Find Canada goose information at Animal Diversity Web
1100 to 8000 g; avg. 4550 g
(38.72 to 281.6 oz; avg. 160.16 oz)
90 to 200 cm
(35.43 to 78.74 in)
127 to 173 cm
(50 to 68.11 in)
Canada geese have black necks, bills, and heads with a white strap under their chins and occasional white patches on other parts of their body. The body of Canada geese is usually brownish-gray although subspecies have slightly different colors. In some of the smaller subspecies the body is dark brown in color whereas, in some of the larger subspecies, the body is a light gray. The subspecies also differ in their average weights. Underneath, the colors are much lighter and almost white on the tail. During flight the tail shows a white semi-circle just above the black tail. Females look similar to males, but may be slightly smaller.
Canada geese have strong, tapered bills that are bordered with lamellae. Lamellae are teeth-like projections of the bill that are used to cut vegetation. Their feet are black. These geese have large wings that can be used as weapons by thrashing them at intruders. The wingspan of Canada geese ranges from 127 to 173 cm.
Goslings, or young Canada geese, are yellow with some greenish-gray coloring on top of their heads and backs. Goslings in different subspecies are slightly differently colored. Goslings of the darker subspecies have a brownish olive or blunt yellow coloring while those of the lighter subspecies are lighter and brighter in color. These colors fade as the gosling grows into the adult color pattern. All goslings have black or blue-gray bills and legs that become darker as they age.
Canada Geese are found in the Nearctic region throughout North America. There are four sub-species (or populations) found in different areas of North America. These sub-species are the southern, northern, western and Aleutian-Canadian populations. The southern population ranges from 60 degrees north latitude to the Rocky Mountains and Atlantic Ocean. The northern population ranges north of 60 degrees north latitude in the Arctic and Subarctic. The western population is found along the coasts of Alaska and British Columbia. The Aleutian-Canadian population is rarely found.
All subspecies spend summers in the northern parts of North America, especially Canada, and migrate south to areas of the United States in the winter months.
Canada Geese are found near waterways in open, grassy habitats such as grasslands, chaparral, and arctic tundra. They also inhabit man-made habitats that are open and grassy, such as golf courses, agricultural land, airports, and parks.
Canada geese are monogamous, one female and one male mate. Pairs form during the winter, during migration or on their wintering grounds, for the next breeding season. Mated pairs may stay together for more than one year, sometimes staying together for life.
Males fight over females with their wings and bills. The winner approaches the female with his head down and neck undulating. He makes hissing and honking noises. The pairs mate either before or after they have found a nesting location.
Canada geese breed once yearly.
Females start laying eggs during the first weeks of March and continue as late as June in parts of the Arctic.
2 to 9; avg. 5
23 to 30 days; avg. 26.50 days
68 to 78 days; avg. 73 days
1 years (average)
1 years (average)
The average clutch sizes are 5 eggs although this size ranges from 2 to 9 eggs. The incubation period lasts 23 to 30 days. Incubation must occur immediately after the last eggs are laid.
Females choose the location for nesting and even build the nest without the males. The males defend the territory, nest, and eggs from intruders, such as other geese. Female Canada geese pick nesting sites that have good visibility but are isolated. This allows them to readily see danger approaching and to be difficult to get at. The nesting area also must have open water with low banks so they can have access to water plants and places to get into or out of the water. Swamps, marshes, meadows, lakes, and other such areas are among some of their favorite nesting spots. The Canadian and Alaskan shorelines have expanses of tundra habitat that provide good nesting sites. Canada Geese are are often seen nesting on small islands that don't have very tall grasses or on muskrat houses (which are similar to small islands).
Nests are very simple and are made quickly. Materials that are used are weeds, twigs, grass, moss, needles, and other such materials. After some collection and building, female geese round out a curve or depression with their bodies. They drop the materials around themselves and move the items to get the best fit. From time to time they round out the center with their chests or feet. If there are no items of vegetation the nest may only be a depression in the ground shaped by their chests and feet. Once the eggs are laid, the nest is lined with feathers and down. Down insulates against extreme warmth as well as cold, stabilizing egg temperature.
Females have to leave the nest to eat, rest, swim, and preen. Young geese hatch with the use of an egg tooth on top of its beak to crack open the shell. Goslings keep cracking open the shells until they are completely free between 24 and 48 hours later. All of the eggs in the clutch are fully hatched with in 24 hours. The goslings with in a clutch usually have a gender ratio that is equally males and females.
After the eggs hatch, the family group (the offspring and parents) leave the nest and begin to travel together to feed and seek shelter. Both males and females feed and guard their young. Upon hatching, young Canada geese are able to follow their parents around and leave the nest.
24 years (high)
42 years (high)
It is not clear exactly how long the average Canada goose can live, but there have been two geese that were reported to have lived very long lives. One of them lived to be 24 years old and another reached 23. In captivity, two geese were reported to live to 42 years old. Probably most Canada geese die within their first year of life, as nestlings, fledglings, and during their first migration.
