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    Canada Goose Life History

    Habitat

    Habitat MarshesCanada Geese live in a great many habitats near water, grassy fields, and grain fields. Canada Geese are particularly drawn to lawns for two reasons: they can digest grass, and when they are feeding with their young, manicured lawns give them a wide, unobstructed view of any approaching predators. So they are especially abundant in parks, airports, golf courses, and other areas with expansive lawns. Back to top

    Food

    Food SeedsIn spring and summer, geese concentrate their feeding on grasses and sedges, including skunk cabbage leaves and eelgrass. During fall and winter, they rely more on berries and seeds, including agricultural grains, and seem especially fond of blueberries. They’re very efficient at removing kernels from dry corn cobs. Two subspecies have adapted to urban environments and graze on domesticated grasses year round.Back to top

    Nesting

    Nest Placement

    Nest GroundOn the ground, usually on a muskrat mound or other slightly elevated site, near water. They prefer a spot from which they can have a fairly unobstructed view in many directions. Female selects the site and does much of nest construction. She adds down feathers and some body feathers beginning after the second egg is laid. She does all the incubation while her mate guards her and the nest.

    Nest Description

    A large open cup on the ground, made of dry grasses, lichens, mosses, and other plant material, and lined with down and some body feathers.

    Nesting Facts
    Clutch Size:2-8 eggs
    Number of Broods:1 brood
    Egg Length:3.3 in (8.3 cm)
    Egg Width:2.2 in (5.6 cm)
    Incubation Period:25-28 days
    Nestling Period:42-50 days
    Egg Description:Creamy white.
    Condition at Hatching:Hatchlings are covered with yellowish down and their eyes are open. They leave the nest when 1-2 days old, depending on weather, and can walk, swim, feed, and even dive. They have enough energy remaining in their yolk sac to survive 2 days before feeding.
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    Behavior

    Behavior Ground ForagerCanada 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. Back to top

    Conservation

    Conservation Low ConcernCanada Geese are common and increased between 1966 and 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. The total North American population in 2015 was between 4.2 million to over 5.6 million. The species rates a 6 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. It is not on the 2016 State of North America's Birds Watch List. The proliferation of lawns, golf courses, and parks offers Canada Geese such reliable habitat that in some areas the birds stay all year round instead of migrating like they used to do. Recently, some communities have had to begin considering some Canada Geese as nuisances (for eating grass or fouling lawns) or even hazards (around airports, where collisions with planes can be very dangerous). Some 2.6 million Canada Geese are harvested by hunters in North America, but this does not seem to affect its numbers.Back to top

    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.

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    Credits

    Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2015.2. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2015.

    Manning, T. H. 1978b. Measurements and weights of eggs of the Canada Goose, Branta canadensis, analyzed and compared with those of other species. Can. J. Zool. no. 56:676-687.

    Mowbray, Thomas B., Craig R. Ely, James S. Sedinger and Robert E. Trost. 2002. Canada Goose (Branta canadensis), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

    Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, Jr. Ziolkowski, D. J., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon and W. A. Link. The North American breeding bird survey, results and analysis 1966-2015 (Version 2.07.2017). USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center 2017.

    Sibley, David Allen. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds, second edition. Alfred A Knopf, New York.

    U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2015. Waterfowl population status, 2015. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior.

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