Canada geese (Branta canadensis) are among the most familiar birds in Washington. They are a source of recreation for bird watchers and hunters and symbolize nature for many people. No one can miss the clear honking call of Canada geese when they fly overhead in their V-shaped formation.
Two groups of Canada geese populate Washington — migrating geese and non-migrating (often called resident) geese. For a goose to migrate, it must be taught the flight path by its parents. Therefore, all following generations of nonmigratory Canada geese will also be nonmigratory, or resident geese, which will stay year-round in the vicinity where they were born.
Populations of resident Canada geese have dramatically increased over the past 25 years, particularly in urban areas where there are few predators, prohibitions on hunting, and a dependable year-round supply of food and water.
Canada geese are particularly attracted to mowed lawns around homes, golf courses, parks and similar areas next to open water. Because geese and people often occupy these spaces at the same time of the year, conflicts arise.
Many citizens enjoy the presence of geese, but others do not.
Several subspecies of Canada geese breed or migrate through Washington. Their taxonomy has been confused by the introduction of mixed subspecies, and will likely remain unclear for a long time. The Western Canada goose (Branta canadensis moffitti) is the largest resident subspecies.
Food and feeding habits
• Canada geese graze while walking on land, and feed on submerged aquatic vegetation by reaching under the
water with their long necks.
• Wild food plants include pondweed, bulrush, sedge, cattail, horsetail, clover, and grass; agricultural crops include alfalfa, corn, millet, rye, barley, oats, and wheat. Geese also eat some insects, snails, and tadpoles, probably incidentally.
Nests and nest sites
• Canada geese nest in areas that are surrounded by or close to water.
• Nest sites vary widely and include the shores of cattail and bulrush marshes, the bases of trees, the tops of muskrat lodges and haystacks, and unoccupied nests of eagles, herons and ospreys. Nests have produced successful broods of geese and ospreys in the same year.
• Other nest sites include planter boxes and nesting structures provided specifically for geese.
• The nest is a bowl-shaped depression approximately 1½ feet in diameter lined with grass, leaves and goose down.
• A pair of geese may return to the same nest site in consecutive years.
• Canada geese usually begin nesting at three years of age.
• Adult pairs usually stay together for life unless one dies. Lone geese will find another mate, generally within the same breeding season.
• Between one and 10, but normally five to six eggs are laid in the nest in March, April or May. Eggs are incubated by the goose (female) while the gander (male) stands guard nearby. The female leaves the nest only briefly each day to feed.
• Eggs hatch after 25 to 30 days of incubation. The young, called goslings, can walk, swim and feed within 24 hours.
• Both parents (especially the gander) vigorously defend the goslings until they are able to fly, which is at about 10 weeks. The young geese remain with their family group for about one year.
• If the nest or eggs are destroyed, geese often re-nest in or near the first nest. Canada geese can raise one clutch per year.
Longevity and mortality
• Predators of Canada geese and their eggs include humans, coyotes, raccoons, skunks, bobcats and foxes, as well as gulls, eagles, crows, ravens and magpies.
• Canada geese hatched in urban environments may have very low first-year mortalities due to the abundance of food and relative scarcity of natural predators.
• Canada geese can live more than 20 years in captivity; in the wild they have a much shorter lifespan.