Kanguq — Snow Goose

Each spring, flocks of geese and ducks fly north from their wintering grounds to nest and raise their young on the tundra. Kanguq, the snow goose, arrives in large numbers at many locations in the Arctic. Over the years, kanguq have expanded their range to include new areas of the Arctic, perhaps in response to a changing climate. One Igloolik elder recalled being middle-aged when he first sighted snow geese, in an area where there had been none during his childhood. At first, only occasional individuals were sighted, but now the geese are seen frequently (IOHP 402, 370).

Kanguq is a very capable bird, clever and wary of hunters. Even when moulting, it can run faster than most people, especially if it is running into the wind, and spreads its wings to give it extra lift. When the wind is behind it, however, it tends to overbalance and fall forward. Snow geese eat only plants and their roots, which identifies them as land birds, even though they can swim (Randa 1994).

Kanguit were hunted in the summer, during the moulting period when they had lost their flight feathers and could not escape hunters. Men, women, and children worked together to drive flocks of the flightless geese into a large enclosure with stone walls, called a qaggi or qarmaq. Once they were cornered, the geese were killed and placed, fully feathered, in caches to preserve them. The flocks of geese walking over the tundra were sometimes large enough to make a thunderous sound, which could be heard by putting one's ear to the ground (IOHP 065).

The first geese hunted were those that did not have young, the yearlings (kanguaq) and the males. These birds moult first, during the month of saggaruut (approximately July), while breeding female birds do not moult until after their offspring (kanguaraq) are able to walk around on their own. These females moult while their offspring continue to develop, so that by the time their parents have regrown flight feathers, the young are capable flyers, and all the birds are able to fly south together.

The first goose hunt was carried out in early summer (July in Igloolik), after the surface meltwater had run off through holes in the ice, but before the ice had entirely disappeared. Later in the summer, families would move to another location and carry out a second hunt, this time targeting the young fledglings and the female geese that moult later (IOHP 065, 390, 389, 370). Snow geese in a flock tend to follow a leader, even when being chased; the Inuit used this behaviour to herd the geese into enclosures by having one person walk ahead of the flock to act as a leader, pointing the way for the lead bird and its followers (IOHP 065).

Goose down was often used in winter, when the Inuit hunted seals through their breathing holes in the ice. When a breathing hole was located, a hunter would place an indicator, known as a qiviutaq, in the hole. The qiviutaq was made of caribou tendon with a single strand of goose down attached to it. When a seal surfaced in the hole to breathe, its breath and movements caused the down to flutter, alerting the hunter to the seal's presence (IOHP 439).