Murie, Olaus J. (1959) FAUNA OF THE ALEUTIAN ISLANDS AND ALASKA PENINSULA, 1936-38, U.S. Dept. Interior, Fish & Wildlife Service, Washington. pg. 61

Canada Goose:Branta canadensis

Branta canadensis leucopareia

Branta canadensis minima

Aleut names: Attu: Legch
Atka: Luck or lug-ach, or lagix (Jochelson)
Resident whites: land geese

The white-cheeked geese were formerly common migrants throughout the Aleutian Islands area and nested on many of the islands. These populations now (1936, 1937, and 1938) have been universally reduced.

The forms of the white-cheeked groups of geese that nest in the Aleutian district is a question that has led to endless confusion. Our latest findings show that leucopareia and minima are so inextricably associated throughout the Aleutians that it is desirable to discuss them together. As far as we were able to learn, the Aleuts have only one name for this general type of goose. However, the Eskimos at Hooper Bay distinguish between these two forms, and they have a distinctive name for each form.

It should be noted here that in much of the previous work with these birds, the name hutchinsi was used to identify the form that we now call leucopareia (A.O.U. Check List) ; and this change has resulted in considerable confusion and misunderstanding of the literature.

It is certain that 2 forms of the white-cheeked geese nest in the Aleutians, but there is a question about the taxonomic rank to accord these 2 forms. As to considering them races of the same species, I agree with Bent (19,25) that "Both the cackling goose [minima] and the Hutchins goose [leucopareia] are said to breed on the Aleutian Islands, but it seems hardly likely that these two subspecies should occupy the same breeding range."

The situation we find here supports Taverner's conclusion (1931) and the findings of Aldrich (1946) that we have two species. Aldrich has proposed that the smaller species includes three subspecies: true hutchinsii (not leucopareia), minima, and asiatica, and that B. canadensis includes the other subspecies of this group. On June 23, 1911, a female was collected on Attu Island by R. H. Beck, which Bent (1925) recorded as minima. On June 13, 1937, John H. Steenis collected a male goose of this group on Agattu Island. These specimens were studied by Aldrich, and he agreed that the Attu specimen was true minima, and that the one from Agattu was equally typical of leucopareia.

At Hooper Bay (south of Yukon Delta), we found the Alaskan cackling goose (minima) nesting nearest the sea, while the lesser Canada goose (leucopareia) nested farther inland, though the two nesting ranges were adjacent. Two groups of Eskimos, an inland group and a coastal group, with slightly differing dialects, both recognized these two species of geese as different and had a name for each. With two geese populations nesting in such close proximity, without space for "intergrades," it would be illogical to consider them subspecies, aside from the facts shown by examination of characters. In the Aleutian district, these two species occupy ranges similar to the kinds in the Hooper Bay district.

Former numbers — Turner found "thousands" of geese on the Near Islands, of which Agattu and Semichi were the chief breeding grounds. They nested on Unaska, Amlia, Atka, Adak, Kanaga, Tanaga, Kiska, Buldir, Semichi, and Agattu. On some of these islands, the foxes had forced the birds to nest on offshore islets, and on Attu the natives hunted them extensively and domesticated them, clipping the wings of young birds. Jochelson (1933) says: "Some of them breed on the Four Mountain Is- lands."

Bill Dirks, Atka chief, mentioned as former nesting grounds: Tanadak, Unak, and Tanaklak (all near Great Sitkin), as well as Amchitka, Ulak, Tanadak (the one near Kavalga), and Kiska. He also stated that at one time there had been a native village on Bulclir, and that the villagers used to pinion young geese to prevent them from migrating in the fall so that they would

be available later in winter. Dirks recalled that his father once obtained 50 goslings on Buldir, and brought them to Atka, where he fattened them for food. Nelson (1887) saw a flock of domesticated geese at Unalaska, which had been obtained in the western Aleutians.

We must include Attu in the breeding range, for it was on that island that Beck collected the nesting goose examined by Aldrich and identified as minima. Evidently a few geese have been able to nest in spite of foxes, and in primitive times undoubtedly a great many nested there.

As late as 1911, Wetmore reported at Kiska "Two flocks of rather good-sized geese were seen flying over high up June 18. One of the officers reported seeing two on an inland lake. None were taken." And, again at Atka, he reported, "a flock of geese seen flying high up June 13."

