Branta canadensis occidentalis
This subspecies of the Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) is found only in the Pacific Northwest. Commonly called “duskies,” they look very similar to the Canada Goose with black heads and a white “chin-strap” marking which runs from ear to ear underneath the head. However, their bodies are darker and more robust. As their name suggests, they have dark brown breasts and backs. These areas are a mottled gray in Branta canadensis.
Breeding pairs will stay together for life and begin producing eggs at two or three years of age. During the mating season, the goose may become highly territorial and aggressive — even toward other duskies. The rest of the year, they are social animals and will fly, rest and feed in large groups. They can often be spotted foraging on grasses in open fields or farmland.
A variety of predators may feed on the geese or their eggs. Within the Willamette Valley, predators include Red Foxes, Coyotes, Cougars, Herring Gulls, Bald Eagles and Common Ravens. In their Alaskan range, they are also hunted by bears and Gray Wolves.
The Dusky Canada Goose migrates south to the Columbia River and Willamette Valley for the winter and returns to the Copper River Delta of southern Alaska during the spring to breed. The bird requires wetlands for nesting and foraging and are therefore found in close proximity to rivers, lakes and marshlands.
This subspecies of the Canada Goose is listed as threatened, but is recovering. Recent reports from the Oregon and Washington Departments of Fish and Wildlife indicate that the number of “duskies” is steadily climbing after reaching historic lows in the 1980s. Much of the bird’s recovery can be attributed to increased nesting habitat and a ban on hunting. Unfortunately, the subspecies’ small geographic range and highly specific habitat needs continues to challenge a full recovery.
Photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.