Because much of the information concerning disturbance of waterfowl by aircraft is anecdotal, we examined behavioral responses of Pacific brant (Branta bernicla nigricans) and Canada geese (B. canadensis taverneri) to experimental overflights during fall staging at Izembek Lagoon, Alaska. These data were used to develop predictive models of brant and Canada goose response to aircraft altitude, type, noise, and lateral distance from flocks. Overall, 75% of brant flocks and 9% of Canada goose flocks flew in response to overflights. Mean flight and alert responses of both species were greater for rotary-wing than for fixed-wing aircraft and for high-noise than for low-noise aircraft. Increased lateral distance between an aircraft and a flock was the most consistent predictive parameter associated with lower probability of a response by geese. Altitude was a less reliable predictor because of interaction effects with aircraft type and noise. Although mean response of brant and Canada geese generally was inversely proportional to aircraft altitude, greatest response occurred at intermediate (305-760 m) altitudes. At Izembek Lagoon and other areas where there are large concentrations of waterfowl, managers should consider lateral distance from the birds as the primary criterion for establishing local flight restrictions, especially for helicopters.
Additional publication details
Response of fall-staging brant and Canada geese to aircraft overflights in southwestern Alaska