Greater White-fronted Goose Survey - Mid-Continent Population

This goose is difficult if not impossible to survey on its extensive arctic breeding range stretching from the North Slope of Alaska to the Foxe Basin in Nunuvat. Their winter range is not much smaller reaching from the Louisiana coast well into the Mexican highlands. However, it is a highly sought-after species by hunters and more vulnerable to the gun than other goose species. Obtaining an annual index of the population size is important.

Beginning in 1958, waterfowl managers took advantage of the bird's behavior of "staging" or congregating in the Rainwater Basin (RWB) of south central Nebraska each March before continuing their migration northward. While counts were made to the south and north at the same time aerial counts were made in Nebraska, it was typical that greater than 90% would be found in RWB. Data from winter counts were used to estimate the size of an Eastern and Western segment of the population.

By 1990, the March survey in Nebraska became confounded by an enormous increase in the number of light (snow and Ross's) geese in the RWB. Counts of light geese were well over a million birds and, beyond separating relatively small flocks of white-fronts from huge flocks of light geese, low-level flying became extremely dangerous. The last survey was attempted in 1992. Fortunately, work was already underway in southern Saskatchewan and Alberta and it was thought that most white-fronts staged there in the Fall. Formal experimental counts were conducted between 1992-94 and the results from that aerial survey became the "official" index of population size. The concept of separate Eastern and Western Segments was relegated to history in 1997 with data from a large study of geese neck-collared on the breeding ground.