Population Trends of Tundra-Nesting Birds in Churchill Manitoba: Potential Effects of Increasing Lesser-Snow Geese (Chen caerulescens caerulescens) Populations

John E. Sammler, Minnesota Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55108

David E. Andersen, U.S. Geological Survey, Minnesota Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55108


Recent increases in lesser snow goose (Chen caerulescens caerulescens) abundance have raised the question of how populations of other tundra-nesting birds are impacted by increased goose herbivory and habitat degradation. Line transect surveys were conducted on 30 transects at the Nestor 1 study site outside of Churchill, Manitoba in June 1984, 1999, and 2000 to obtain estimates of population densities of tundra-nesting birds and determine if density changes have occurred in relation to increased goose habitat damage. We also compared bird abundance at a smaller scale between degraded and non-degraded freshwater sedge meadows. Herring gulls (Larus argentatus) and semipalmated sandpipers (Calidris pusilla) exhibited significant (P < 0.05) increases in population densities from 1984 to 1999 and 2000. Dunlins (Calidris alpina) had significantly lower densities from 1984 to 1999 (P < 0.10) and nonsignificant declines from 1984 to 2000. Horned larks (Eremophila alpestris), lapland longspurs (Calcarius lapponicus), savannah sparrows (Passerculus sandwichensis), and the sedge meadow shorebird guild exhibited nonsignificant increases in density. The tundra-nesting passerine guild exhibited a significant (P < 0.05) increase in density from 1984 to 1999. Arctic terns (Sterna paradiseaea), pectoral sandpipers (Calidris melantos), and willow ptarmigan (Lagopus lagopus) indicated significant (P < 0.05) declines in densities of birds seen on transects and in the numbers of transects birds were detected on. Significantly lower abundances of passerines and shorebird guild birds were detected in degraded freshwater sedge meadows versus non-degraded meadows.

Results indicate that most species did not exhibit population density declines over time on the study area, despite increased snow goose damage and density.  However, at the scale of the habitat patch, the same groups of species had lower abundances in degraded habitats versus non-degraded habitats.  Results suggest that habitat degradation led to lower bird abundance, however habitat damage may have to be widespread and severe to elicit population density declines over a large area, like Nestor 1.  The species that exhibited density declines over the study area were larger, ground-nesting species.


Sammler, J. E. 2001. Population trends of tundra-nesting birds in Churchill, Manitoba: potential effects of increasing lesser snow goose (Chen caerulescens caerulescens) populations. Thesis, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minnesota, USA.


Each year during Canada goose breeding ground surveys informal records have been kept of observed bird species and nesting birds. The tables below summarize these records.

TABLE 1. Master Species List, Nestor 1 Research Camp, Wapusk National Park, Cape Churchill, Manitoba, Canada

Compiled by Brian Reichert, MN COOP Unit

American Bittern Long-tailed Jaeger
American Golden Plover Mallard
American Pipit Northern Shrike
American Robin Northern Harrier
American Tree Sparrow Northern Pintail
American Wigeon Northern Shoveler
Arctic Tern Pacific Loon
Bald Eagle Parasitic Jaeger
Barn Swallow Pectoral Sandpiper
Black Duck Peregrine Falcon
Black Scoter Pomarine Jaeger
Black-bellied Plover Red Phalarope
Bonaparte's Gull Red-breasted Merganser
Brant Red-necked Phalarope
Bufflehead Ross's Goose
Canada Goose Rough-legged Hawk
Canvasback Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Common Eider Ruddy Turnstone
Common Goldeneye Ruff
Common Merganser Sanderling
Common Raven Sandhill Crane
Common Redpoll Savannah Sparrow
Common Snipe Semipalmated Plover
Dark-eyed Junco Semipalmated Sandpiper
Dunlin Short-billed Dowitcher
Gadwall Short-eared Owl
Greater Scaup Snow bunting
Green-winged Teal Snowy Owl
Harris's Sparrow Solitary Sandpiper
Herring Gull Stilt Sandpiper
Hoary Redpoll Tundra Swan
Horned Grebe Upland Sandpiper
Horned Lark Western Grebe
Hudsonian Godwit Whimbrel
Killdeer White-crowned
King Eider White-crowned Sparrow
Lapland Longspur White-rumped Sandpiper
Lark Bunting White-throated Sparrow
Least Sandpiper Willow Ptarmigan
Lesser Scaup Yellow Warbler
Long-tailed Duck Yellow-headed Blackbird



TABLE 2. Breeding Bird list, Wapusk National Park, Manitoba, CA (1985-2004)

Compiled by Brian Reichert, MN COOP Unit

Species Total Nests
American Golden Plover 9
Dunlin 28
Hudsonian Godwit 1
Least Sandpiper 15
Red Phalarope 2
Red-necked Phalarope 2
Semipalmated Plover 8
Semipalmated Sandpiper 11
Stilt Sandpiper 15
American Tree Sparrow 1
Common Raven 1
Common Redpoll 1
Horned Lark 2
Laplund Longspur 23
Savannah Sparrow 15
Common Eider 16
Greater Scaup 4
King Eider 6
Lesser Snow Goose 113
Long-tailed Duck 11
Northern Pintail 2
Pacific Loon 27
Tundra Swan 77
Rough-legged Hawk 7
Snowy Owl 11
Arctic Tern 13
Herring Gull 54
Parasitic Jaeger 10
Willow Ptarmigan 17
Sandhill Crane 3