Many of the snow geese that winter in the Puget Sound area come from a huge colony on Wrangel Island, Russia, in the Arctic Sea, where they spend most of the year, nesting and raising their young. Each winter, great flocks of snow geese leave this colony and fly 3,100 miles to our shores.
Russian biologist Vasiliy Baranyuk, a frequent speaker at Stanwood’s Snow Goose and Birding Festival, has studied the web of life on Wrangel Island for 40 years. He bands geese with GPS transmitters that relay information about their activities, behavior, temperature, migration and escapes from hunters. Scientists are learning how global warming is changing life in the Arctic. Wrangel Island, for instance, now gets more rain but less snow and ice.
Baranyuk wrote in an email to the Stanwood Camano News that he hopes to return to the festival next year. For now, he gives an update and scientific summary.
Summer and fall of 2020 were good for snow geese on Wrangel Island, Baranyuk wrote. But there were very few lemmings. Arctic foxes eat lemmings and lacking that, will eat snow goose eggs. But there were few Arctic foxes this year. Snowy owls did not breed.
The 2020 study by the Working Group on Waterfowl of Northern Eurasia states that the Wrangel Island Snow Goose population is growing rapidly, but no new colonies have yet formed.
“Nesting conditions were very favorable for snow geese on Wrangel Island in 2020: after a winter with low snow precipitation and an early spring, geese did not experience a shortage of nesting sites. The spring population of the WISG in 2020 was estimated at 685,100 individuals. This is 243,100 (or 55%) more than last year’s population.”
The colony had about 214,100 nests. About 57,500 goose pairs were counted, up nearly 37% from 2019. They laid 802,500 eggs in 2020 and 652,915 goslings hatched, resulting in 81.4% hatch success.
Although about 2,620 adult birds died during nesting, the mortality rate was only 0.6% of the total number of nesting geese.
Baranyuk shares data with scientists in Canada and the United States to get a broader picture of these international birds and the ecosystems they inhabit.