Vancouver East Canada Geese

Tens of thousands of snow geese — a historically large invasion  — means viewing opportunities this fall in unexpected places around the lower mainland.

Tens of thousands of snow geese — a historically large invasion — means viewing opportunities this fall in unexpected places around the lower mainland. (Denis Dossman (CBC))


The annual migration of snow geese this year is twice the size of the migration in previous years due to a "perfect storm of conditions" in their summer breeding ground on Wrangle Island, in northern Siberia.  It has resulted in viewing opportunities in unexpected places around the lower mainland. 

"Down in Tsawwassen, the Spetifore property, even feeding in amongst blueberry bushes off Highway 17. I've never seen that before — and even farther east toward the Delta/Surrey area so, yeah it's a little bit crazy this year," said Sean Boyd, a research scientist with Environment and Climate Change Canada.  

The Metro Vancouver snow goose population may have increased by 40 per cent — perhaps even 50 per cent — in one year according to Boyd, up to to 100,000 birds.

Perfect storm 

In the fall, snow geese migrate south along the Pacific Coast from a summer breeding ground on Wrangel Island in northern Siberia. 

"Every few years, the weather is good. There's not a lot of snow or rain. Everybody is breeding and there could be fewer predators," said Boyd. 

"It's probably everything just combined to create a perfect storm for producing a lot of young." 

Hungry birds 

Young snow geese cause problems for farmers, airports and parks say expert birdwatchers. 

"The young ones are always the hungrier ones, just like typical teenagers," said John Hatfield, a director with Delta Farmland and Wildlife Trust

In recent years, the trust has worked with local farmers to mitigate the damage to fields torn up by snow geese by cost-sharing the price of planting cover crops to feed the wintering water fowl.  

"We offer a couple of crops. Oats and barley are typically the primary ones and that's principally what they'll eat but they also eat leftover potatoes in the fields from the previous harvest," said Drew Bondar, program manager at the trust. 

Smart birds 

The influx of snow geese is also a concern for the Vancouver Airport Authority which operates YVR

"The birds are smart," said Geert Bos, director of airside operations with the airport authority. 

"We try not to repeat the same technique over and over because they do become habituated quite quickly. One of the things we use a lot is our dogs, our raptor program, we use pyrotechnics, we use noise, we use physical people going into the foreshore, anything to change it up." 

The snow geese will head further south into Washington State at the end of the month and then return to the lower mainland briefly in March before returning their to nesting grounds on Wrangel Island.

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