducing molt migration in breeding adults, through destruction of nests late in incubation, we would lessen recruitment, reduce numbers of summer resident adults with young, and increase adult mortality from hunting. However, molt migration behavior was not uniform throughout our study area. Molt migrants were from rural areas in New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont, whereas marked birds that did not make molt migrations were from more coastal regions of the flyway. The 14 birds that did not make a molt migration remained within 60 km of their banding site. A genetic comparison of these two groups revealed no detectable differences. We conclude that failure to undergo a molt migration is likely attributed to the historical origin of captive-reared birds of mixed subspecies that comprise AFRP flocks in the eastern regions of the flyway and the availability of quality local habitat, distinct from brood-rearing areas, for molting.