Murie, Olaus J. (1959) FAUNA OF THE ALEUTIAN ISLANDS AND ALASKA PENINSULA, 1936-38, U.S. Dept. Interior, Fish & Wildlife Service, Washington.  pg. 69-

Emperor Goose: Philacte canagica

Local name: Beach Goose
Attu: Il-d-ghir-hch
Atka: Kd-ghu-mung
Qdmgan (Jochelson)

The emperor goose apparently does not commonly nest in the Aleutian Islands, nor on the Alaska Peninsula, but at least one record of nesting was established. During June 1925, a Bureau of Fisheries boat had stopped for a short time at Amak Island, on the way to Port Moller. The pilot informed me that during that stop at least three pairs of emperor geese were seen. On July 10, 1925, during a visit to Amak, I found the remains of a young emperor goose in a bald eagle nest. The feet, stomach, and numerous pinfeathers were present in the nest, and were collected. This appears to be the southernmost nesting locality.

The Aleutian district is certainly the principal wintering place for emperor geese. We noted evidence of such occurrence and obtained statements of natives and others who were familiar with specific localities, and in 1941 and 1942 Gabrielson noted them as plentiful at a number of the islands he visited in the winter months. They are reported as spending at least a part of the winter as far east as Port Moller, on the north side of the peninsula, leaving when the ice formed but returning when the water opened again. Some of these geese winter at Urilia Bay on Unimak Island and on Izembek Bay; a few geese winter near Chignik on the south side of Alaska Peninsula, and some of them winter at Simeonof Island in the Shumagins. A banded bird was recorded at King Cove in the fall of 1926.

Turner (1886) makes the sweeping statement that these birds winter on the south side of Alaska Peninsula and on offshore islands as far east as Cook Inlet. Friedmann recorded bones of this goose in all layers of Kodiak middens. Today, they are less numerous along those shores, possibly because of the advent of white men and an increased kill resulting from modern weapons.

Emperor geese are known to winter in some numbers in the Sanak group. We found recent remains at Unalaska, June 3, 1936, and on Bogoslof Island, June 5, 1936. Eyerdam (1936) obtained two specimens at Unalaska on June 20 and on August 7, 1932. These geese are known to winter on the following islands: Unimak, Unalaska, Sanak, Umnak, Amukta, Seguam, Atka, Adak, Tanaga, Kanaga (abundant), Amchitka, Ulak (longitude 178 c W.), Ogliuga, Kavalga, Semisopochnoi, Kiska, and Attu. The chief of Attu declared that they were in that locality in "millions." These are the islands on which we have specific information. Undoubtedly, emperor geese occur on many, if not all, of the other islands; almost certainly they occur on Agattu and Semichi, for example.

As may be expected, there are many records of winter occurrences farther south, in Washington, Oregon, and California. These records are numerous enough to suggest that some stragglers find their way into those southern localities quite regularly; however, the regular wintering area is confined to portions of Alaska Peninsula, the Shumagin and Sanak Islands, and the Aleutian chain. Apparently, they are rare on the west side of Bering Sea during the winter. Stejneger (1887) records two specimens taken at Bering Island, April 6, 1886.

The spring migration varies according to the locality and the age class. Natives declare that emperor geese leave Attu Island in April; Turner (1886) gave the date as the "latter part of March." He also stated that after the middle of April considerable numbers of geese begin to arrive on the north side of Alaska Peninsula, particularly in the neighborhood of Ugashik.

In 1924, I observed the spring migration at the nesting grounds at Hooper Bay. The first migratory wave began about the middle of May and continued to the end of the month. There was another notable flight about June 5 and 6, which appeared to end the migration of breeding birds. Nesting had begun at that time.

A second distinct migration at Hooper Bay took place from June 21 to July 1. These were immature birds, probably all nonbreeders.

It was my good fortune to observe the other end of such migration in 1925, at Izembek Bay and Unimak Island. On April 29, 1925, and for several days following, flocks of emperor geese were noted at Urilia Bay, on the north side of Unimak Island, many of them flying northeastward. On May 17, a flock of 250 was seen standing on an exposed sand bar in St. Catherine Cove. On May 20, they were common in Izembek Bay, and Donald Stevenson noted a flock of 300 there on June 2. We saw a similar-sized flock on June 8, at Moffet Cove, where they were noted throughout June in diminishing numbers. The last flock was seen on July 7. The time of gradual disappearance on Alaska Peninsula corresponds very well with the time of the late migration noted at Hooper Bay the previous year. The lingering flocks in Izembek Bay were mostly immature birds. One bird, which was collected in adult plumage, proved to be a nonbreeder.

