Canada Geese are found throughout North America. There are four subspecies (or populations); each is found in a different area of North America. These subspecies are the southern, northern, western and Aleutian-Canadian populations. The southern population ranges from 60 degrees north latitude to the Rockies and Atlantic Ocean. The northern population ranges north of 60 degrees north latitude in the Arctic and Subarctic. Canada geese travel to the southern parts of the United States during the winter. The western population is found along the coasts of Alaska and British Columbia. The Aleutian-Canadian population is rarely found. A general trend in all subspecies is that they they spend summers in the northern parts of North America, especially Canada, and migrate south to areas of the United States in the winter months. (Ogilvie, 1978; Owen, 1980)
Canada Geese are found near waterways in open, grassy habitats such as grasslands, chaparral, and arctic tundra. They also inhabit man-made habitats that are open and grassy, such as golf courses, agricultural land, airports, and parks.
Branta canadensis individuals have a black neck, bill, and head with a white strap under the chin and occasional white patches elsewhere. The body is usually brownish-gray although colors vary in some of the subspecies. In some of the smaller subspecies the body is dark brown in color where as in some of the larger subspecies, the body is a light gray tone. Underneath, the colors are much lighter and almost white on the tail. During flight the tail shows a white semi-circle just above the black tail. Females may be slightly smaller than males, although both are similar to each other in color pattern. The bill of Branta canadensis tapers from the base where it is high to the end where it has narrowed. The bill has lamellae, or teeth around the outside that are a used as a cutting tool. The legs are close together with very black feet. These geese have very large wings (127 to 173 cm wingspan) that can also be used as weapons. The weight of Branta canadensis varies depending on the subspecies.
Goslings (young Canada geese) are yellow with some greenish-gray colorings on top of their heads and backs. As with the adult color pattern, there is some variation among the different subspecies. Goslings of the darker subspecies have a brownish olive or blunt yellow coloring while those of the lighter subspecies are lighter and brighter in color. These colors fade as the gosling grows into the adult color pattern. All goslings have black or blue-gray bills and legs that become darker as they age. (Kortright, 1942; Owen, 1980; Robbins, et al., 2001; Van Wormer, 1968)
Canada geese are monogamous. Pairs form during the winter, during migration or on their wintering grounds, for the next breeding season. Mated pairs may stay together for more than one year, sometimes staying together for life.
Males fight over females with their wings and bills. The winner approaches the female with his head down and neck undulating. He makes hissing and honking noises. The pairs mate either before or after they have found a nesting location. Mating, occurs in the spring on the water. The female is usually partially submerged or completed submerged while copulation takes place. (Ehrlich, et al., 1988)
The average clutch size is five eggs, although this size ranges from 2 to 9 eggs. The incubation period lasts 23 to 30 days.
Females incubate the eggs, choose the location for nesting, and even build the nest without males. Males defend the territory, nest, and eggs from intruders, such as other geese. Female Canada geese pick nesting sites that are isolated but have good visibility. This allows them to readily see danger approaching and to be difficult to get at. The nesting area also must have open water with low banks so they can have access to water plants and places to get into or out of the water. Swamps, marshes, meadows, lakes, and other such areas are among some of their favorite nesting spots. The Canadian and Alaskan shorelines have expanses of tundra habitat that provide good nesting sites. Canada geese are often seen nesting on small islands that don't have very tall grasses or on muskrat houses (which are similar to small islands).
Nests are very simple and are made quickly. Materials that are used are weeds, twigs, grass, moss, needles, and other such materials. After some collection and building, female geese round out a curve or depression with their bodies. They drop the materials around themselves and move the items to get the best fit. From time to time they round out the center with their chests or feet. If there are no items of vegetation the nest may only be a depression in the ground shaped by their chests and feet. Once the eggs are laid, the nest is lined with feathers and down. Down insulates against extreme warmth as well as cold, stabilizing egg temperature.
