Alaska’s Wetlands are critical to migrating birds. Wetlands along Alaska’s coast are extremely productive areas where nutrients from the land flow down to the sea and nutrients from the sea are brought inland by the tides. Coastal Wetlands are important feeding, resting, and nesting habitats for astonishing numbers of migratory birds. Five of the six species of North American geese nest and migrate through Alaska. Geese time their arrival so that their new chicks have plenty of nutritious young plant growth to help them develop. The arctic plants help both young and old geese fatten for their fall migration south.
Geese and swans mate for life; they molt (replace their feathers) only once a year; and the male guards the nest and helps the female care for the young. They are adapted for walking on land and for grazing on vegetation. Ducks on the other hand mate only for a single season, each year going through elaborate courtship rituals. The male leaves the female once she begins to sit on the eggs and thereafter has nothing to do with her or her young.
Geese migrate in a Vee or cluster formation at about 50 mph. Their movement is steady and unhurried and closely follows the movements of the seasons. Geese migrate along four different flyways (Pacific, Central, Mississippi, and Atlantic), which are generalized migration pathways. Geese make their spring migration (south to north) from February to April. Fall migrations (north to south) occur from September to December. Some birds use only the Pacific Flyway while others cross or use all four North American Flyways. Although species’ actual migrations do not strictly conform to these flyways, they are a useful way of generalizing migration routes.
Bird banding allows researchers to study migratory birds routes. Through recovery and sightings of bird bands, researchers can determine which flyways are being used, as well as how long migration takes. From bird band returns biologists have discovered that during spring migration birds make more stopovers as they follow improving weather northward. In fall, the birds wait and move south all at once to good weather.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Bird Banding Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland maintains a record of all bird bands in the United States. All researchers must obtain permits from the Bird Banding Laboratory in order to embark on a bird-marking project. Marked birds must have a silver colored U.S. Fish and Wildlife band with an 8 or 9 digit number. This number and all information about the bird–such as sex, age, weight, condition, date, and place of banding–are on file at the Bird. Sometimes colored neck bands are used to help locate birds during airplane surveys.
If you find a banded bird and can read any or all of the numbers on the bands or the neck collar, you should contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and they will forward the information to the Bird Banding Laboratory. The laboratory staff will look up the numbers and contact the biologists who initiated the study. The biologists will then use the information that you gave them about the circumstances in which you saw the bird in their studies. The laboratory will also let you know when and where the bird was banded. You can also report birds or read reports at ebird.org.
The four geese highlighted on this page are the most common in the coastal marshes of the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta in the summer. Where do these birds spend their winters? What do the eat? What brings these geese back to the coastal marshes every summer? Create a Fact Sheet/Poster that describes the Ecology of one type of goose found in Western Alaska. Include these items. Use the links on the web resource page to find information on your bird. Use tools suggested by your teacher to create your poster/fact sheet.
Emperor GoosePacific Black Brant
- USGS Fact Sheet
- Cornell Ornithology
- The International Brant Monitoring Project
- As Alaska Warms….
- Arctic Goose Joint Venture
Greater White Fronted Goose
Alaska Wetlands and Wildlife Curriculum, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, available at “http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=curricula.awc“.
Image 2 – https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c1/Waterfowlflywaysmap.png
Image 3 bird band – https://flyways.us/sites/all/themes/fbg/images/full-band.jpg
Image 3 Banding Together USFWS – https://flic.kr/p/eemyRB