That Canada goose you saw looking vacant by the tennis courts in Yellowknife is a record-breaker.
The first recorded observation of the goose in Yellowknife was on March 28 – beating the city’s previous record for a Canada goose by more than two weeks.
In 2017, Yellowknife’s first noted goose was on April 15 according to the birdwatching site ebird.org.
“This is way ahead of what we’ve seen in the past,” said Dr Eric Reed, a waterfowl population management biologist with the Canadian Wildlife Service.
Reed said this even beats the entire territory’s previous earliest Canada goose sighting, which was in Fort Smith on March 31, 2015.
There is a caveat to this record, Reed noted. There are not many birders in the NWT, so it’s possible some ninja goose arrived earlier – without being observed or recorded.
“But still, [this year’s goose] is a very early arrival for sure,” he continued, explaining it is also odd to see just one goose.
The arrival of geese depends on when the snow melts. Historically, they are first observed in Yellowknife between April 18 and April 26.
“As soon as the grass and open water are available, they will move up with the advancing snow melt,” Reed explained.
“And they will make forays up north. For them, flying a few hundred kilometres is not a huge expense of energy.
“Some birds will fly up and go and check conditions further north.
“And if the conditions aren’t good enough they’ll come back, and as they find what they like, they’ll stop and they’ll wait.”
While Reed has no way of knowing why there is one lone goose in Yellowknife, he said he could speculate that either it forayed north and wasn’t in a good enough condition to go back, or it found what it needed to survive and decided to stay (which is the story you get from pretty much half of Yellowknife’s population).
Warmer climate link to earlier arrivals
Reed was unaware if any other bird species had arrived unusually early this spring. However, he said, more and more birds are staying later in the fall, arriving earlier in the spring, or even overwintering in the territory.
“The magpie is probably the best example,” he said.
“Historically, they were probably present in the Northwest Territories but there weren’t very many of them.
“Now, they’re wintering in Yellowknife and we see them quite often.”
The black and white birds were even spotted as far north as Inuvik last year.
“We’re starting to see some species expand their range,” he said.
“The climate is warming … if you look at the overall trend, there are some species that are showing up a little bit earlier.”
Of course, when the birds arrive will still vary from year to year.
Last year in Yellowknife, a late spring meant the first Canada goose wasn’t recorded until May 3 – a full 36 days later than 2019’s first observation.
He cautioned people not to read too much into this year’s first goose sighting.
“We have to be careful about making broad, sweeping statements with one goose showing up maybe three weeks in advance,” Reed said, adding he was not aware of any other geese being spotted yet.