Dusky Canada Geese

Branta canadensis occidentalis

The dusky is a subspecies of Canada goose that breeds only in the Copper River Delta area on the south-central coast of Alaska and on islands in the Prince William Sound and Gulf of Alaska.  They winter primarily in the Willamette Valley and along the lower Columbia River of Oregon and Washington.  The dusky represents one of the smallest subspecies populations of geese in North America.

In the fall duskies migrate south along the Pacific coast, arriving at their wintering grounds of southwest Washington and western Oregon in October and November. Here they feed on nutrient-rich grasses that grow in the wet, mild winters until they depart in early April.


In the late 1950s, managers recognized that wintering habitat for duskies was limited and hunting needed to be restricted to protect duskies.  At that time, duskies made up about 2/3 of the geese in the Willamette Valley, and it was recognized that the area was essential to their winter survival.

Habitat changes throughout the wintering and breeding areas have contributed to declines of duskiness.  In March 1964, at about the time the refuges were being established, a major earthquake lifted the Copper River Delta 2 to 6 feet.  Since that time, the uplifted area has changed from tidal wetlands to uplands, and open habitat has become increasingly closed as trees and shrubs have quickly invaded the area.  Predators such as bears, foxes, and other mammals have become more common in the breeding area.  Increased cover for these predators also makes it easier for them to prey on geese and their eggs.

The Willamette Valley Refuges were established to protect winter habitat for duskies and they are managed accordingly.  Duskies tend to congregate around the refuges, which provide wetlands for roosting and grass fields as food for the geese.  Waterfowl hunting was banned from the refuges in the mid-1980s to protect duskies.  Disturbance to geese is limited by closing areas of the refuges between October 31st and April 1st when the duskies are here.  In addition, hunting restrictions have been put in place in areas where duskies commonly occur.

Without protection, duskies would be more vulnerable to hunting than other subspecies because of their behavior.  Duskies feed in smaller fields and areas with fewer geese than other subspecies of Canada geese.  They approach lower and circle less before landing in a field.  Currently there are restrictions to discourage the harvest of duskies.  Hunters in the area must take a goose identification test to get a license to hunt geese.  Hunters must check their geese at goose check stations in the area to determine what subspecies of goose were killed.  If a hunter kills a dusky, the hunter is not allowed to hunt for the remainder of the season.  Once a quota of duskies is reached for the region, the goose season is ended.

Facts About Dusky Canada Geese




Medium to large Canada goose subspecies, dark brown breast and back