Alaska Science Center

Emperor Goose, Chen canagica

High-Priority Species List

Most (>90%) of the world population breeds on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta (YKD). A substantial portion of this population (subadults and failed breeders) migrates to the northern Chukotka Peninsula in east Asia to molt, either as subadults. Small numbers breed in east Asia, principally in the Anaydr lowlands and southern Chukotka, and small numbers winter in Asia, primarily in the Commander Islands.
Most of the global population of Emperor Geese breeds on the outer coast of the YKD (Eisenhauer and Kirkpatrick 1977), with as many as 35,000 nests estimated in some years (Fischer et al. 2005). These geese are not colonial, but are readily captured in small numbers in June while nesting and in large numbers (with young) in late July/early August during the flightless primary molt (Petersen et al. 1994). Most Emperor Geese that fail to incubate a nest then migrate in early June from the YKD to northern Chukotka in eastern Russia where they then molt their flight feathers. In some years, the number of geese undergoing this migration likely exceeds 50,000, and perhaps substantially more (Hupp et al; in review). The flight trajectory of geese migrating to Chukotka is directly through or over St. Lawrence Island. Data to document the timing and route of a return migration in late summer or early fall does not exist, but preliminary subsistence harvest figures from St. Lawrence Island suggest they likely fly through again at that time (T. Rothe, pers. comm.). Small numbers breed in eastern Russia, primarily in the Anadyr Lowlands and the southern Chukotka Peninsula (Eisenhauer and Kirkpatrick 1977, E. Syroechkovskiy Jr., pers. comm.). Very limited banding data suggests that these Russian breeders migrate to fall staging and wintering areas in western Alaska (Schmutz and Kondratyev 1995). Most of the global population spends spring and fall staging periods on the Alaska Peninsula (Nelson Lagoon having the greatest number), and during winter they are distributed from Kodiak Island to the Commander Islands, Russia, with the majority on the Aleutian Islands (Petersen et al. 1994). Whereas all telemetry data from Emperor Geese breeding on the YKD indicate that geese fly east to west to get to wintering areas, there are also incidental observations from the Kamchatka Peninsula and the western Aleutian Islands of geese moving west to east at the beginning of winter (V. Byrd and E. Syroechkovskiy, pers. comm.).
No. of samples: 200 live samples (cloacal swabs) breeding adults. 200 live samples from nearly fledged young. 200+ fecal samples from each of 3 sites during fall migration and winter. Ideally, some subsistence harvest samples would be obtained from St. Lawrence Island, but given the current harvest restrictions on this species, obtaining such samples is highly unlikely. Sampling at molting areas in Russia would be desirable, but is not specifically planned and budgeted for here, as it could not be accomplished before July 2007.
Sampling locations: YKD (Manokinak River, Kigigak Island) during breeding, Nelson Lagoon during fall migration, and Adak and Shemya islands in the Aleutian Islands during winter.
Sampling timeframe: June - early Aug for YKD, late Sept/early Oct for Nelson Lagoon, and January for Adak and Shemya islands.
Sample demographics: Breeding adults and 6-week old young while on YKD. Elsewhere at other times, fecal samples will not allow relation to age/sex class.
Methods of capture: Hoop or bow traps for incubating adults and traditional drive (pot) nets for capture of late summer molters. On fall and winter areas, fecal samples will be picked up when geese roost at high tide (Schmutz 1994). At these sites, we will likely also experiment with means for live capture.
Other target species: During captures on the YKD, we could also catch, if necessary, significant numbers of Black brant and small numbers of Sandhill cranes, Tundra swans, Spectacled eiders, Common eiders, Northern pintals, and Glaucous gulls, all of which are on the national list of species for priority sampling.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Yukon Delta NWR (June-August)
Contact: Fred Broerman

Alaska Maritime NWR (Adak - January)
Contact: Vernon Byrd

U.S. Geological Survey
Alaska Science Center (for live captures and fecal sampling)
Contact: Craig Ely

Russian Academy of Sciences, Russian Ringing Centre.
Contact: Vasily Baranyuk
Eisenhauer, D. I., and C. M. Kirkpatrick. 1977. Ecology of the emperor geese in Alaska. Wildife Monographs 57:1-62.

Fischer, J. B, R. A. Stehn, T. D. Bowman, and G. Walters. 2005. Nest population size and potential production of geese and spectacled eiders on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, Alaska, 2005. US Fish and Wildlife Service report, Anchorage, AK, 28pp.

Hupp, J. W., J. A. Schmutz, C. R. Ely, E. E. Syroechkovskiy, A. V. Kondratyev, and W. D. Eldridge. The molt migration of emperor geese between Alaska and Russia. In review for Journal of Avian Biology.

Petersen, M.R., J.A. Schmutz, and R.F. Rockwell. 1994. Emperor goose (Chen canagica). In: The birds of North America, no. 97 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds). Phila. Acad. of Natural Science; Washington, D.C.: The American Ornithologists' Union.

Schmutz, J.A. 1994. Age, habitat, and tide effects on feeding activity of emperor geese during autumn migration. Condor 96:46-51.

Schmutz, J.A., and A.Y. Kondratyev. 1995. Evidence of emperor geese breeding in Russia and staging in Alaska. Auk 112:1037-1038.

Distribution map of Emperor Goose

Ranking Score: 13.0

Asian H5N1 ranking criteria for Emperor Goose, Chen canagica.

Total of partial
contact with Asia1
Contact with
known "hot spot"2
Habitat used in
Pop. in Alaska4
Can samples be
Approximately 20,000 birds molt in Chukotka, several thousand breed in the Anadyr lowlands
No known use of AI-infected areas
Breeds moist tundra meadows and near wetlands
Approximately 90% of the population winters in Alaska and approximately 60% summers in Alaska
Relatively easy to trap during summer and fall molting period
Image of Emperor Goose, photo by C. Ely