Aleutian Canada goose from SeaLife Center goes to Russia

Posted: Tuesday, September 04, 2001

The Aleutian Canada goose hatched at the Alaska SeaLife Center last month has found a new home and a purpose in life.

Connie, short for St. Constantine, an area of the Aleutian Islands on which the egg was found, joined 17 others of his breed from Buldir Island as part of a captive breeding flock in a Russian wildlife facility earlier this month.

Because he was hatched and raised in captivity, the flight on Magadan Air from Anchorage to Russia was quite uneventful for Connie compared to his counterparts, said Vernon Byrd, a wildlife biologist for Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.

''He knew how to feed on commercial preparations and I think he taught the other birds how to feed,'' Byrd said of Connie's interaction with his peers. ''He talked all the time. He doesn't feel any stress. He thinks he's supposed to be in a cage.''

Byrd received an e-mail from the Russian facility shortly after the geese arrived, indicating the birds were in good condition. Connie was one of four eggs plucked from Amchitka Island by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists after they witnessed an eagle kill Connie's mother, according to Pat Hegglund, a member of the team.

The biologists are on the island this summer to help monitor a military cleanup operation, she said.

The eggs were immediately shipped to the Alaska SeaLife Center, but only one hatched, said Michele Miller, aviculture supervisor at the research center.

After a month on a goose starter diet and veggies such as horsetail and alfalfa sprouts at the center, Connie was taken to the Bird Treatment and Learning Center in Anchorage, where he spent two days becoming accustomed to his new flock before boarding the flight to Russia.

Connie is part of a second flock of Aleutian Canada geese sent to Russia. Nineteen Aleutian Canada geese from breeding flocks in the United States were sent to Kamchatka in 1992 as part of a joint project to re-establish Aleutian Canada geese on former nesting grounds in the Kuril Islands and on their former wintering grounds in northern Japan.

The geese historically nested on maritime islands from the Alaska Peninsula, westward along the Aleutian Chain to the Commander and Kuril islands in Asia.

The Aleutian Canada goose was listed as endangered in 1967 after arctic foxes were introduced to the Aleutian Islands for fur farming in the early part of the century. The ground-nesting geese had no natural defenses against the imported predators.

However, about 800 geese survived on three islands in the Aleutian and Semidi islands where foxes were never introduced.

A formal recovery program was started in the mid-1970s by capturing geese from Buldir Island in the western Aleutians and moving them to other islands where foxes had eradicated the geese.

Recovery efforts in the United States have been successful, to the point of the birds being removed from the endangered species list in March, Byrd said. There are now about 30,000 of the species in the Aleutians, he said.

Aleutian Canada geese in the United States are thought to migrate between their summer grounds in the Aleutians to areas in Oregon and Washington for the winter.

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