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Research project tracks movement, survival of urban Canada geese

  • 1/12/2021 12:29:00 PM
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A recently completed three-year study to better understand how Canada geese utilize metro Des Moines will be used to revise the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Canada goose management plan.

Orrin Jones, state waterfowl biologist with the Iowa DNR, collaborated with Iowa State University to mark 71 urban and rural female Canada geese with GPS GSM transmitters and monitored their movements between 2018-2020.

“Modern urban development, specifically short grass adjacent to open water, is very attractive to geese. It’s remarkable how geese have learned to exploit habitat in urban areas and how well they move through urban areas from May to August despite being largely flightless for most of that time,” Jones said.

Geese in the metro area are highly visible to Iowans and interact with Iowans at a disproportionately high rate versus rural birds, Jones said, and this high rate of interaction could influence perceptions of Iowans towards these birds.

Canada geese are a tremendous conservation success story. After being locally extinct in Iowa from 1907 to 1964, the Iowa Conservation Commission, the agency that preceded the DNR, and its fellow states within the Mississippi Flyway Council, worked together to restore Iowa’s breeding population. By 1993, there was at least one nesting pair of Canada geese in all 99 counties.

“Canada geese are an important natural resource that provide Iowans with aesthetic and ecological values in addition to recreational harvest by waterfowl hunters. Goose use of urban areas is a relatively recent occurrence and our collective knowledge about how the birds behave in this novel habitat was limited,” he said.  “This study showed us that urban geese use habitat that is less accessible to hunters than rural geese, but survive at a similar rate as the statewide population, and are most susceptible to hunter harvest in September and October when their range and movements are the largest.”

Jones said the DNR will review and refine the Canada goose hunting seasons and urban zone boundaries based on this study, while recognizing municipal ordinances constrain the use of hunting to address conflicts with geese within city limits.

“We believe there is an opportunity to increase the effectiveness of hunting as a population management tool if municipalities allow hunting within city limits at locations where it is safe and feasible to hunt waterfowl,” Jones said. “We are also learning more about nonlethal management of geese, such as nest removal, habitat management, and improving our monitoring program.”

The study included more than 2 million recorded goose locations which produced some interesting patterns.

“We found that the behavior and movement of individual geese was highly variable. For example, we had one goose that from August to September roosted on a rooftop in an industrial complex in West Des Moines, once winter weather occurred in December the goose migrated to Missouri and spent the winter in a rural area near a large wildlife refuge. In March the goose returned to nest on a rooftop in West Des Moines. We removed the nest to monitor the response to this management action. After an unsuccessful nesting effort the goose migrated north to the western shore of Hudson Bay in the province of Nunavut, spent the summer there and returned to Iowa in September. That’s a round trip of more than 2,000-miles.”

And, according to the transmitters, she wasn’t alone. The largest migration occurred in late May and early June when unsuccessful nesters headed to northern Canada.

“This study provided a tremendous amount of data and answered a lot of our questions. We have a better understanding of Canada geese, from both urban and rural Iowa. This will allow us to better tailor our management to the resource,” Jones said.

Urban goose research project presented live online

Join state waterfowl biologist Orrin Jones and his fellow researchers for virtual meeting via Facebook and Zoom on Feb. 3, starting at 11:30 a.m., where they will discuss research project, unique goose stories, what they learned and how the data will be used.

To participate via Zoom go to to join, and if a passcode is required, use Goose2021. To participate via Facebook go to