Early naturalists exploring western Alaska were intrigued to find a stocky, blue-gray species of coastal goose unique to that area and nearby Russia. As E. W. Nelson ( Nelson 1887b ) wrote, “Among the various species of birds more or less peculiar to Alaska this goose is perhaps the most noteworthy.”
The Emperor Goose nests in the extensive coastal salt marsh habitats of arctic and sub-arctic Alaska and Russia and winters primarily on coastal beaches along ice-free areas of the Aleutian Islands and the Alaska Peninsula. Locally known as the “Beach Goose” from its habit of roosting and feeding near the waters' edge, the diet of this species consists largely of clams, mussels, and algae when wintering and staging in marine and estuarine habitats. When nesting in terrestrial habitats, it eats mostly roots, bulbs, and shoots of vegetation.
Although the breeding biology and habitat requirements of this goose have been examined in detail, mostly on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta (Y-K Delta) of Alaska, there have been no intensive studies of its wintering or staging biology. Recent studies of migration have confirmed pathways and timing between the Y-K Delta and staging areas on the Alaska Peninsula and wintering areas largely on the Aleutian Islands (Hupp et al. 2007). Observations of substantial molt migrations to the Chukotka Peninsula in eastern Russia (Hupp et al. 2007) suggest a possible change in distribution, or at least a clarification, and raise the possibility of harvest mortality on both continents.
Alaska's Emperor Goose population declined precipitously from 139,000 in 1964 to 42,000 in 1986, although its numbers have recovered slightly since then (Fischer et al. 2008). The factors responsible for this quick decline and slow recovery remain poorly known. Hunting, especially subsistence hunting by Native Americans, is probably a factor (Hupp et al. 2008b); coastal oil pollution could also be reducing the survival of overwintering individuals (Byrd et al. 1995); and interspecific competition among brood rearing geese may limit recovery through recruitment (Schmutz and Laing 2002, Lake et al. 2008).