About Canada Geese


Canada Geese New Jersey




Canada geese are the most widely distributed and well known of all waterfowl (Bent 1925)

Canada geese are the second largest waterfowl in North America



KINGDOM: Animalia ~ PHYLUM: Chordata ~ SUBPHYLUM: Vertebrata ~

CLASS: Aves ~ ORDER: Anserformes ~ FAMILY: Anatidae ~ SUBFAMILY: Anserinae ~ GENUS: Branta ~ SPECIES: Branta canadensis



Taxonomic Note:  In their 45th supplement to the Check-list of North American Birds (Banks et al. 2004), the American Ornithologist's Union's Committee on Classification and Nomenclature voted to split the Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) into two species: Canada Goose (B. canadensis) and Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii). The AOU has partitioned the generally accepted subspecies as follows:


  Subspecies (11 subspecies -Ogilvie & Young 1998)


        Canada goose ( Branta canadensis)


·        B. c. canadensis (sometimes called “Atlantic” Canada goose)

·        B. c. interior (sometimes called “Todd’s” Canada goose)

·        B. c. maxima (sometimes called “Giant” or “resident” Canada goose)

·        B. c. moffitti (sometimes called  “Moffitt’s” Canada goose)

·        B. c. parvipes (sometimes called “Lesser” Canada goose)

·        B. c. occidentalis (sometimes called “Dusky” Canada goose)

·        B. c. fulva (sometimes called “Vancouver” Canada goose) 



          Cackling goose (Branta hutchinsii)


·        B. h. hutchinsii (sometimes called “Richardson’s”or”Hutchin’s” Cackling goose)

·        B. h. taverneri (sometimes called “Taverner’s” or “Lesser” Cackling goose)

·        B. h. minima (sometimes just called “Cackling goose”)

·        B. h. leucopareia (sometimes called “Aleutian” Cackling goose)


Fort comparisons, visit this web site:  http://www.mawba.com/canadas.htm


Non-migratory (resident) geese vs. Migratory Canada geese


        As defined:  http://tinyurl.com/2etn2j  


Protection - The Migratory Bird Treaty Act makes it illegal for anyone to take (kill),

        possess, import, export, transport, sell, purchase, barter or offer for sale, purchase, or

        barter, any migratory bird, or the parts, nests, or eggs of such a bird except under the

        terms of a valid permit issued by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, pursuant to Federal



       MBTA -  http://www.access.gpo.gov/uscode/title16/chapter7_subchapterii_.html


Geographic Range ~ Flyways


        Canada geese can be found from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from Mexico to the

        Arctic Coast of Canada.  A general trend in all subspecies is that 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.





Size (largest/smallest)


·        B. c. maxima.  Length up to 48 inches. Wingspan up to 72 inches; Average

Weight (m) 12 ½ pounds, (f) 11 pounds. (Males can weigh in excess of 23



·        B. c. minima. Length between 22 and 27 inches (About size of Mallard duck). Wingspan between 13 and 15 inches. Average Weight (m) 3 ½ pounds, (f) 2 ½ pounds.  


(Citations: Bellrose 1978 and Gabrielson and Jewett 1940)




·        Large water birds

·        Head - black

·        Eyes - black 

·        Neck - black (long)

·        Cheek patches - white

·        Bill - black

·        Breast feathers - light tan, light grey or cream color

·        Back - brownish

·        Rump - white

·        Tail - black

·        Legs - black

·        Feet – black (webbed)



Canada geese occasionally display hints of a white collar.


Life Span


        The average life span of a Canada goose is 10-25 years. There are reports of geese

         living to be 30 plus years of age in the wild. One captive pair is known to have

         been together for 42 years but when the male was accidentally killed, the female

         died a few months later (McAtee 1924)


        Factors contributing to the mortality of Canada geese include:


·        Hunting - Legal and illegal

·        Predation - Eggs are eaten by raccoons, foxes, skunks, weasels, crows. snapping turtles, gulls. Goslings are prey for larger birds such as eagles and owls. Adult geese are prey for wolves, foxes, coyotes and bald eagles.

·        Illness - Parasites, virus, bacteria, toxins in the environment

·        Natural cause - Old age

·        Un-Natural causes - Egg addling (oiled, punctured, shaken). Violence (deliberate attack by humans)

·        Accidents - Vehicles, airplanes

·        Lethal management (control) practices - USDA Wildlife Service round ups.

      (Suffocation in carbon dioxide (CO²) gas chambers. Transported to

      slaughter houses)


Social behavior


·        Gregarious

·        Wary - Alert for danger. Often while the flock is feeding, individuals will take turns acting as sentinels (neck erect), warning others of impending danger (Bent 1925).

