Canada Goose

Canada goose

Photo by: Miles Away Photography

Species: Canada Goose

Scientific name:Branta canadensis

Status: common

Description:Canada geese are large water birds with long necks, large bodies, and webbed feet. Its most recognizable feature is the black head and neck with white cheek patches. They have brownish bodies, with lighter belly colours. There are a number of subspecies of Canada geese and these subspecies differ in size and colouring, neck length and body shape. Once fully grown, it is hard to tell female and male Canada geese part.

Habitat: Canada geese are found in any type of habitat that has access to both water and land. They are common in many wetland types, ranging in size from small ponds to large lakes and rivers. They can also be found in grassy field and grain fields. Canada geese are commonly found on lawns. They choose these areas to feed, as grass is easily digested, and the openness allows them to see any approaching predators. The presence of water is necessary for escape from land predators. Canada geese are found call many habitat types “home” during the summer months, but are most often found on agricultural fields during fall and winter as there is an abundance of food in these areas.

Breeding: Canada geese will find a mate during their second year, and will remain with their partner for their life (they are monogamous). However, if one of the mating pairs is killed, the living one will find another suitable mate. This bird breeds as early as mid-March and as late as May depending on what climate they are found in, in Ontario. Females will make a nest on the ground, lay 5-7 eggs and incubate (sit on) these eggs for 25-28 days while their male partner guards them. Nest sites are usually near water, but must have protection from inclement weather such as wind, while still allowing the female to see any approaching predator. Female Canada geese always return to their parents nest area and will often use the same site for their whole life. Soon after the eggs hatch, the family (mom, dad and the goslings (baby geese)) will leave their nest and move to their brood-rearing area. The goose family will be inseparable, with the female leading the way, and dad following the goslings. The family doesn’t start flying until 6-9 weeks after hatching, depending on subspecies. Unfortunately, many goslings don’t make it to their first year, and only ½ will usually remain by the time the family can take to the air.

Diet: Although Canada geese are a waterfowl, they spend most of their time feeding on land. In spring and summer they will eat grasses, flowers, stems, leaves, roots, seeds and berries. Geese can spend up to 12 hours a day just feeding. During the winter, geese depend more on agricultural crops such as corn, oats, soybeans and other grainy crops.  Canada geese will feed intensively before they make the migration to their winter grounds.

Threats to species: The highest level of predation on the Canada goose occurs to the eggs. Egg predators include foxes, large gulls, ravens, bears and coyotes. Adult predators include foxes, coyotes, wolves and bald eagles. The first year is the hardest to survive, and once they can make it that far, most individuals will live for 10+ years. As with all of Ontario’s wildlife, humans are a constant threat as well. Roads are a threat to a goose family who is trying to get from their breeding area to their brooding area. Also, geese are often hit by cars and airplanes.

Threat to humans: Canada geese are more of a nuisance than a threat. Due to their large population sizes, and flock tendency (a whole bunch of them), they are in constant conflict with humans. Geese may contaminate drinking water sources with their excessive feces and can be quite aggressive.

Fun facts: The Canada geese we see in Ontario today were most likely captive breed after a population crash in the late 1800s.

Canada geese in Ontario don’t migrate the way we think. They don’t fly south (to southern US), but instead will find open bodies of water, near agricultural lands, in Southern Ontario to spend the winter.

Canada geese populations are over capacity, mostly due to management practices while their populations were still growing. Now this bird finds safety in parks, suburban wetlands, lawns and golf courses. These areas are no-hunting zones and there are few predators on these areas, so the birds are thriving

Although Canada geese are hunted, with many being killed during the hunting season, their numbers haven’t been affected.

Sources:

Hinterland Who’s Who- http://www.hww.ca/en/species/birds/canada-goose.html

The Cornell lab of Ornithology- http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/canada_goose/lifehistory

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