Dusky Canada Goose

Branta canadensis occidentalis
Dusky - Jim Cruce_520x289
The Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge is a winter home to six subspecies of Canada geese including Taverner’s, dusky, western, cackling, lesser, and Vancouvers. On any given day in the fall and winter you are bound to see hundreds, if not thousands of geese in fields, wetlands, flying overhead, and even walking along the roadway. However, what the casual observer may not notice at first is that these flocks of geese are often very different in size, shade of greys and browns, and even behavior.

Most of these geese will fly north when temperatures warm up and food becomes available in their spring and summer homes. However, they do not all fly to the same place. As populations of geese have mated and raised young in separate areas over long periods of time, they have become slightly different from each other. These subspecies do share a similar look, but not exactly. They are still all of the same species; however they are somewhat different physically and genetically.
The dusky represents one of the smallest subspecies populations of geese in North America and requires protection and habitat to insure its continued existence. Both breeding and wintering areas for the dusky are extremely limited. In the spring and summer you will find them 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. In the fall they concentrate along the Willamette and lower Columbia rivers. National Wildlife Refuges in these areas have been created to respond to the need for for dusky other waterfowl habitat.

Habitat changes throughout the wintering and breeding areas have contributed to declines of duskys. In March 1964 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 aim of the Ridgefield Refuge is to provide food and shelter over the winter for those that are successful in their breeding grounds. Those individuals that continue to be healthy throughout the winter will have a much better chance at returning home to successfully breed again.  

This is done by providing open fields for duskys to graze in and limiting disturbance around those areas. Many fields are mowed or grazed by cattle to create the proper conditions. Staff and volunteers monitor the geese by doing weekly counts of subspecies in the fall and winter, documenting not only total numbers of birds but also what areas different subspecies prefer. Hunting for waterfowl on and off the refuge is strictly monitored and controlled to reduce the occurrence of dusky harvest.  Visitation in public areas is also limited during these winter months as not to disturb resting waterfowl.    

Facts About Dusky Canada Goose

Feeds on the nutrient-rich grasses that grow in the wet, mild winters of WA and OR.

Medium to large Canada goose with a dark brown breast and back.

Feed in smaller fields and areas with fewer geese than other subspecies.

Red collars with white numbers help to track duskys along their migration routes.