Q&AZ: Have Geese Always Migrated To Arizona Or Have Manmade Lakes Lured Them To The Phoenix Area?

By Casey Kuhn
Published: Tuesday, February 19, 2019 - 5:46pm
Updated: Thursday, June 6, 2019 - 12:39pm

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Canada Geese
Daniel Santana/Audubon Photography Awards
Canada Geese have historically used Arizona on their migration patterns, but more are stopping here because of urbanization.

Every winter, Arizona sees an influx of visitors hoping to enjoy the weather. That includes feathered fowl like Canada geese. Through our Q&AZ reporting project, listener Nicole Kam asked if the geese have always stopped in the Valley, or did man-made lakes lure them in?

The Canada goose is distinguished across North America for its black and white head, and its V-shaped migrating formation.

The birds are supremely well-adapted to live in urban habitats, and humans help when they build artificial bodies of water.

Much like human snowbirds, geese flock to Arizona in the winter for warmth. But, also like some snowbirds, some have set up a permanent home here.

Director of Bird Conservation for Audubon Arizona Tice Supplee said most of the geese you'll see in the Valley come from up north.

“The vast majority are Canadian," she said. "Now, we have some birds that have decided that Phoenix is such a cool place to live, they don’t leave. They're a bit of an urban pest.”

Supplee added that the increasing number of man-made lakes and landscaping has led to more geese stopping in Arizona, when before they would head farther south to Mexico.

“There has definitely been an increase in the number of geese that have stopped migration around here. They take advantage not only of the lakes but, also, if they’re grazers like geese and ducks, they’ll feed on that nice Bermuda grass that's usually next to the lakes,” Supplee said.

Supplee said the permanent resident geese could be from a flock that was brought to live at the Turf Paradise racetrack lake in the 1970s.

"The lore about where they all originated goes back to our horserace track, Turf Paradise," Supplee said. "They thought it would be nifty to have geese in their infield lake. There were efforts to try and address that population even then, because the numbers were building."

The winter waterfowl population, which includes these Canada geese, have been surveyed for more than 10 years by volunteers across the Valley. The Arizona Game and Fish Department coordinates and compiles the data sent in from the volunteers for the Greater Phoenix Waterbird Area Survey.

The final tally for the 2019 January survey is 5,517 Canada geese in the Phoenix area. That's up from 3,509 surveyed a decade ago, in 2009.

Canada Goose
Stephen Zarate/Audubon Photography Awards
Canada geese can be considered an urban pest in large quantities.

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