Emperor Geese are an importance subsistence food and an iconic species on Alaskan coastal and tundra landscapes. Truly Alaska’s Goose, 80-90% of the world's population nest on the Yukon-Kuskokwim River Delta and migrate and winter within other parts of Alaska. After a near collapse in the 1980s and subsequent closure to all hunting, the emperor goose population grew slowly and was opened for spring-summer subsistence hunting in April 2017 and fall-winter general hunting in September 2017.

What do Emperor Geese look like? 

The emperor goose is a small and stocky goose with a short pink-lavender bill, gray body, orange legs, white tail feathers, and a clean white head that sometimes gets stained orange during the breeding season. Adults are blue-gray overall, with stark black-and-white edging to the feathers that creates a scaly appearance. The emperor goose gets its western name from the adult’s white crown and hindneck, which appeared to early explorers like ermine trim on a royal cloak. The Yupik name for this beautiful goose loosely means “the one having a parka hood”.

  • Winter: Adults in winter have a distinctive black throat and white head and back of neck.  
  • Summer: During the breeding season, some adult emperor geese have an orange-stained head and neck.  
  • Juveniles: similar to adults in size but have a dark bill and gray (or mixed gray and white) head and neck. 

 

Where are Emperor Geese found? 

The emperor goose is truly “Alaska’s Goose”. Eighty percent of the world’s emperor geese breed along the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta coast, with the remaining nesting along coastal areas of northwest Alaska and in Siberia. Most emperor geese tough out the winter along the Alaska Peninsula, the Aleutian Islands, and Kodiak Island. They spend the majority of their life in Alaska; some only venturing to Russia to molt.

Migration: along western coast of Alaska and Bering Sea islands, and along the Alaska Peninsula.

Russia: Summer: The north-east Arctic coast of Russia (Siberia). This includes emperor geese from Alaska that fly over to Russia to molt their feathers before returning to Alaska for the winter.

 

Where do Emperor Geese nest and raise their families? 

  • Majority nest on the Y-K Delta (80-90% of the global population) 
  • Some along Bering-Strait/Norton Sound area (e.g., Seward Peninsula) 
  • Some breed in north-east Russia 
  • They nest in low tundra grasslands near edges of rivers, sloughs, and ponds.  
  • They feed on grasses, berries and leaves of sedges during spring, summer, and fall. Sometimes called the beach goose or painted goose, emperor geese are birds of rocky beaches and brackish wetlands. While on wintering grounds located along rocky coasts, they eat eelgrass, seaweed, sea lettuce, algae, mussels, and barnacles. 

How many eggs do emperor geese lay? 

Emperor geese lay between 1 and 8 eggs; they lay an average of 5 creamy white eggs. 

Will emperor geese nest again if they lose all their eggs? 

No. Emperor geese do not re-nest (make a new nest) or replace eggs within a season. 

Do emperor geese nest every year? 

No. Some mature females do not nest every year. 

How many goslings do emperor geese have and how many survive to become adults?  

  • The number of goslings depends on the number of eggs laid, and the number that hatch. Often 3 to 5 goslings hatch.    
  • The number of goslings that make it to adulthood is very low. Only 1 out of 10 goslings that hatch survive to their first year. 

 

What is the status of the emperor goose population/how many are there?

In 2021, the population index for emperor geese remained at a level where the consideration of conservation measures for the spring-summer and fall-winter hunts is recommended. The population index has been in this range since 2019. This drop in numbers may be for a variety of reasons and additional surveys will inform whether the apparent decline continues and potentially requires further conservation actions for emperor geese.

Global population estimate: ~140,000 (as of 2019)

Alaska (as of 2019)

  • YK-Delta: ~112,000-126,000  
  • Bering Strait/Norton Sound Area: ~2,000 
  • Russia: ~12,000-26,000 

How does the US Fish and Wildlife Service count emperor geese and determine the number of geese in Alaska? 

