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Canada Geese

‘Canada Geese’ or Canadian ‘Geese’?   

The Cornell Lab on Ornithology, Swedish taxonomist Carl Linnaeus, the Audubon Society, and all prefer Canada Goose, so we’re taking our queue from those authorities.  But we ask ourselves, what do Canadians call them, just geese?  

Basic Facts

Common Name:  Canada Geese.  Scientific name:  Branta canadensis

Not near extinction anymore:  Canada Geese may be seemingly everywhere now, but in the early 1900s, their numbers had been decimated due to habitat loss and hunting. Today there are more than 5 million Canada Geese across North America thanks to conservation efforts and regulations.   Among the largest waterfowl in the world, the giant Canada Goose subspecies was once widely thought to be extinct until a small population was rediscovered in Rochester, Minnesota in 1962.

Sub-species:  There are seven recognized subspecies of Canada Goose. The biggest of them is Branta canadensis maxima, or the giant Canada Goose. In 2004, the American Ornithologists’ Union split the Canada Goose into two species: Canada Goose and Cackling Goose. Once considered a Canada Goose subspecies, the Cackling Goose looks almost identical to the Canada save for its smaller size, stubbier bill, and some other distinguishing features.   

Average Age:  Life expectancy is 20-25 years although captive birds may survive considerably longer.

The oldest known wild Canada Goose was a female, and at least 33 years, 3 months old when she was shot in Ontario in 2001. She had been banded in Ohio in 1969.

Breeding Season:  Lasts from March through to June, depending upon location. A scrape in the ground, often lined with leaf mold, reeds and down, is constructed as a nest, frequently on small islands to avoid predation. Birds are monogamous and will mate from the age of two years. 

Mating and Goslings:  Canada Geese practice assortative mating, seeking out partners who are similar in size.  One clutch averaging 5-6 cream colored eggs is laid and incubated by the female for between 26-32 days. The chicks, known as goslings, learn to swim within one day of being born. As they get older, they form groups with other goslings called gang broods. The gang brood travels and feeds together under the watchful eyes of the parent geese.  Fledging occurs between six to eight weeks after hatching.  In general, the young will remain with their parents for up to a year. 

Flight Pattern:  The distinctive V-pattern Canada Geese fly in while migrating helps the birds maintain their energy and improves communication. Each bird flies above the bird in front of them to reduce wind resistance. Being able to see the other birds aids overall coordination.  When the lead bird tires, it moves to the back of the group for a much-deserved rest. 

Migration:  Migratory populations of Canada Geese still fly between their traditional breeding grounds in Canada and Alaska and their overwintering grounds in the United States and Mexico. Canada Geese were probably exclusively migratory in the past, but in modern times their habits have changed somewhat.  

Today you can spot Canada Geese in any state in the lower 48 at any time of the year. Canada Geese fly in family groups and flocks that vary in size. They migrate both during the day and at night, although they often take off around dusk.  They are capable of flying over 1000 miles (1600km) in a single day and can reach speeds of up to 70 miles an hour (113km/h) in favorable winds.

Plummage:   A single Canada Goose has between 20,000 and 25,000 feathersThe vast majority of those feathers are short, stubby down that helps insulate the bird from cold water and freezing temperature. To keep the feathers in top condition, they are all replaced every year through a process called molt. The feathers of the head and body are molted gradually over a period of months, but flight feathers of the wings are all shed at once in late summer, causing the goose to be grounded for three to five weeks. 

Eating Habits:  Canada Geese typically forage in groups, on land, ingesting a wide variety of plant material, including grass stems and shoots, sedges, seeds, and berries. In the water, the birds eat aquatic plants and the occasional crustacean, mollusk, or fish. During migration, Canada Geese are often found in agricultural fields, feasting on a host of cultivated grains.  One goose can consumer up to four pounds of grass et al per day, creating three pounds fecal matter daily. In large concentrations, this matter can contribute to excessive nutrient loading because fecal matter contains 76 percent carbon, 4.4 percent nitrogen, and 1.3 percent phosphorus. These nutrients can cause algal blooms and excessive plant growth in lakes. 

Impact on Lakes and Waterbodies:  When geese defecate near shore or in the water, they create a health risk to humans. Their fecal material may contain the swimmer’s itch organism along with fecal bacteria. Swimmer’s itch is a temporary skin rash caused by a small parasite; however, the rash does not require treatment. 

A larger concern are fecal bacteria, or Escherichia coli (E. coli), naturally occurring bacteria in the digestive tracts of warm-blooded animals. E. coli, when present in large amounts, may cause gastrointestinal problems such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. The presence of E. coli may also indicate the potential presence of other pathogenic organisms. You should avoid contact and ingestion of water in areas frequented by geese. 

Backyard Tips:  An expansive well-mowed lawn down to the water’s edge is an open invitation to Canada Geese.  Plastic mesh placed over grass usually discourages them from walking on a lawn.

Employ some lake protection tips such as leaving a buffered zone near the lake comprised of bushes, shrubs, and vegetation. Grass is very attractive and geese tend to flock to it. If you already have a grassy shoreline or lawn, it is best to keep the grass 6” high. 

Remove accumulated nesting materials (sticks and shrubbery) prior to geese nesting or remove the nest after geese have hatched and moved on (roughly two to three days after hatching). Remember however, before you tamper with the nests of Canada Geese a permit is required from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Other Tips

  • Create barriers between the grass and the water. The barrier can be as simple as a piece of string that they cannot step over or walk under. 
  • Install an overhead grid wire to prevent the geese from landing and nesting in that area. 
  • Obstruct the view of the surrounding area. Geese need to identify if predators are approaching. 
  • Use noise harassment. If the geese land on the lake/property every morning, greet them with a loud noise. There are several different tools you can use to create the noise harassment such as propane canons, starter pistols, air horns, and recorded predator noises. Please warn your neighbors before employing these methods! 
  • Dogs may also deter geese from landing or roosting on your property. A barking dog guarding the property may be effective. 
  • For the best results, employ two or more of the management strategies. 

Thanks to the following sources:   The Cornell LabAudubon Society, birdfact.comNH DES Fact Sheet –Canada Geese Fact and Management Options.  

Page created May 20, 2023

Spofford Lake Association

PO Box 177
Spofford, NH 03462

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