Austin H. Clark (1910) has presented a striking picture of geese in abundance :

This goose is the most abundant bird on Agattu, where it breeds by thousands. When we approached the shore we saw a number of geese fly- ing about the cliffs and bluffs, and soaring in circles high in air. On landing I walked up the beach to the left and soon came to a small stream which enters the sea through a gap in the high bluffs, when I saw fifty or more of these birds along the bank preening their feathers. From this point I walked inland over the rough pasture-like country toward a lake where this stream rises. Geese were seen on all sides in great abundance, walking about the grassy hillsides in companies of six or eight to a dozen, or flying about from one place to another.


As would be expected, in the days when the lesser Canada goose and the Alaskan cackling goose flourished there was an east and a west migration along the Aleutian chain. In 1925, Donald Stevenson, former reservation warden, said that geese from the western Aleutians came eastward in the fall to join the throngs concentrated about Isanotski Strait. Atka natives said that geese passed eastward at Isanotski in August.

Chief Ermeloff, of Umnak, said that geese passed there "in the fall." Nick Kristensen, who has lived many years on Unimak Island, said geese arrived at Urilia Bay before they reached St. Catherine Cove, and he wondered, because Urilia Bay lies west of St. Catherine Cove, if this meant they "came from Siberia somewhere."

Jochelson (1933) says: "In April it flies to the west, in October to the east, resting on the islands."

It is evident that there was an annual fall migration eastward along the Aleutians. When the Aleutian birds arrived at the west end of the Alaska Peninsula, they undoubtedly joined the throngs of cackling geese that came down from the north.

On August 14, 1936, we noted six cackling geese' flying south- ward over Nunivak Island. We were told that they linger a bit on the south side of Nunivak Island before continuing farther south. According to local information, they generally arrive at Unimak and the Alaska Peninsula about September 1, but they do not become numerous until 1 or 2 weeks later. Then, they assemble in surprising numbers and congregate at Urilia Bay, Swanson Lagoon, and St. Catherine Cove, all on Unimak Island, and at Izembek Bay, head of Morzhovoi Bay, Nelson Lagoon, and Port Moller on the Peninsula. In 1942, Gabrielson reported the first fall migrant at Izembek Bay as early as "late in July."

In 1925, accounts of the coming of the geese in "countless thousands" and "millions" testified to unusual concentrations, and it is safe to say that this area is the prinicpal gathering place for geese nesting along the shore of Bering Sea northward, as well as those from the Aleutians proper. The emperor goose and the 2 forms of the Canada goose all assemble here — of the two, the Canada geese are in the majority.

This area seems to be a place where the geese can fatten in the fall before continuing to their wintering grounds. They are said to feed to some extent on eelgrass; minima and leuco-pareia feed mostly on crowberry (Empetrum nigrum) and other berries and spend so much time on the slopes seeking these foods that they are known locally as "land geese" — distinguishing them from the "beach goose," which is the local name for the emperor goose.

The geese become very fat and leave for the south about November 1, though according to some reports it is as late as November 15 or 20. Probably, the earlier date is the more usual one. In 1942, according to Gabrielson, the geese departed rather suddenly, eastward, on November 20.

This situation is quite comparable to that on the other- side of the continent at the head of James Bay, a southern extension of Hudson Bay, where the blue geese spend more than 2 months fattening, and then continue south about November 1.

As the lesser Canada geese and the Alaskan cackling geese move south, they are noted in many other places, such as Metrofane and Mallard Bays in the Chignik area, at Simeonof Island in the Shumagins, and the Sanak Island group. Chase Littlejohn (manuscript notes) said: "A large number are seen annually at Sanakh in the fall where they remain for a short time at this season; they are very fat and toothsome ... They are also numerous on the peninsula where they feed entirely on berries."

Our information on the white-cheeked group of geese for the more eastern parts of the Alaska Peninsula is, at this time, not as complete as the information that we have for other parts of this group's range. Osgood (1904) reported a flock of the birds at the mouth of the Chulitna River on August 5, 1902. Others were seen later on the Mulchatna and were seen between the Mulchatna and Nushagak. On July 6, 1925, I saw a pair of geese, not specifically identified, on the tide flats of Izembek Bay ; it is possible that they were nesting birds. In August 1911, Wet- more repeatedly saw "a small goose" on the marshes back of Thin Point. On July 28, 1911, he saw another at Morzhovoi Bay and saw three more on July 30. All of these, he provisionally identified as cackling geese.

