Now a common sight in North America near virtually any body of water, the Canada goose (Branta Canadensis) was once nearly extinct due to hunting and loss of habitat. Conservation efforts during the 20thcentury managed to stabilize the population, and in some urban and suburban areas the birds have become so numerous they are considered pests.
The most common waterfowl in North America, Canada geese are quite large. Adults can be over 3 feet long and have 6 foot wingspans, with an average weight for males of 7-14lbs; females are about 10% smaller. Canada geese have black heads and necks, with a white chinstrap and brownish-grey body, making them quite easy to identify. These geese usually live in an elevated area that is near water, and will make their nests in a low spot in the ground. Due to their height and proximity to water, beaver dams often make for a popular Canada goose nesting spot.
Historically, Canada geese have been migratory birds, and would fly in their signature “V” formation to areas like the Southern United States and Mexico during the winter. However, in recent decades more flocks of geese have become permanent residents in temperate areas of the U.S. and Canada. It is believed that the abundance of man-made bodies of water, such as those on golf courses, as well as a lack of any remaining natural predators have given these geese little reason to leave their summer homes.
The amount of human food waste available in urban and suburban areas is also likely a contributing factor to geese not migrating, as they are very opportunistic when it comes to their diets. In the wild, Canada geese are primarily herbivores, and feed on many different varieties of grasses on land and seaweed in the water. However, they will also eat grains, insects, and fish on occasion. Adult Canada geese are rarely preyed upon, but those in more rural areas have to be wary of gray wolves, coyotes, and various birds of prey.
Canada geese begin to search for a mate at two years old. Once successful, the birds are monogamous, and the pair will stay together for life. After mating, the female will lay 3-8 eggs, which she then must incubate for 24-28 days. During this time, the female will lose her flight feathers, and she will be unable to fly until they grow back 20-40 days later, around the time her goslings are able to fly. Both parents protect their young vigorously, and Canada geese are known to snap at people and other animals that come too close to their young. Because geese often inhabit areas of high human traffic, such as parks and golf courses, these encounters can be frequent.
CANADA GOOSE FACTS
- The average lifespan of a Canada goose is 10-24 years.
- Males and females almost always pick a mate who is very close to their own size.
- The largest ever recorded Canada goose had a 7.3 foot wingspan and weighed 24lbs.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Field Guide to Birds of North America