Canada geese are highly social, being found in flocks at all times of the year except when they are nesting. Migration begins in the fall and takes place in large flocks. Large winter aggregations form while on lakes, coastal waters, and mudflats. In flight, flocks form large V's or diagonally straight lines. This is because each bird doesn't fly directly behind the others, but off to an angle. This minimizes drag on each individual bird, allowing them to take advantage of the slipstream created by the bird in front of them. They migrate at a slow pace, stopping along the way. Because of this, they arrive at their breeding grounds in good physical shape. Canada geese are active mainly during the day.
Males in this species are more aggressive than females. The bills are used not only for eating, but also in attacks and grooming. These birds take flight when danger approaches. They also lay out flat and still on the ground with their necks stretched out to be less visible to the danger.
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. These birds love to swim and bathe in the water, especially on warm days. Some subspecies have a yearly molt of flight feathers in the summer and become flightless during this time.
Canada geese have good eyesight, which is necessary for flight. They must move their heads in order to see all the way around themselves. However, their eyes are close to their crowns on the side of their heads, enabling them to see more than 180 degrees (closer to 270 degrees) horizontally and vertically. They have mostly monocular vision. Canada geese have excellent hearing and the ears are located on the side of its head. Canada geese often use body movements to communicate with each other. These geese also have the ability to make at least 10 different calls
When on land, Canada geese eat a variety of grasses including Bermuda grass, salt grass, and wild barley. Geese are able to grab hold of each blade and pull it out with their bills by jerking their heads. They also eat wheat, beans, rice, and corn. In the water, the birds stick their head and upper part of their body into the water leaving their tail and back end extending in the air. They stretch their neck out, under the water, and slide their bills across the bottom silt. They also eat a number of aquatic plants such as eel grass, sea lettuce, and sago.
Unguarded nests and eggs are targets for predators such as gulls, common ravens, American crows, skunks, domestic dogs, and many others. Males send out an alarm by flying into the air and honking as a predator approaches. This alerts not only his mate but others nesting nearby. Females lower their bodies onto the nest and stretch out their necks to camouflage the nest.
Canada geese are also a common game bird, hunted regularly by humans.
As well as dispersing the seeds of the plants they eat, Canada Geese are important prey for many predators in the ecosystems in which they live.
Canada geese can be an exceptional annoyance in Atlantic flyway states by crowding on golf courses, beaches, parks, playing fields, and yards, where their buildup of droppings can be a health risk and change nearby water quality. In the eastern states, Canada Geese have been very harmful to local crops and have forced farmers to plant a lot more winter wheat to compensate for the damage done by these geese.
Canada Geese have been hunted by humans for hundreds of years. Native Americans hunted them in the spring migration. Eskimos hunted them by taking advantage of the molt that leaves them flightless. Even early white settlers took advantage of these birds and hunted them for food. These birds are still being hunted today in the United States and Canada.
In 1918 when the Migratory Bird Treaty was passed, spring shooting was prohibited in the United States and Canada. This regulated the hunting season to three and a half months of the year. The hunting regulations currently in place are for shooting season limits and bag limits in relation to the amount of birds currently in the population. A quota system was put in place in 1960 to regulate the number of geese shot in a given year.
One subspecies, Aleutian-Canadian Geese, were listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1967. This was due to the introduction of a non-native arctic fox species to their nesting islands. They became predatory on the naturally defenseless geese. This introduction caused the population to decline to approximately 800 individuals. However, in 1990, due to increasing numbers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service changed the listing to threatened. The state of Alaska also changed the species listing from endangered to a species of special concern. Aleutian-Canadian Geese are now recorded around 15,000 individuals and nesting on eight islands.
On the other hand, some populations have grown so numerous, there are many organizations who are trying to regulate the populations of these geese. They see this as necessary because if the goose population continues to rise at its current rate, they will present a very serious problem to their surrounding environment in only a few years. Other organizations believe that the methods and ideas of these organizations are cruel and unnecessary. These groups believe that the growing population is not nearly as threatening as some believe and that they are actually at great risk because of the excessive hunting and death by pesticides that geese populations experience.
A chemical called methiocarb is being used on grass to prevent geese from grazing on it in some areas. Methiocarb makes the geese feel sick, but thus far has not resulted in any deaths. The toxic effects of this chemical are still being researched. Over 200 geese have been killed by the chemical parathion in Texas. Golden eagles and bald eagles have been seen eating the bodies of geese that have been killed by parathion which means it could potentially be very dangerous for them as well.
Heather Lutz, University of Michigan
Phil Myers, Museum of Zoology
Kari Kirschbaum, Animal Diversity Web Staff
Tanya Dewey, Animal Diversity Web, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology
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