Canada GooseBranta canadensis

adult
Rob Curtis/VIREO
adult male and female with goslings
Rob Curtis/VIREO
adult
Claude Nadeau/VIREO
adult
Rick and Nora Bowers/VIREO
adults
Rob Curtis/VIREO
adults
Arthur Morris/VIREO

Description

This big "Honker" is among our best-known waterfowl. In many regions, flights of Canada Geese passing over in V-formation -- northbound in spring, southbound in fall -- are universally recognized as signs of the changing seasons. Once considered a symbol of wilderness, this goose has adapted well to civilization, nesting around park ponds and golf courses; in a few places, it has even become something of a nuisance. Local forms vary greatly in size, and the smallest ones are now regarded as a separate species, Cackling Goose.

Habitat

Lakes, ponds, bays, marshes, fields. Very diverse, using different habitats in different regions; always nests near water, winters where feeding areas are within commuting distance of water. Nesting habitats include tundra, fresh marshes, salt marshes, lakes in wooded country. Often feeds in open fields, especially in winter. In recent years, also resident in city parks, suburban ponds.

Feeding Diet

almost entirely plant material. Feeds on very wide variety of plants. Eats stems and shoots of grasses, sedges, aquatic plants, also seeds and berries; consumes many cultivated grains (especially on refuges, where crops planted for geese). Occasionally eats some insects, mollusks, crustaceans, sometimes small fish.

Feeding Behavior

forages mostly by grazing while walking on land; also feeds in water, submerging head and neck, sometimes up-ending. Feeds in flocks at most seasons.

Nesting

May mate for life. Male defends territory with displays, including lowering head almost to ground with bill slightly raised and open, hissing; also pumps head up and down while standing. Nest site (chosen by female) is usually on slightly elevated dry ground near water, with good visibility. Much variation; may nest on cliff ledges, on muskrat houses, in trees, on artificial platforms. Nest (built by female) is slight depression with shallow bowl of sticks, grass, weeds, moss, lined with down. Eggs: 4-7, sometimes 2-11. White, becoming nest-stained. Incubation is by female, 25-28 days; male stands guard nearby. Young: Parents lead young from nest 1-2 days after hatching. Young are tended by both parents, but feed themselves. Age at first flight varies, usually 7-9 weeks, tending to be longer in the largest forms.

Eggs

4-7, sometimes 2-11. White, becoming nest-stained. Incubation is by female, 25-28 days; male stands guard nearby. Young: Parents lead young from nest 1-2 days after hatching. Young are tended by both parents, but feed themselves. Age at first flight varies, usually 7-9 weeks, tending to be longer in the largest forms.

Young

Parents lead young from nest 1-2 days after hatching. Young are tended by both parents, but feed themselves. Age at first flight varies, usually 7-9 weeks, tending to be longer in the largest forms.

Conservation

Species as a whole probably still increasing: responds well to management on wildlife refuges, and has become a common resident of city lakes and parks in many areas. Some distinctive populations are scarce or declining.

Range

Historically, each local population followed rigid migratory path, with traditional stopovers and wintering areas. Today many geese in urban areas and on refuges are permanent residents. Other populations have changed routes or wintering areas as habitats have changed.

Listen

honking of several geese
whirring sounds of goslings
excited pair taking flight
pair flying overhead
large flock flying over
pair cavorting near nest
adult alarm hisses & barks

Similar Species

adult

Greater White-fronted Goose

In North America, this gray goose is found mainly west of the Mississippi River. Nesting on Arctic tundra, it winters in open country in mild climates. Wintering flocks leave night roosts before sunrise to fly to feeding areas, and musical gabbling and honking can be heard from wavering lines of White-fronts passing overhead at dawn. Included in this species is a large, dark form known as the "Tule Goose," nesting in southern Alaska and wintering in central California marshes.

adult

Brant

No other geese nest as far north as the Brant, and few migrate as far. These small geese are characteristic of coastal areas in summer and winter; most birdwatchers know them from seeing their wintering flocks along both of our coasts. Traveling between their summer and winter outposts, they may fly at altitudes of several thousand feet as they cross great expanses of land or open ocean.

adult

Cackling Goose

The white-cheeked geese of North America were long considered to make up just one highly variable species, Canada Goose. It was not until 2004 that four of the smallest forms were formally recognized as comprising a distinct species. As their name suggests, Cackling Geese have much higher-pitched voices than the familiar honking of Canada Geese.

Vireo

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