We studied diet and habitat use of greater white-fronted geese (Anser albifrons) from autumn through spring on their primary staging and wintering areas in the Pacific Flyway, 1979–1982. There have been few previous studies of resource use and forage quality of wintering greater white-fronted geese in North America, and as a consequence there has been little empirical support for management practices pertaining to habitat conservation of this broadly distributed species. Observations of >2,500 flocks of geese and collections of foraging birds revealed seasonal and geographic variation in resource use reflective of changes in habitat availability, selection, and fluctuating physiological demands. Autumn migrants from Alaska arrived first in the Klamath Basin of California and southern Oregon, where they fed on barley, oats, wheat, and potatoes. Geese migrated from the Klamath Basin into the Central Valley of California in late autumn where they exploited agricultural crops rich in soluble carbohydrates, with geese in the Sacramento Valley feeding almost exclusively on rice and birds on the Sacramento—San Joaquin Delta primarily utilizing corn. White-fronted geese began their northward migration in late winter, and by early spring most had returned to the Klamath Basin where 37% of flocks were found in fields of new growth cultivated and “wild grasses. Cereal grains and potatoes ingested by geese were low in protein (7–14%) and high in soluble nutrients (17–47% neutral detergent fiber [NDF]), “whereas grasses were low in available energy (47–49% NDF) but high in protein (26–42%). Greater white-fronted geese are generalist herbivores and can exploit a variety of carbohydrate-rich cultivated crops, likely making these geese less susceptible to winter food shortages than prior to the agriculturalization of the North American landscape. However, agricultural landscapes can be extremely dynamic and may be less predictable in the long-term than the historic environments to which geese are adapted. Thus far greater white-fronted geese have proved resilient to changes in land cover in the Pacific Flyway and by altering their migration regime have even been able to adapt to changes in the availability of suitable forage crops.
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Vol. 75 • No. 1