General information

Black Brant

Iñupiaq Name: Niġlinġaq
Scientific Name: Branta bernicla

Lesser Snow Geese

Iñupiaq Name: Kaŋŋuq
Scientific Name: Chen caerulescen

Monitoring of Black Brant and Lesser Snow Geese

Principal Investigators Robert Suydam, Ph.D., and Brian Person, Ph.D.
Collaborators ABR, Inc.
Funding Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development


Since 1994 for Brant (Branta bernicla) and 1995 for Lesser Snow Geese (Chen caerulescens), the NSB-DWM has monitored the distribution, abundance, and status of some goose colonies on the NPR-A. Nest surveys provide information on the nesting effort and success. Brant colonies at 45 locations are surveyed annually along with two Lesser Snow Goose colonies. Brood-rearing surveys provide information on reproductive success, or number of offspring surviving from hatch until the time surveys are flown (approximately 3 weeks post hatch). Aerial surveys also provide information on the distribution of the geese. Together these data can help us estimate the population size of the goose colonies. This is important to know because geese are an important subsistence resource to the people living on the North Slope. Additionally, the Lesser Snow geese that nest on the North Slope are the furthest western population of breeding geese in North America.

Specific activities include:

  • Aerial surveys of the Kukpowruk River delta (since 1991) and the Ikpikpuk River delta (since 1992) in June for Snow Goose colonies.
  • Ground-based nest surveys in both deltas in July of 1992 and 1993, and 2001-08 for the Ikpikpuk delta for Snow Geese.
  • Aerial surveys in June between Barrow and Fish Creek for Brant colonies since 1996.
  • Aerial surveys in July between Barrow and Fish Creek for Snow Geese since 1994.

Due to the rapidly growing Snow Goose colony on the Ikpikpuk River delta, a more accurate productivity estimate and a better idea of migration routes was needed. The following were added in 2000 and have been ongoing:

  • Photo census added to aerial survey in July.
  • Banding of Snow Geese in early August during brood-rearing and molting time.

The colony of Snow Geese on the Ikpikpuk River Delta grew from 40 nesting pairs in 1992 to more than 300 pairs in 2001. By 2002 there were more than 700 pairs, 1500 pairs in 2004, 2400 pairs in 2006, and as of 2008 there were approximately 4500 nesting pairs. Monitoring this colony of geese is important because the colony could grow so rapidly that it could overgraze its habitat, damaging the tundra.

The banding of snow geese can help us to better determine the winter distribution, survival rates and emigration/immigration rates of the birds. As birds are harvested during the fall migration, hunters turn in bands to their local wildlife management office to provide this information.

In 2008, monitoring surveys determined that the occupancy rate (82%) for Brant was above average and the number of nests (about 482) was the highest of any year since these observations began. Snow goose counts showed a nesting success rate of 89% and the highest number of nests (about 4,641) that year as well, with an increase of 85% over the 2006 counts. The population estimate for snow geese in 2008 was about 17,660 indicating about a 28% increase in population size. This increase is most likely due to good overwinter survival and high nesting success at the colony. Band recaptures and hunter returns indicate that there is some immigration and emigration of the Ikpikpuk colonies with the colonies in the eastern part of Canada and Russia.

During the molting period, flightless geese are driven into a trap for banding. Photo: Robert Suydam

Rita Frantz Acker holding a blue phase snow goose. Photo: Robert Suydam

Update for summer of 2013:

Brian Person and others continued to monitor the Snow Goose colony on the Ikpikpuk Delta. About 60% of these nests failed due to brown bear predation. In late July, 1600 flightless geese were captured and fitted with metal leg bands to determine their survival rate and distribution. This is the largest, rapidly growing colony in western North America.

Locations of Snow Goose colonies on the North Slope. Map courtesy of ABR, Inc.



Journal Articles:

More reports on Snow Geese:

Avian Influenza Monitoring of Snow Geese and Other Birds on the North Slope

Principal Investigators Robert Suydam, Ph.D and Brian Person, Ph.D
Collaborators USFWS
Funding USFWS


A grant from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has provided funds for sampling of birds on the North Slope for highly pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) since 2006. The North Slope Borough has received funding primarily for sampling Lesser Snow Geese at the same time that the birds are banded on the Ikpikpuk River Delta. Hunter-caught birds have been sampled in Barrow, including samples from Common and King Eiders. Other birds that were found dead were also sampled. Fecal matter was collected and tested from areas used by Northern Pintails. Although no samples collected on the North Slope have tested positive for HPAI, samples will continue to be collected.

Message for Subsistence Hunters: No Cause for Alarm!

  • Hunters should be informed, not scared
  • Exercise general precautions when handling and cleaning game
    • Cook birds thoroughly
    • Wash your hands with soap after cleaning game, or wear rubber gloves
  • Encourage participation in the sampling effort
  • If a group of sick or dead birds are found, call 1-866-527-3358 (1-866-5BRDFLU) or call the NSB-DWM at (907) 852-0350


Banner photo credit: Sandy Hamilton

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