Hard to believe that the population of Canada geese during the 1700s and 1800s had been practically decimated across North America. This was largely due to unregulated hunting. The 1900s saw a resurgence because of the work of game bird breeders, sportsmen, private organizations and state boards of fisheries and game, as well as the impacts of landscaping by increasing lawns. Today we have a substantial population of resident and migratory birds. Sad to say, so many that many view them as a nuisance.
Many recognize flocks of Canada geese as they fly overhead in a “V” formation and can be heard honking as they migrate north and south each year. The Canada goose is larger than a mallard duck, but smaller than a mute swan. They vary widely in size, with a wingspan between 50-67″ and a length of 30-43″. Their black head and neck is separated by white cheeks and a chinstrap. They have a tan breast and brown back. With large webbed feet, a wide flat bill and long neck they can be seen dabbling in freshwater ponds or brackish marshes, hanging out around marshy meadows or wetlands, or grazing in farm fields, backyard lawns, parks, airports or golf courses.
Canada geese, Branta canadensis, are primarily herbivores, but they do eat small quantities of insects, mollusks, fish and small crustaceans. There are both “migrant” and “resident” populations. “Migrant” populations nest in Alaska and northern Canada and primarily winter in the United States south to Mexico. “Resident” populations nest throughout the United States and do not migrate. Resident populations in cities and suburban areas are safe from most predators, including hunters, and since people like to feed them the resident population continues to grow. Migratory populations are held in check by predation, migration mortality, hunting and late winter storms.
Monogamous, they mate for life, and the female selects the nest site, builds most of the nest, and incubates the eggs for 25-28 days while the male (gander) guards the nest. If another goose or predator intrudes into their area threat displays will be seen. There will be head pumping, the bill will be open with the tongue raised, along with hissing, honking and vibrating neck feathers. Back off or fighting might ensue.
The young birds before fledging are called goslings. They remain with the parents for their first year. After a while the birds will gather back together and a group of geese on the ground is called a gaggle. Sometimes you will see groups of geese flying in various directions in search of feeding grounds and first and second year geese, along with adults, will move to large bodies of water where they will be safer as they molt their wing feathers.
Migration can be triggered by a combination of changes in food supplies, lower temperatures, changes in daylight and genetic predisposition. Individuals return to their same migratory stopovers and wintering areas year after year. Although their amazing navigational skills are not fully understood some pathways are related to important stopover locations. Birds can get compass information from stars, the sun, the position of the setting sun, landmarks and sensing the earth’s magnetic field. There is also some evidence that the sense of smell might play a role.
Geese move in a “V” formation to reduce wind resistance and it may assist with the communication and coordination within a group. Check out the National Geographic video – Geese Fly Together and a fun YouTube video Why Geese Fly in V’s. When in flight a group is called a skein, team or wedge, when flying close together – a plump.
Canada geese are amazing, easily recognized birds that signal the change in seasons. Who doesn’t love to see and hear them as they migrate overhead? Problem is we have aided the resident populations in become a public nuisance and health problem. Did you know that one goose will poop over a quart a day? That is a lot of goose dropping and it impacts the water quality. Swimming areas and drinking water may have high coliform bacteria counts due to goose droppings. They overrun native wetlands and even aviation safety is a concern with approximately 240 goose aircraft collisions each year.
There are many management techniques that can be used from not feeding them to allowing regulated hunting of resident populations.
You can help by –
1. Not feeding them and educating others on why they should not feed them either. Bread is especially unhealthy for them since it does not provide them with the proper nutrients and when they gather together in large numbers they are more susceptible to diseases.
2. Altering their preferred habitat from lawns that go directly to the water to more woodland habitats.
3. Scare them away from fields and golf courses with loud noises and some locations effectively use dogs to chase them off.
4. Today there are nearly three times as many geese as there were 30 years ago. Goose management has become increasing sophisticated in recent years. Learn more about what wildlife biologists are doing to manage the population.
Once again we can co-exist we just need to better understand the Canada goose and what is best for the bird and the places together we call home.
All About Birds: Canada Goose
Wildlife Fact Sheets: Canada Geese
Solving Problems with Canada Geese
Geese Fly Together – National Geographic YouTube
Why Geese Fly in V’s