  • Thetool used to monitor emperor geese, the Y-K Delta Coastal Zone aerial survey, covers the entire coastal fringe of the Y-K Delta, from the area near Kotlik in the north to Kipnuk in the south.The goal of this survey is to gather big picture information about the abundance of emperor geese (throughout their range on the Y-K Delta), including areas used at higher and lower densities.   
  • The Pacific Flyway Council and the Alaska Migratory Bird Co-Management Council selected the Y-K Delta Coastal Zone aerial survey to be the method used to gauge the status of the population and establish hunting regulations.  
  • Emperor geese and other waterbirds are counted on the Y-K Delta using a small aircraft and trained aircrew members. Aerial surveys are flown over areas where emperor geese breed and the aircraft is flown low enough so that the aircrew can properly identify the birds.  
  • Aircrew members count all the geese they see that are within 200 m of the airplane. The numbers are then entered into a mathematical program that estimates the index to the abundance of emperor geese for the entire coastal zone of the Y-K Delta.   
  • The index is a representation of how the birds are doing. When done in a place where the highest concentrations of birds are located, at the same time relative to nesting every year, and using the same crew, an index count can tell us whether the population is going up or down. Surveyors know that they don't count every bird within a survey area, and that not every bird in the population occurs within the survey area.  However, by using an index we can come up with a consistent metric to help us understand the status of the population.  
  • In recent years, the index count has declined to levels that have raised concern. During this same time period emperor geese were opened to harvest, suggesting harvest may be a factor contributing to the decline. To conserve emperor geese for the future, we are asking hunters to voluntarily limit harvest now, which has the potential to reverse the apparent recent decline and provide hunting opportunities in the future. If the index count of emperor geese keeps declining, all hunting for this species will likely be closed.

 

What makes emperor geese different from other Arctic nesting geese?

  • Slow population growth rate.
  • Low reproductive rate – they do not mate until they are 3 years old.
  • Low juvenile survival – only 1 out of 10 goslings survive the first year.
  • Low recruitment – even fewer juveniles survive 3 years to become breeders.
  • They do not breed every year.
  • In addition, most spend their entire lives in Alaska. They must survive winters on the Alaska Peninsula, Aleutian Islands, and Kodiak Island where food is limited, and the weather is harsh. Other geese travel to the lower 48 to graze on agricultural lands where food is abundant.

 

 

 

When is the spring-summer subsistence hunt? 

  • Customary and traditional hunting allowed in subsistence eligible communities April 2-August 31 (see regulations booklet for seasonal closures)
  • Egg harvest of emperor geese is closed statewide. Do not take emperor goose eggs.
  • Federal Duck Stamps are not required to participate in this hunt.
  • A State hunting license and State Duck Stamp are required for most hunters. Visit the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website for more information.

As a subsistence hunter, what you can do to help conserve emperor geese for the future?

  • Consider harvesting other species of waterfowl like white-fronted geese (speckle bellies).
  • Take fewer emperor geese.
  • Don’t shoot entire family groups.
  • Don’t flock shoot; target a single bird to reduce injuries.
  • Harvest young birds in the fall (look for their gray heads)
  • If you are a hunter, please consider reducing your take to help ensure this species will continue to nest and winter in sufficient numbers to allow for harvest. It will take all of us to conserve emperor geese for the future.

When is the fall-winter general hunt? 

  • Emperor goose hunting in the fall-winter season is open to Alaska residents by registration permit and to nonresidents by drawing permit.
  • Alaska residents also may hunt emperor geese by proxy during the fall-winter season for eligible residents.
  • All Alaska residents that hunt during the fall and winter (starting September 1st) need to comply with federal/state hunting regulations. Regulations for the fall-winter season differ from those for the spring-summer subsistence season.
  • A State hunting license and both State and Federal Duck Stamps are required for this hunt.
  • The Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Board of Game established 7 hunt areas across the range of emperor geese each with an individual quota that together add to 500 or 1000 birds depending on their population status.
  • A hunt area will close after shooting hours on the last day of the season or by Emergency Order when the area quota is met. Thus, it is important that successful hunters follow the reporting requirement of the registration permits and report their harvest of an emperor goose during the required time period to minimize overharvest and possible hunt closures the following year.
  • Visit the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website for details of obtaining a registration, drawing or proxy permit, season dates, hunt conditions, and hunting and reporting requirements.
  • If you are a hunter, please consider reducing your take to help ensure this species will continue to nest and winter in sufficient numbers to allow for harvest. It will take all of us to conserve emperor geese for the future.

