Canada Goose – Mississippi Valley Population (Branta canadensis interior)
Canada Goose by Scott FrankeCanada Goose distribution map


Population Information

Life History

Habitat Selection

The Mississippi Valley Population (MVP) of Canada Goose breeds in sedge and shrub fen habitats of northern Ontario and northeast Manitoba where nests are located on high hummocks, islands in ponds and streams, and beach ridges (Bruggink et al. 1994, Abraham et al. 2001). Brood habitat in coastal areas consists of intertidal salt marshes, supratidal marshes, and freshwater sedge fens (Bruggink et al. 1994) but is not well documented in far interior areas (Raveling and Lumsden 1977). Grasses, sedges (Carex spp.), and horsetails (Equisetum spp.) are the primary foods early in the breeding cycle and are supplemented with insect larvae at the onset of egg laying (Gates 1989).

MVP geese are present in Wisconsin only in the fall, winter, and spring months. Fall migrant MVP geese in Wisconsin use lakes and wetlands as well as corn fields and other agricultural areas from October to December (Gates et al. 2001). Use of wheat stubble, clover/alfalfa, and other forage can be high, especially during early fall. Use of agricultural areas prior to crop harvest has led to crop damage, resulting in the development of a special crop damage program and Canada goose control permits in the Horicon zone. Because of the abundance of waste grain, food is not a limiting factor for MVP geese in Wisconsin; however, water areas free from hunting or other disturbance may be limiting (Coluccy et al. 2006). Although MVP geese also feed in corn fields during spring migration, other food sources become increasingly important in providing the proteins and other nutrients required for breeding activities (Moser and Tacha 1988). Particularly during the months of February and March, geese incorporate more forage, wild seeds, tubers, roots, and stolons into their diet in preparation for the breeding season. 

Habitat Availability

MVP geese traditionally migrated into Wisconsin in mid to late September and concentrated in south-central Wisconsin, particularly at Horicon Marsh. In the 1970s, up to 80% of the MVP Canada Goose winter population (250,000-300,000 birds) stopped at Horicon and surrounding areas (Miller 1998). This region remains their primary fall and wintering area today, although concentrations of giant Canada Geese and available habitat may be causing shifts from traditional managed staging areas (Abraham et al. 1998) to non-managed areas on private lands. The increasing number of urban impoundments and residential developments around lakes and ponds has provided an abundance of protected roost sites outside of government-managed refuges. Moreover, recent changes in agricultural practices have resulted in increased food availability for staging and wintering geese. For instance, the acreage of corn and wheat stubble has increased significantly in recent years and more waste grain is now available on conservation tilled fields (Abraham et al. 1998). 

Because of their more complex dietary needs in the spring, habitat considerations may be more important during this time of year. Gates et al. (2001) raised the concern that the recent increases in goose-use-days in east-central Wisconsin in the fall and winter could reduce the availability of corn that geese need to deposit large lipid reserves during spring staging. Small wetlands and associated lowland pastures in east-central Wisconsin also provide important spring staging areas and may be limiting in this area (Caithamer 1989, Wheeler et al. 1998).

Population Concerns

MVP Canada Geese are a popular game species within Wisconsin and throughout their range. Native American people harvest approximately 33,000 MVP geese annually in northern Ontario as part of a spring subsistence hunt. Total MVP fall hunting harvest has ranged from approximately 130,000 to 230,000. The harvest, harvest rate and spring population of MVP geese are monitored annually to adjust hunting regulations and maintain a spring breeding population of 375,000 (+/-50,000). Since 1989, MVP Canada Geese have been monitored by aerial breeding surveys conducted in northern Ontario. Over this 18-year period, breeding population estimates have shown modest fluctuations and no statistically significant trends. The population has averaged 365,000 individuals with a range from 236,000 to 494,000. However, these estimates do not include the non-breeding adults present on the coast each spring.

Population estimates from the non-breeding season have been less consistent. During the twenty year period of the Mississippi Flyway December goose surveys, MVP populations fluctuated from a low of 251,000 in 1981 to more than one million in 1989. After 1997, the December goose counts in the Mississippi Flyway were eliminated because of the difficulty in separating the populations (i.e., Eastern Prairie Population, MVP, Southern James Bay Population, Giants). The December goose counts, band recoveries and flyway-wide Midwinter Waterfowl counts still conducted each January have documented that MVP geese in Wisconsin have increased their length of stay and their statewide distribution has expanded.

The most significant long-term threat for the Mississippi Valley Canada Goose population is likely breeding habitat degradation from Snow Goose populations. Until the late 1970s, the only major overlap between MVP geese and Snow Geese occurred in the immediate Cape Henrietta Maria region. The Snow Goose colony in this area quadrupled between 1979 and 1996 (to over 200,000 breeding pairs) and has consequently degraded important MVP nesting and brood-rearing habitats. It is not known whether these areas will continue to support current MVP numbers.

Recommended Management

State and provincial wildlife management agencies within the MVP range should monitor land use and adaptively manage public lands based on valid research and/or unique local circumstances. In Wisconsin, shallow wetland habitats are important as spring staging areas and should be conservation priorities. Annual changes in hunting regulations relative to changes in breeding population will continue to be adjusted to achieve appropriate harvest rates. It is recommended that the Mississippi Flyway Council, a partnership of 17 states and provinces, continue to oversee these management decisions. As a member of this group, the state of Wisconsin contributes to the funding of spring breeding surveys and breeding ground research and cooperates on harvest monitoring and management.

Research Needs

The Mississippi Flyway Council MVP management plan has identified these research needs for the MVP:

High Priority

Medium Priority

Low Category

Information Sources


Contact Information

Kreitinger, K., Y. Steele and A. Paulios, editors. 2013.
The Wisconsin All-bird Conservation Plan, Version 2.0. Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative.
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Madison, WI.

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