·        Tolerant - but can be aggressive toward other geese when pairing up with a

      mate and toward humans during nesting season.

·        Attentive – Strong family ties. Male and female raise offspring together.  


 Body language






(a) Alert, wary of danger   (b) Conflict, accompanied with hiss   (c) Increased threat, accompanied by a call   (d) Conflict situation, pumping display, precedes direct attack



 Sex Differences


        Male and female look alike. Male tends to be larger than female.




         Similar to adult but paler in color.


 Yearling – One year old




         Calls range from the deep “a-honk” and the rich, musical honking “honk-a-lonk” of

         the medium and large races to the high-pitched cackling voices of smaller races.

         Researchers have determined that Canada Geese have about 13 different calls

         ranging from warnings, contentment, loud greeting and alarm calls to the low

         clucks and murmurs of feeding geese, which indicate a sophisticated level  

         of communication. Male’s pitch is low: honk. Female’s pitch is higher: hink.


Audio sounds








Video/Audio sound




Flight ~V-formation ~ Speed 


       Canada geese are well known for flying in a V-formation. The exact reason for this

       behavior is still debated. One theory states that the bird flying in front creates up-

       drafts of air that give the bird behind a boost, therefore requiring less energy for

       the rear bird to fly. Some scientists have estimated that a group of 25 birds could fly

       70 percent farther when flying in a V-formation than flying alone (Lissamon and

       Schollenberger 1970)


       Another study of migrating Canada geese, however, showed that the distances be-

       tween the birds in flight are longer than would be required to take advantage of such

       a mechanism (Gould and Heppner 1974). This same study showed that the V-

       formation was used less than 25% of the time. Other formations, such as column or

       cluster, were used more often. These researchers suggested that other non-

       aerodynamic reasons must be the cause of flying in formation, such as the ability for

       flock to communicate and see one another. Another more recent study suggests it is

       a mixture of both aerodynamic benefits and communication (Badgerow 1988)


       On daily feeding flights, geese might fly between 100 to 1,000 feet between feeding

       areas. Airplane pilots have reported seeing Canada geese at an altitude of 9,000 feet.


        Reports vary on speed but between 40 and 55 miles per hour (Rathbun 1934) seems

        to be the general consensus.  It’s also been reported that geese can attain a speed of

        70 miles per hour with a tail wind. 




        Habitat varies among subspecies depending on their geographic range. Tundra,

        wetlands, marshes, open fields, coastal areas, lakes, ponds, meadows, golf courses,

        city parks, retention/detention basins and urban lawns situated near water to name a





       Canada geese are grazers and are almost exclusively herbivorous (Owen 1980,

        Mowbray et al. 2002) Their diet consists of grasses, clover, cultivated grains, such

        as corn, wheat, barley and soybean and includes seeds, berries, sedges, aquatic

        vegetation, legumes and succulents, as well. They also eat small fish, crustaceans

        (Bellrose 1978) and insects. Canada geese feed in areas that are relatively open so

        they can see potential predators and other dangers.


        Reports vary but the general consensus seems to be that geese eat a ½ pound of

        food a day.




       Adult Canada geese begin “paring up” for nesting at three years of age though a few

       individuals begin this process at age two. Canada geese mate for life and will take a

       new partner when a mate dies, most of the time (Palmer 1976a).  Copulation takes

       place on water.




       Canada geese possess a strong fidelity to their nesting area, therefore, return to

       the same nesting area year after year. The female is credited with choosing the

       nesting spot.


       Nesting activity begins in March and can run into April. During nesting season,

       both male and female defend the nest. The female builds the nest, near water, by

       hollowing out a depression (scrape) in the ground. Reaching out from inside the

       saucer-shaped depression, she gathers vegetation for the base and rim. The nest is

       constructed with twigs, grasses, leaves, mosses and a variety of other vegetation.

       The nest is also lined with feather down, which the female pulls from her chest after

       two or three eggs have been laid.   


       The female lowers her body onto the nest and stretches her neck out to camouflage

       herself and the nest from predators.




        Each egg is laid approximately every 1.5 days and only incubated by the female.

        The eggs are creamy white in color and are approximately 3 times larger than a

        chicken egg. Clutch size varies from 1 to 10 eggs but generally consists of 4-6

        eggs. The 25 to 30 day incubation process begins after the last egg is laid. This

        helps to ensure that all the eggs will hatch at approximately the same time. Once

        the eggs are laid, the embryos begin to grow rapidly, absorbing the white and

        most of the yolk. The temperature of the eggs must be kept relatively constant,

        around 90 degrees. The eggs are gently rotated, exposing them on all sides to the

        warmth of mother’s body. Rotating also prevents the membranes from sticking to

        the shells.


