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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Canada Goose

Branta canadensis ORDER: ANSERIFORMES FAMILY: ANATIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Canada Goose Photo

A familiar and widespread goose with a black head and neck, white chinstrap, light tan to cream breast and brown back. Has increased in urban and suburban areas in recent years; just a decade or two after people intentionally introduced or reintroduced “giant” Canada Geese to various areas, they are often considered pests.

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Keys to identification Help

Ducks
Ducks
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Canada Geese are big waterbirds with a long neck, large body, large webbed feet, and wide, flat bill.

  • Color Pattern

    Canada Geese have a black head with white cheeks and chinstrap, black neck, tan breast, and brown back.

  • Behavior

    Canada Geese feed by dabbling in the water or grazing in fields and large lawns. They are often seen in flight moving in pairs or flocks; flocks often assume a V formation.

  • Habitat

    Just about anywhere near lakes, rivers, ponds, or other small or large bodies of water, and in yards, park lawns, and farm fields.

Range Map Help

Canada Goose Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  •  

    Canada Goose

     
    • Large bodied with long neck, fairly large bill
    • Black neck and head with obvious white cheek patch
    • Chest pale, underparts brownish (can be pale or fairly dark), flanks and under-tail white
    • Back and wings dark brown
    • © Kevin Bolton, November 2008
  •  

    Canada Goose

     
    • Often seen in large flocks
    • © Gerry Dewaghe, Virginia, February 2005
  •  

    Canada Goose

     
    • Black neck and head with obvious white cheek patch
    • Black tail
    • White under tail on rump
    • © Gerry Dewaghe, Pennsylvania, December 2005
  •  

    Canada Goose

     
    • Size varies slightly between sexes
    • Size also varies tremendously among populations
    • © Byard Miller, Longmeadow, Massachusetts, March 2008
  •  

    Canada Goose

     
    • Black neck and head with obvious white cheek patch
    • Pale chest, white flanks
    • © bev edukabc, Georgia, October 2008
  •  

    Canada Goose

     
    • Often seen in large flocks
    • Wings dark brown, belly brown
    • Tail black
    • © Kevin Shea, Virginia, December 2008
  • Adult and goslings

    Canada Goose

    Adult and goslings
  • Adult and goslings

    Canada Goose

    Adult and goslings

Similar Species

  • Adults

    Cackling Goose

    Adults
    • Recently split from Canada Goose
    • Typically smaller than Canada Goose, with shorter neck and bill
    • More common in western U.S. and Canada
    • Some individuals are difficult to distinguish with certainty (both species are highly variable)
    • © Jim Gilbert, Rahway, New Jersey, November 2008
  • Adult

    Brant

    Adult
    • Black neck and breast, usually with white neck mark
    • No white cheek (some aberrant Canadas may lack white cheek)
    • Dark back
    • © William Jobes, Barnegat Light, New Jersey, January 2009
  • Adult blue morph and immature blue morph

    Snow Goose

    Adult blue morph and immature blue morph
    • Adult blue form has blue gray body, white head, and variable amount of white on neck and breast
    • Adult has pink bill and legs
    • Immature blue has dark gray body with face variably flecked with white
    • Compare to Canada Goose on far right
    • © Mick Zerr

Similar Species

Cackling Geese were once considered the same species. They're nearly identical but much smaller than most Canada Geese (some Cackling Geese may be as small as Mallards); Cackling Geese have a tiny, stubby, triangular bill. Greater White-fronted Geese have a brown, not black, neck and lack the white cheeks and throat. Snow Geese, whether the white or blue form, have an all-white head. Brant have a dark chest and the white is limited to the neck, not the cheek. The Barnacle Goose, very rare in North America, has an entirely white face, a black breast, and a gray and black barred back. Various domestic hybrid geese may have a wide variety of different markings.

Regional Differences

Canada Geese tend to be smaller as you move northward; plumage tends to be darker as you move westward.

Backyard Tips

Mowing and maintaining lawns down to the water’s edge, or maintaining very large lawns anywhere near water are open invitations to Canada Geese. Plastic mesh placed over grass usually discourages them from walking on a lawn.

Consider putting up a nest box to attract a breeding pair. Make sure you put it up well before breeding season. Attach a guard to keep predators from raiding eggs and young. Find out more about nest boxes on our Attract Birds pages. You'll find plans for building a nest box of the appropriate size on our All About Birdhouses site.

Find This Bird

During summer, and increasingly at other times of year, Canada Geese are fairly easy to see, swimming in open water, resting near shore, or grazing on lawns or farm fields. They are often heard flying above, by day or night; if you study their honks you may notice the difference by sound when other species of geese or swans are flying.

Get Involved

Look for Canada Goose nests and contribute valuable data about them through NestWatch

Report your Canada Goose sightings to eBird

You Might Also Like

All About Birds Blog, Where Did All Those Canada Geese in Town Come From?, September 2013.

Ducks Unlimited Canada: Facts on Canada Geese

Unsafe Haven: Teshekpuk Lake, Alaska. Story and photos in Living Bird magazine.