TWEL Justin Brown Thesis

The influence of coyotes on an urban Canada goose population in the Chicago metropolitan area
 
Justin L. Brown, MS
Advisor: Stan Gehrt
 
 
Canada geese (Branta canadensis) have become common in many urban areas, often creating nuisance problems for human residents. The presence of urban geese has raised concerns about the spread of disease, increased erosion, excessive noise, eutrophication of waterways, and general nuisance problems. Goose populations have grown due to an increase in urbanization resulting in an abundance of high quality food (urban grass) and suitable nesting sites, as well as a decrease in some predators. I monitored nest predation in the Chicago suburbs during the 2004 and 2005 nesting seasons using 3 nest monitoring techniques to identify predators: video cameras, plasticine eggs, and sign from nest using a classification tree analysis. Of 58 nests monitored in 2004 and 286 in 2005, only raccoons (Procyon lotor) and coyotes (Canis latrans) were identified as nest predators. Raccoons were responsible for 22-25% of depredated nests, but were rarely capable of depredating nests that were actively defended by a goose. Coyotes were responsible for 75-78% of all Canada goose nest depredation and were documented killing one adult goose and feeding on several others.
 
The coyote is a top-level predator that had increased in many metropolitan areas in recent years. To determine if coyotes were actively hunting geese or eggs during the nesting season, I analyzed coyote habitat selection between nesting and pre-nesting or post-nesting seasons. Coyote home ranges (95% Minimum Convex Polygon) were calculated for 19 coyotes to examine third order habitat selection related to goose nest abundance. A 100 m buffer (buffer habitat) was created and centered on each waterway edge and contained 90% of all nests. Coyotes showed selection for habitats during all seasons. Buffer habitat was the top ranked habitat in both pre-nesting and nesting seasons, but dropped to third ranked in post-nesting season. Habitat selection across seasons was compared using a repeated measures MANOVA. Habitat selection between pre-nesting and nesting seasons (P=0.72) were similar, while between post-nesting and nesting seasons there was a nearly significant difference (P=0.07). The insignificant change in habitat use across seasons suggests that coyotes did not switch habitat use to take advantage of goose nests. Alternatively, the change in ranking of buffer habitat across seasons suggests that coyotes may have switched habitat use to take advantage of goose nests. The results are not clear as large individual variation between coyotes due to differences in habitat availability, and social status interfere with the results of the analysis.
 
Even though I failed to find strong support for coyotes actively hunting goose nests, they nevertheless were the primary nest predator in the area and may influence Canada goose populations. To determine the potential influence of coyotes on the Canada goose population, I created a Canada goose matrix population model that included variables such as coyote predation on adults and nests as well as coyote influence on nest desertion. Using the base population model I calculated the Canada goose population to be increasing with λ = 1.055. The removal of all coyote influence on the goose population would allow λ to increase to 1.214. Nest predation was the most important factor related to coyotes: the removal of coyote nest predation from the model resulted in a population growth rate λ = 1.157. Modeling results suggest coyotes are serving as a limiting factor for the Canada goose population within the Chicago metropolitan area.