Incubation must occur immediately after the last eggs are laid. The incubation period lasts 23 to 30 days. The female turns the eggs regularly to promote proper development and changes their position in the nest to maintain even incubation temperatures. The offspring hatches via an egg tooth on top of its beak to crack open the shell. Goslings keep cracking open the shells until they are completely free between 24 and 48 hours later. All of the eggs in the clutch are fully hatched within 24 hours. Goslings within a clutch usually have a sex ratio of 1:1. Hatchlings fledge in 68 to 78 days after hatching. ("Canada Geese (*Branta canadensis*)", 1998; Van Wormer, 1968)
After the eggs hatch, the family group (the offspring and parents) leave the nest and begin to travel together to feed and seek shelter. Both males and females feed and guard their young. Upon hatching, young Canada geese are able to follow their parents around and leave the nest.
It is not clear exactly how long the average Canada goose can live, but there have been two geese that were reported to have lived very long lives. One of them lived to be 24 years old and another reached 23. In captivity, two geese were reported to live to 42 years old. Probably most Canada geese die within their first year of life, as nestlings, fledglings, and during their first migration.
Canada geese are highly social, being found in flocks at all times of the year except when they are nesting. Migration begins in the fall and takes place in large flocks. Large winter aggregations form while on lakes, coastal waters, and mudflats. In flight, flocks form large V's or diagonally straight lines. This is because each bird doesn't fly directly behind the others, but off to an angle. This minimizes drag on each individual bird, allowing them to take advantage of the slipstream created by the bird in front of them. They migrate at a slow pace, stopping along the way. Because of this, they arrive at their breeding grounds in good physical shape. Canada geese are active mainly during the day.
Males in this species are more aggressive than females. The bills are used not only for eating, but also in attacks and grooming. These birds take flight when danger approaches. They also lay out flat and still on the ground with their necks stretched out to be less visible to the danger.
During warm days of the year, geese flatten their feathers against their body to reduce the dead air space and keep them cool. On cold days, they fluff their feathers to increase their insulating ability. These birds love to swim and bathe in the water, especially on warm days. Some subspecies have a yearly molt of flight feathers in the summer and become flightless during this time. ("Canada Geese (*Branta canadensis*)", 1998; Owen, 1980; Van Wormer, 1968)
Canada geese have good eyesight, which is necessary for flight. They must move their heads in order to see all the way around themselves. However, their eyes are close to their crowns on the side of their heads, enabling them to see more than 180 degrees (closer to 270 degrees) horizontally and vertically. They have mostly monocular vision. Canada geese have excellent hearing and the ears are located on the side of its head. Canada geese often use body movements to communicate with each other. These geese also have the ability to make at least 10 different calls
When on land, Branta canadensis eat a variety of grasses including Bermuda grass, salt grass and wild barley. Geese are able to grab a hold of each blade and pull it out with their bills by jerking their heads. They also eat wheat, beans, rice, and corn. In the water, the birds stick their head and upper part of their body into the water leaving their tail and back end extending in the air. They stretch their neck out, under the water, and slide their bills across the bottom silt. They also eat a number of aquatic plants such as eel grass, sea lettuce and sago. ("Canada Geese (*Branta canadensis*)", 1998; Owen, 1980; Van Wormer, 1968)
Unguarded nests and eggs are targets for predators such as gulls, common ravens, American crows, skunks, domestic dogs, and many others. Males send out an alarm by flying into the air and honking as a predator approaches. This alerts not only his mate but others nesting nearby. Females lower their bodies onto the nest and stretch out their necks to camouflage the nest.
Canada geese are also a common game bird, hunted regularly by humans.
As well as dispersing the seeds of the plants they eat, Canada Geese are important prey for many predators in the ecosystems in which they live.
Canada Geese have been hunted by humans for hundreds of years. Native Americans hunted them in the spring migration. Eskimos hunted them by taking advantage of the molt that leaves them flightless. Even early white settlers took advantage of these birds and hunted them for food. These birds are still being hunted today in the United States and Canada. (Owen, 1980; Van Wormer, 1968)
Canada geese can become a nuisance, especially when normally migratory birds become resident. They can overgraze lawns and crops, leading to erosion. On lawns, their feces can annoy humans. Build-up of fecal matter can lead to reduced water quality, by fostering bacteria and adding much nitrogen and phosphorus.
