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Factors Affecting Nesting Success in Greater Snow Geese: Effects of Habitat and Association with Snowy Owls

Jean-Pierre Tremblay, Gilles Gauthier, Denis Lepage and André Desrochers
The Wilson Bulletin
Vol. 109, No. 3 (Sep., 1997), pp. 449-461
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4163840
Page Count: 13
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Factors Affecting Nesting Success in Greater Snow Geese: Effects of Habitat and Association with Snowy Owls
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Abstract

We examined how habitat features affected nesting success of Greater Snow Geese (Chen caerulescens atlantica) on Bylot Island, Northwest Territories, Canada, under high (1993) vs low (1994) nesting success and colonial vs isolated nesting (1994 only). Because Snow Geese nested in association with Snowy Owls (Nyctea scandiaca) in 1993, we also examined the relationship between nesting success and distance from owl nests. Predation, especially by Arctic foxes (Alopex lagopus), was the main cause of nesting failure on Bylot Island. In 1993, goose nests near an owl nest had better success than those farther away, and they also tended to be initiated earlier. Few habitat features were related to nesting success, although nests located in pond habitat had lower success than those in wet meadows or moist tundra. In 1994, Snowy Owls were absent, and goose nesting success was much lower than in 1993 (23-42% vs 90%). Isolated nests located on hillsides had higher success than those located in lowlands. In contrast, colonial nests were more successful in lowland wet meadows, where tall willow bushes (Salix lanata) were present, than in either moist tundra or hillsides. In the latter habitat, nests associated with Cassiope tetragona, a plant that typically grows in depressions between hummocks, had higher success than those associated with other vegetation. We conclude that nesting in association with raptors, such as Snowy Owls, that maintain a predator-free area around their nest, was probably a dominant factor affecting Greater Snow Goose nesting success. In the absence of owls, isolated nests had higher success in hilly habitats than in lowlands, whereas colonial nests in tall willows were most successful.

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