We assessed spatial distribution and habitat use by Ross's and lesser snow geese (Chen rossii and C. caerulescens caerulescens) during late brood rearing to begin understanding goose–habitat interactions and monitoring key habitats around a rapidly growing nesting colony located at Karrak Lake, Nunavut, Canada. We conducted aerial surveys to count geese and georeference locations, then used Landsat Thematic Mapper satellite imagery to identify habitats associated with each flock. We observed 435 and 407 flocks and 36,287 and 32,745 birds in 1994 and 1995, respectively. Birds were somewhat uniformly distributed over the 5,000-km2 study area, with larger aggregations occurring closer to the coast, about 70 km from the colony. We assessed habitat use using Bonferroni intervals at both the flock and individual scales. At the flock level, birds avoided lichen–heath, used other terrestrial habitats as available, and selected freshwater. At the individual level, geese selected lowland habitats: wet sedge meadow, hummock graminoid tundra, and freshwater, which accounted for about 70% of the birds observed, and avoided upland habitats. Selection of lowland habitats is likely due to greater availability of food and easier predator avoidance compared to drier upland areas. Because most geese in our study used freshwater habitats, our results demonstrate that assessment of carrying capacity, at least in the central Arctic, must be expanded beyond the coastal salt marshes traditionally considered by researchers and managers as primary brood-rearing habitat for mid-continent light geese.
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Vol. 71 • No. 7