        Oxygen is provided through the porous shells and just before hatching, the goslings

         begin to make peeping sounds. The shells are weaker now because the goslings

         have absorbed the shells’ lime into their bones. With a sharp bump on their bills,

         referred to as an “egg tooth”, the goslings begin pecking their way out of their

         shells, which takes about a day to accomplish.


        The female leaves the nest for only short periods of time to eat and drink but not

        before the eggs are well covered in the feather down she has pulled from her chest.

        This not only keeps the eggs insulated but also hides the eggs from predators.


         Sex ratio is generally 1 to 1.      




        After hatching, new-born goslings emerge wet and weighing approximately 3 to 4

        ounces. They are capable of seeing, eating and walking around (Precocial). Mother

        hovers over the goslings, which are light yellow in color with greenish-grey heads,

        until they are dry. This is the most important period in their lives, when bonding

        takes place. Unlike most birds, goslings don’t recognize their

        own kind. If mother isn’t there for them to see, they will bond to whomever

        will take care of them.   


        Goslings leave the nest within 24 hours of hatching to take their first dip in the

        water. Their fluffy down feathers serve to keep them afloat.


        Time of fledge (first flight) depends on the subspecies. The largest geese (B. c.

        maxima) fledge between 71 and 73 days of age (Sherwood 1965). The smallest

        geese (B. c. minima) fledge between 40 and 46 days (Mickelson 1973).


        Brood mixing (crèche, amalgamation, aggregation).  In densely populated nesting

        areas, the mixing of broods is prevalent (Geis 1956). Sherwood (1965) reported the

        mixing of broods occurred because at first neither the parents nor the goslings could

        recognize each other. When the young were 2 to 3 weeks old, the parents could

        recognize their goslings and the brood mixing halted. Goslings were unable to

        recognize their parents or brood mates before they were 5 to 6 weeks of age.


        The establishment of mixed broods in populations of Canada geese, Branta

        canadensis has been a subject of controversy. The possible adaptive significance

        of this behavior was evaluated as it relates to the survivorship of goslings. Distance

        of goslings from the adults, gosling status (i.e. natural or adopted) and survivorship

        to 5 years were measured to predict the value of aggregation behavior. Spatial data

        indicated that adopted goslings were further from female adults than natural

        goslings. Recapture data indicated that mixed broods improved the survivorship

        of natural goslings. (A. Nesto and D. Sherry 1965)




       After nesting, adult geese undergo an annual feather molt; a 4-5 week flightless

       period when they shed and re-grow their outer wing feathers. Molting occurs

       between mid-June and July. Molting adults regain their flight feathers about the

       time their young reach flight stage. During the molt, geese congregate on ponds or

       lakes, which provide a safe place to rest, feed and escape danger.


Interesting Notes


·        Birds are given Latin or Neo-Latin names so the species are recognized

universally. The Latin names are then translated into common names,

which reflect the language of each country.


Branta canadensis – Branta is a Neo-Latin word derived from the Anglo-

Saxon bernan or brennan, which means “to burn”. This refers to the Canada

goose’s generally dark color. Canadensis is the Latinized term for Canada,

indicating the birds’ summer/nesting range.


                      Bernache du Canada (French)
                      Ganso canadiense (Spanish)


·        Nickname – Honkers, Canadas


·        The male Canada goose is a “gander”. The female, a “goose”.


·         Feather “down” – fluffy feathers close to body, which creates an insulating

                       dead air space for warmth in winter. 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. 


·        While on the ground, Canada geese are referred to as a “gaggle”. In flight,

 they are referred to as a “flock” or “skein”.


·        Reports vary but many agree the female leads the way, both on land and in the water.  If the brood is disturbed, the young geese instinctively dive while the male performs a distraction display to draw away danger.


·        If you happen to cross paths with an aggressive goose, wildlife experts suggest a number of tactics to defuse the situation, such as:


                            1.   Maintain direct eye contact; geese seem to pay close attention to

                                  eyes and body language.


                             2.  Don’t close, cover or squint your eyes, and never turn your back on

                                  a hostile goose.


                             3.  Keep a confident and neutral demeanor toward the bird (i.e., don’t

                                  yell, swing, kick or act hostile).


                             4.  If a gander becomes aggressive, hissing and spreading its wings at

                                  you, slowly back away using your peripheral vision to avoid

                                  tripping over any obstacles behind you.


                             5.  And remember, if a goose gives you a hard time, it’s only because

                                  the bird is protecting a mate and their offspring.



Information on this site is deemed reliable but Science is forever changing as more knowledge is attained. Therefore, the information should not necessarily be considered final or all inclusive.



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