     

     

    Can I hunt emperor geese in my area? 

    • In 2017, emperor geese were opened for spring-summer and fall-winter harvest and remain open.  
    • Emperor geese are currently in an apparent decline since a peak count in 2016. 
    • During spring and summer (April 2 to August 31), emperor geese can only be harvested by eligible participants in included subsistence harvest areas. See the current Alaska subsistence spring/summer migratory bird harvest regulations for details.   
    • Fall-winter harvest (generally starting September 1, but season dates depend on game management unit) is by registration permit only with regulations in place. Check with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for season dates, bag limits, and additional information. 

     

     

    Why is the emperor goose population apparently declining again?   

    • Emperor goose populations are slow growing, making population recovery challenging.   
    • Emperor goose populations have slower growth potential due to several life history traits: 
    • Lower reproductive rate – they do not mate until they are 3 years old and do not nest every year 
    • Lower juvenile survival and recruitment – only 1 out of 10 goslings survive the first year, and even fewer juveniles survive to 3 years old to become breeders   

     

    A number of other factors are also likely contributing to the decline

    • Changes in food resources and habitats related to climate change climate change
      Climate change includes both global warming driven by human-induced emissions of greenhouse gases and the resulting large-scale shifts in weather patterns. Though there have been previous periods of climatic change, since the mid-20th century humans have had an unprecedented impact on Earth's…

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    • Accessibility to food resources in winter months 
    • Harvest 
    • Oil pollution and impacts on marine resources 
    • The combination of environmental and human-caused pressures with the life history traits of emperor geese make it harder for populations to grow like other goose species in Alaska. 

    Why should I limit my harvest of emperor geese? 

    Emperor Geese are in an apparent decline.  Harvest regulations were determined by the Pacific Flyway and the Alaska Migratory Bird Co-Management Councils (AMBCC), and described in their Emperor Goose Management Plans adopted in 2016. In 2019, the population of Emperor Geese declined below the threshold where conservation measures were considered.  In the fall of 2019, the AMBCC decided not to make any regulatory changes for the 2020 spring/summer hunting season, but to pursue increased education and outreach activities. The goal of these outreach activities is to conserve emperor geese by voluntary harvest reductions so these birds could remain open for harvest by future generations. 

    What makes emperor geese more vulnerable to overharvest than other Arctic nesting geese? 

    • Lower reproductive rate – they do not mate until they are 3 years old and do not nest every year 
    • Lower juvenile survival and recruitment – only 1 out of 10 goslings survive the first year, and even fewer juveniles survive to 3 years old to become breeders 
    • Emperor geese may be more susceptible to hunting than other Arctic geese, given they spend the majority of the year in remote areas with no hunting pressure.  Other species of Arctic geese winter in agricultural areas in the continental US, where there may be significant hunting pressure, and thus their avoidance behaviors may be better developed.       

    What can I do to make sure my children and grandchildren have opportunities to hunt emperor geese? 

    • Do not take eggs. Gathering of emperor goose eggs is closed statewide. 
    • Choose to hunt other geese that are doing well like white-fronted geese (speckle bellies) and cackling geese (cacklers). 
    • Harvest only juveniles; taking adults removes breeding birds from the population. 
    • Target one bird and don’t shoot at groups; this will reduce the chance of accidentally injuring a bird. 

     

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    Learn more about emperor geese in Alaska and conservation efforts through these infographics.

    Graphic depicting emperor goose in different stage of its life cycle.

    Learn how to identify emperor geese through all stages of their life cycle.

    Graphic depicting emperor goose life cycle and a map of where it can be found.

    Learn about the life history of the emperor goose.

    Graphic depicting threats to emperor geese during their life cycle.

    Learn about the threats that emperor geese face during their annual life cycle.

    Graphic depicting conservation actions you can take to help emperor geese.

    Learn more about the current status of emperor geese and what you can do to help conserve emperor geese for future generations.

    Map of Alaska showing the range of the emperor goose with conservation logo in the upper right corner