CANADA GOOSE (Branta canadensis)
DESCRIPTION: The Canada Goose has a distinctive white ‘chin strap’ with an otherwise black head and neck. Most of the plumage is grey, with fine white bars on the under parts. The rump is white. The bill is black and the legs are grey. Sexes are similar. Canada geese can weigh up to 6.5 kg (14 lb) and they are about 105 cm (40 inches) long.
VOICE: https://www.xeno-canto.org/species/Branta-canadensis – Their calls get more intense and excited when, for some reason, they decide to change direction for example. On their breeding grounds, their honking calls during migration – often heard before the birds can be seen – is associated with the coming of spring and fall.
NAME: The English name ‘Goose’ would have different origins, such as Dutch and German ‘Gans’, Old Norse ‘Gas’, even Spanish ‘Ganso’. Then this would relate the name to Latin ‘anser’ for ‘goose’. The Latin name ‘Brant’ would stem from Anglo-Saxon ‘brennan’, to burn, in reference to the dark plumage of the bird. As for ‘Canada’ and ‘canadensis’, these parts of the name refer to the range of this goose.
HABITAT: In its native range, this goose is found on wetlands such as lakes, marshes, bays and flooded fields. In habitats closer to humans the Canada goose is found in fields, parks and lawns that are not far from water.
DIET: Mostly plant material, i.e. aquatic plants, grasses, grain, and seaweed. They will also some fish and insects. In urban environments they are seen feeding around garbage and from human handouts.
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BREEDING/NESTING: Canada geese are monogamous and mate for life. Nests in the wild are usually built on a mound near the water, for example on a beaver lodge (see photo below). Around five white eggs are laid. The goslings are yellowish. Both parents care for them, and when walking to the water one parent is usually at the front of the group, while the other at the back. Parents are highly protective of their young and will charge at potential threats, whether animals or humans. Here’s an article about a young golfer attacked by a guardian goose.
The birds living in cities have been known to build their nests in some highly unusual, almost humorous, places. Here’s an example: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/mother-goose-claims-squatter-s-rights-on-condo-balcony-1.2610320 . Since Canada geese are highly protective of their nests and will charge perceived threatening intruders, this can create unpleasant situations for city residents.
There are cities now providing tips to citizens on how to prevent Canada geese from nesting on their balconies or other places on their properties. This is because once the birds choose a nesting site, they will return to it the following years.
DISTRIBUTION: The Canada goose is a migratory bird – but with some qualifications. There are some groups that migrate to the south part of their breeding territory and will over winter there if they find adequate food sources, i.e. unfrozen bodies of water. This is called ‘partial migration’.
Canada geese have been introduced to other countries as a game bird, with various results. Although usually keeping a safe distance from humans, there are however populations of Canada geese that have settled in big cities where they are causing problems due to their large droppings, comparable in shape and size to those of average size dogs.
Adding to this is the fact that they hang out in large numbers on lawns such as golf courses and public parks, which has prompted authorities to sometimes relocate them and even cull them and give their meat away (for example to homeless people). Toronto is such one such city with a high number of resident Canada geese.
On Hawaii: The Canada goose is an uncommon winter visitor on the Hawaiian islands. DNA analysis has shown that the Nēnē, Hawaii’s State Bird, is a descendant of the Canada Goose.
In New Zealand: Canada geese were introduced in that country at the beginning of the 1900s as a game bird. Since then they have established themselves mainly on the South Island, and farmers consider them a pest, so the government is culling them.
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CONSERVATION: Before being protected from hunting, the Canada goose underwent a serious decline. Now that they are a protected species, their numbers have increased and they are not at risk. This is also due to their adaptation to human environments. They are still being hunted during their fall migration, but with the appropriate permits and within legal limits.
NOTES: What makes the Canada goose migration spectacular is the way they fly – in V formation (although the two sides of the ‘V’ are not always equal), while constantly communicating with their honking calls. The V formation has been shown to allow the flying bird better aerodynamic efficiency. The V formation behavior starts at a young age – goslings will swim this way behind the mother.
During their moulting season in the summer Canada geese can’t fly, so when they cross roads it can end up in a fatal collision (for them).
Canada geese are unfortunately a high risk for aircraft due to their size and numbers. They are known to have caused disasters (see here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/US_Airways_Flight_1549 ), so now airport authorities have taken measures to remove them from the flight areas for improved safety.
Some individuals that stay behind in the winter may choose unexpected locations, such as this one at a carwash in Winnipeg, Canada.
Here’s a situation on Prince Edward Island, Canada, of a flock of Canada geese crossing the road (to get to the other side, yes) at their own pace while traffic has to wait patiently.
National Bird Project: The Canada goose was a serious contender for the National Bird of that country, but it’s the Grey Jay that was chosen in the end. Unfortunately, Canada is still without a national bird since the federal government never endorsed the project, which had been an initiative of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.
SIMILAR SPECIES: Cackling Goose – The cackling goose formerly was thought to be a subspecies of the Canada goose, but with genetic analysis it was found to be distinct enough to earn its own species title, although with several ‘races’ or subspecies.
https://www.mba-aom.ca/jsp/toc.jsp (Atlas of the Breeding Birds of the Maritime Provinces)
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The first video below shows the same two Canada geese as above foraging for food in Lake Dalvay. One is literally ‘walking head down’ in the water.
The second video below takes a sweeping view of a large flock of Canada geese at Dalvay by the Sea (the same group as the photo above):
The last video shows a family (two adults and three goslings) heading down to a body of water. One of the adults holds its neck very straight and seems to guard the group.