The spring migration is much less noticeable, no doubt because the birds are intent on reaching the nesting grounds and therefore do not gather in large concentrations, and also because their numbers have been greatly reduced since the previous autumn. Residents at False Pass were undecided whether the geese pass through there in the spring. We were told that they also pass through the Chignik area, and at Simeonof Island in the Shumagins, and at Sanak Island farther west. At Sanak, we learned that the geese gather on the water enclosed by Sanak, Elma, and Caton Islands, though they do not linger there in the fall. This suggests that in the spring they have completed a lengthy flight over the ocean, thus needing both food and rest. Chase Littlejohn, writing of the migration at Sanak in 1887-88, said, "They used to stop here on their way north a few years ago, but they rarely if ever do now, for what reason I do not know."

Evidently, the geese have resumed the practice in view of our information for more recent years.

Jaques (1930) reported that "Three flocks of what were probably cackling geese were migrating to the southwest May 16, inside the Shumagin Islands." They may have been headed for the Aleutians, judging by the direction they were taking.

It is evident, from information at hand, that the spring migration took place in April and part of May, but it was not so spectacular as the fall migration.

Nesting Habits

Agattu, in the Near Islands group, is the most favorable for geese. Most of the island is a lowland, liberally dotted with lakes. This makes it easy to understand why such islands as Semichi, Amchitka, Tanaga, and Kanaga were at one time a goose paradise — all of them have extensive lowlands with lakes.

There is another type of nesting habitat which is typified by Buldir Island — a domelike island rising sheer from the sea. Buldir possesses beaches and a small grassy valley cut by a stream. In this valley, where the grasses and sedges are heavy and rank, there were no geese. High on the mountain there are little depressions, benches, and valleys, which are cut by water courses. In this terrain, where the grasses and sedges are short and tender, there were geese — even though there is fog much of the time. So, on Buldir, the geese apparently have found an environment that is suited to them.

It is interesting to note that these geese do not hesitate to take to salt water. One, with two downy young, was seen in a bay at Agattu, and another was seen in the water near Chagulak, an island at Amukta Pass. The presence of a goose at Chagulak suggests another high-mountain habitat, because that island is extremely precipitous.

Present numbers — We have just enumerated the early accounts of "thousands" of geese, including Turner's "thousands" in the Near Islands, and Clarke's tale of abundance on Agattu. Today, the Aleutian district presents a striking example of the rapid de- cline of a species ; the general opinion is that the fall concentrations in the False Pass area have greatly declined, apparently involving to some extent the geese from the more northerly nesting grounds.

We were surprised to find no sign of these geese on the lake- dotted flats around the lower part of the Ugashik River, and in 1937 we observed only a few pairs of geese on Agattu Island — probably less than 6 pairs in 4 days of traveling over the island. One pair had 2 young, and another had 5 young. In the Semichis, we found feathers and a few droppings on Alaid Island. On June 15, 1936, the captain and the mate of our ship saw a "small goose" of the canadensis type near the shore of Chagulak Island, and we found signs of geese on Buldir. However, they had disappeared on most of the islands, and our total observations indicated that only a few pairs remained in the Aleutians. In fact, these geese are so scarce that the migration is no longer noticeable, and some of the younger Aleuts didn't seem to know about it. When the remaining geese that go to the Aleutians are killed, it will be a long time for a migration to become reestablished, andconsequently an extensive habitat for minima and leucopareia will lie vacant.

Causes for decline — The natives, as well as several writers, have assumed that the disappearance of these geese from many islands was due to the introduction of blue foxes. Undoubtedly, this is true, yet on Buiclir where there are no foxes, the geese are not plentiful. Undoubtedly, another important cause for their decline is increased hunting along the migration route and on the wintering grounds in the south.

Administrative action has already been taken to free certain favorable islands, including Agattu, from foxes. Further, to preserve these geese, it remains for sportsmen to protect the birds on the wintering grounds. With such a combination of protection, it is still possible to prevent these geese from losing their present tenuous hold in the Aleutians, and perhaps it would be possible for them to build up to a point where they will be safe from extinction.