A few late occurrences were noted farther west. C. S. Williams noted a group of about six emperor geese on Uliaga Island on June 8, 1936; and a bald eagle's nest on Kavalga Island contained remains that were fresh enough to indicate a kill in July.

Apparently, there is an eastward movement of emperor geese along the Aleutian chain, and a consequent "piling up" at favorite locations on the Alaska Peninsula, until the northern flights are well under way.

The exact reversal of this process occurs in the fall. Sometime early in September, the emperor geese begin to arrive from the north in the vicinity of Izembek Bay. And, according to the enthusiastic accounts of local residents, these emperor geese are almost as numerous as the cackling geese before the latter declined in numbers. At Port Moller, emperors are said to arrive as early as the latter part of August. They congregate on Nelson Lagoon, Izembek Bay, head of Morzhovoi Bay, locally in Isanotski Strait, St. Catherine Cove, Swanson Lagoon, and Urilia Bay. Most of these geese move westward some time in November. Incidentally, Swarth (1934) states that emperor geese were present on Nunivak Island, to the north, as late as October 29, 1927. The Attu chief said that they arrive at that westernmost point in the Aleutians late in October.

Apparently, in fall migration the immature birds again lag behind their elders. According to Swarth, the first arrivals on Nunivak Island, observed by Cyril G. Harrold, August 20 to the middle of September, were white-headed adults. "On September 15 the first young birds (dusky headed) were seen and they were common thereafter."

Food Habits

It is well known that the emperor guose is largely a beach feeder; in fact, it has earned the local name "beach goose." Yet, it is reported as occasionaly feeding on the berries of the tundra, notably Empetrum nigrum. Swarth (1934) sums it up thus,

The emperor geese fed mostly upon the sea shore, but occasional flocks were encountered on the tundra, feeding upon berries. The one adult male of the series had its face stained and the throat and entire intestinal tract dyed blue from a diet of berries.

In the spring of 1925, these birds were feeding at low tide on tide flats in Izembek Bay. The tide is about an hour later at the head of Izembek Bay than at the entrance; the same situation exists between the two sides of the long Hazen Point. The emperor geese were well aware of this, and when their feeding grounds were flooded by the incoming tide they simply flew up to Hazen Point, crossed over a few hundred yards to the east side, where the flats were still exposed, and continued feeding. The narrower parts of this point were favorite flyways. In this area, the principal food was thought to be eel grass. On June 14, at the margin of a pond, it was noted that the grass was grazed off short ; the area was trampled and was littered with droppings. However, the stomach of an immature bird found in a bald eagle's nest on Amak Island on July 10 contained remains of small crabs.

Emperor geese are often reported as feeding on some kind of kelp in winter. At Kanaga Island, we were told that they feed on kelp and the green shoots of Elymus, which, even in winter, may be found under the dead vegetation. One informant stated that the geese probed into the ground and pulled out the horizontal rhyzomes of Equisetum. We had noted droppings on Ogliuga Island consisting of the herbaceous parts of Equisetum arvense; but these droppings could not be positively identified.

Several observers in the Aleutians reported that emperor geese feed extensively on green "sea lettuce," as well as Fucus, and the "exposed roots" of Elymus.

Chase Little John, apparently referring to Sanak Island and Morzhovoi Bay, says: "Here they live almost entirely on a bright green seaweed, locally known as sea lettuce, but at times eating small mussels."

Cottam and Knappen (1939) have presented a comprehensive statement on the food habits of the emperor goose, based on analyses of 35 stomachs. Few, if any, of these stomachs were obtained in the Aleutian Islands, yet the data agree fairly well with observations made in this area. Their findings (based on the contents of 33 stomachs) show 91.58 percent vegetable matter, and 8.42 percent animal matter. Their findings are further sum- marized as follows: Algae, 30.73 percent; eel grass and other pond weeds, 13.91 percent; grasses and sedges, 24.94 percent; undetermined and miscellaneous plant fiber, 22 percent; bivalve mollusks (Pelecypoda), 3.66 percent; crabs and other crustaceans, 2.18 percent; rodents and fishes, 1.76 percent; and miscellaneous animal life, 0.82 percent.

At Sanak Island, a resident declared that one winter he found 15 dead emperor geese on the beach. Although he thought that the deaths were caused by the frozen condition of the fresh- water creeks, the precise mortality factor here must remain unknown.

Among the natural enemies of the emperor goose is the bald eagle. However, there is no evidence that the eagle materially affects the goose population.