Canada geese can be an exceptional annoyance in Atlantic flyway states by crowding in on golf courses, beaches, parks, playing fields, and yards. In the eastern states, Canada Geese have been very harmful to local crops and have forced farmers to plant a lot more winter wheat to compensate for the damage done by these geese. (NJ Department of Environmental Protection, 2001)
In 1918 when the Migratory Bird Treaty was passed, spring shooting was prohibited in the United States and Canada. This regulated the hunting season to three and a half months of the year. The hunting regulations currently in place are for shooting season limits and bag limits in relation to the amount of birds currently in the population. A quota system was put in place in 1960 to regulate the number of geese shot in a given year.
One subspecies, Aleutian-Canadian Geese, were listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1967. This was due to the introduction of a non-native arctic fox species to their nesting islands. They became predatory on the naturally defenseless geese. This introduction caused the population to decline to approximately 800 individuals. However, in 1990, due to increasing numbers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service changed the listing to threatened. The state of Alaska also changed the species listing from endangered to a species of special concern. Aleutian-Canadian Geese are now recorded around 15,000 individuals and nesting on eight islands.
On the other hand, some populations have grown so numerous, there are many organizations who are trying to regulate the populations of these geese. They see this as necessary because if the goose population continues to rise at its current rate, they will present a very serious problem to their surrounding environment in only a few years. Other organizations believe that the methods and ideas of these organizations are cruel and unnecessary. These groups believe that the growing population is not nearly as threatening as some believe and that they are actually at great risk because of the excessive hunting and death by pesticides that geese populations experience. (Owen, 1980)
A chemical called methiocarb is being used on grass to prevent geese from grazing on it in some areas. Methiocarb makes the geese feel sick, but thus far has not resulted in any deaths. The toxic effects of this chemical are still being researched. Over 200 geese have been killed by the chemical parathion in Texas. Golden eagles and bald eagles have been seen eating the bodies of geese that have been killed by parathion which means it could potentially be very dangerous for them as well.
Tanya Dewey (author, editor), Animal Diversity Web.
Kari Kirschbaum (editor), Animal Diversity Web.
Heather Lutz (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.
uses sound to communicate
living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.
having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.
used loosely to describe any group of organisms living together or in close proximity to each other - for example nesting shorebirds that live in large colonies. More specifically refers to a group of organisms in which members act as specialized subunits (a continuous, modular society) - as in clonal organisms.
animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.
an animal that mainly eats leaves.
A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.
mainly lives in water that is not salty.
An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.
offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).
marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.
makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds
Having one mate at a time.
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
specialized for swimming
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.
Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).
breeding is confined to a particular season
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
associates with others of its species; forms social groups.
living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.
uses touch to communicate
that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).
Living on the ground.
The term is used in the 1994 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals to refer collectively to species categorized as Endangered (E), Vulnerable (V), Rare (R), Indeterminate (I), or Insufficiently Known (K) and in the 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals to refer collectively to species categorized as Critically Endangered (CR), Endangered (EN), or Vulnerable (VU).
A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.
A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.
A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.
A terrestrial biome with low, shrubby or mat-like vegetation found at extremely high latitudes or elevations, near the limit of plant growth. Soils usually subject to permafrost. Plant diversity is typically low and the growing season is short.
uses sight to communicate
young are relatively well-developed when born
1998. "Canada Geese (*Branta canadensis*)" (On-line). Accessed March 12, 2000 at http://www.rhrwildlife.com/cgee.htm.
Bruun, B. 1964. Ducks, Geese, and Swans. New York, NY: Odyssey Press.
Ehrlich, P., D. Dobkin, D. Wheye. 1988. The Birder's Handbook: A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Jaques, F. 1939. The Geese Fly High. Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.
Kortright, F. 1942. The Ducks, Geese and Swans of North America. Washington, DC: The American Wildlife Institute.
NJ Department of Environmental Protection, 2001. "Management of Canada geese in urban areas" (On-line). Accessed 14 May 2002 at http://www.state.nj.us/dep/watershedmgt/DOCS/BMP_DOCS/Goosedraft.pdf.
Ogilvie, M. 1978. Wild Geese. Vermillion, SD: Buteo Books.
Owen, M. 1980. Wild Geese of the World: Their Life History and Ecology. London: BT Batsford Ltd.
Robbins, C., B. Bruun, H. Zim. 2001. A guide to field identification: Birds of North America. New York: St. Martin's Press.
Van Wormer, J. 1968. The World of the Canadian Goose. Philadelphia: Lippincott.