|Canada Geese on ice, lower Okanogan River near confluence with Columbia River in Okanogan County, N.E. Washington.|
|Small flock of Canada Geese in January flight over the confluence of the Wenatchee and Columbia Rivers near Wenatchee in Washington State, U.S.A.|
|Male gander displaying his prowess after chasing off a would be suitor to his nearby mate.|
|A gaggle of Canada Goose during a migratory layover on a small, recently ice free pond in NE Washington State.|
One of the largest and most prolific North American birds is the Canada Goose with a range extending from parts of Mexico into the northern reaches of Canada. That’s a huge area spanning over 3,000 miles of latitude by 3,000 miles of longitude. But not all Canada Geese are migratory. And not all Canada Geese are the same.
Doing a little research into this common avian I discovered what appears to be an urban legend that a man named John Canada was the taxidermist who first identified and classified the Canada Goose. He decided to name the bird after himself, hence the name Canada Goose.
What I take to be more accurate is the first recorded use of the name, 'Canada goose' appeared in 1772 in Carl Linnaeus' 8th-century work, Systema Naturae. And later still James Audubon called it the Canada goose in 1836.
The differences of these geese rests in having at least 11 subspecies of Canada Goose currently recognized. In general, the geese get smaller as you move northward, and darker as you go westward. And most recently the four smallest forms are now considered a different species: the Cackling Goose.
Not everyone is enamored by this goose. In fact some folks just darn right don’t like them. This often stems from territorial issues. Prime Canada goose habitat is open marsh or field areas adjacent to waterways. As far as the goose is concerned mowed yards, golf courses, and parks are ideal. Geese can eat and digest grass and the open areas are perfect observation areas for avoidance of predators. Remember these birds were an important part of the diet for indigenous peoples and homesteaders alike. Fur agent David Thompson often documented goose and their eggs amongst his provision lists as noted in Jack Nisbet’s book Map Makers Eye.
Most of us have heard that this species of geese mate for life and pairs remain together throughout the entire year, although extra-pair copulations have been documented. What I didn’t know is that these geese mate “assortatively,” where larger birds choose larger mates and smaller ones choosing smaller mates. Breeding for Canada Geese doesn’t usually occur until their fourth year. During much of the year they associate in large flocks, many of these birds within the flock may be related to one another.
Some migratory populations of the Canada Goose are not going as far south in the winter as they once did. This northward range shift is attributed to changes in farm practices that makes waste grain more available in fall and winter, combined with changes in hunting pressure and climatic changes.
The oldest known wild Canada Goose was 30 years 4 months old and had been banded and studied over the course of it’s long life.
•At least 11 subspecies of Canada Goose have been recognized, although only a couple are distinctive. In general, the geese get smaller as you move northward, and darker as you go westward. The four smallest forms are now considered a different species: the Cackling Goose.
•Some migratory populations of the Canada Goose are not going as far south in the winter as they used to. This northward range shift has been attributed to changes in farm practices that makes waste grain more available in fall and winter, as well as changes in hunting pressure and changes in weather.
•Individual Canada Geese from most populations make annual northward migrations after breeding. Nonbreeding geese, or those that lost nests early in the breeding season, may move anywhere from several kilometers to more than 1500 km northward. There they take advantage of vegetation in an earlier state of growth to fuel their molt. Even members of "resident" populations, which do not migrate southward in winter, will move north in late summer to molt.
•The “giant” Canada Goose, Branta canadensis maxima, bred from central Manitoba to Kentucky but was nearly driven extinct in the early 1900s. Programs to reestablish the subspecies to its original range were in many places so successful that the geese have become a nuisance in many urban and suburban areas.
•In a pattern biologists call “assortative mating,” birds of both sexes tend to choose mates of a similar size.
•The oldest known wild Canada Goose was 30 years 4 months old.
Canada Geese eat grain from fields, graze on grass, and dabble in shallow water by tipping forward and extending their necks underwater. During much of the year they associate in large flocks, and many of these birds may be related to one another. They mate for life with very low “divorce rates,” and pairs remain together throughout the year. Geese mate “assortatively,” larger birds choosing larger mates and smaller ones choosing smaller mates; in a given pair, the male is usually larger than the female. Most Canada Geese do not breed until their fourth year; less than 10 percent breed as yearlings, and most pair bonds are unstable until birds are at least two or three years old. Extra-pair copulations have been documented.
During spring, pairs break out from flocks and begin defending territories. Spacing of these pairs is variable and depends on availability of nest sites and population density; where population is large, even after a great many fights birds may end up nesting in view of one another, and some populations are semi-colonial.
Canada Goose threat displays may involve head pumping, bill opened with tongue raised, hissing, honking, and vibrating neck feathers. When an intruding goose doesn’t retreat, geese may grab each other by breast or throat and hit each other with their wings. Fighting may result in injuries.
Female selects nest site, builds nest, and incubates eggs. She may brood goslings in cold, wet, or windy weather and while they’re sleeping for first week after hatching. Male guards the nest while female incubates.
Soon after they hatch, goslings begin pecking at small objects, and spend most of their time sleeping and feeding. They remain with their parents constantly, though sometimes “gang broods” form, especially in more southern latitudes. These can include at least two broods, and sometimes five or more, that travel, feed, and loaf together, accompanied by at least one adult.
Young often remain with their parents for their entire first year, especially in the larger subspecies. As summer wanes birds become more social; they may gather in large numbers at food sources; where food is limited and patchy, may compete with displays and fights.
In winter, Geese can remain in northern areas with some open water and food resources even where temperatures are extremely cold. Geese breeding in the northernmost reaches of their range tend to migrate long distances to winter in the more southerly parts of the range, whereas geese breeding in southern Canada and the conterminous United States migrate shorter distances or not at all. Individuals tend to return to the same migratory stopover and wintering areas year after year. Spring migration may be difficult for observers to track because of over-wintering birds and movements between nighttime resting areas and feeding areas, but the bulk of spring migratory movements tend to move north behind the retreating snow line, where the temperature is averaging 35 degrees.
Migrating flocks generally include loose aggregations of family groups and individuals, in both spring and fall. Flights usually begin at dusk, but may begin anytime of day, and birds fly both night and day. They move in a V formation, with experienced individuals taking turns leading the flock.XX