The Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) make themselves at home in any temperate areas that provide grassy open areas near standing water. In more natural areas, these large geese can be found near salt marshes.
The expansion of artificial environments such as suburban lawns, golf courses, and grassy school campuses has led to the adaptation to the establishment of breeding colonies in areas that previously served only as wintering grounds for the Canada goose.
Migrating Canada Geese
The historical breeding grounds for the Canada goose are in Canada and northern United States.
Migratory Canada geese typically stay in their breeding grounds until the weather gets too cold and food sources become scarce. Canada geese will fatten up in preparation for their migration south for the winter.
Canada geese learn migration routes from their parents and take advantage of landmarks in the form of rivers, coastlines, and mountains to guide them. Geese have an internal sensors that allows them to differentiate north from south using the Earth’s magnetic field. (Related: Sensing Longitude Among Birds)
Canada geese can travel up to 1,500 miles a day and will fly about 2,000 to 3,000 miles to their wintering grounds.
If you’ve ever seen a flock of Canada geese flying by, you will have noticed that they fly in a “v” formation. Known as vortex surfing, this flight formation creates a slipstream that helps to propel the birds along their journey.
Video: Urbanization Has Reduced the Migration of Canada Geese
You can also watch this video about Canada geese on YouTube.
Not All Canada Geese Migrate
The expansion of suburban areas and the increase in homes with lawns, golf courses, and grassy school campuses has led to an increase in Canada geese that have become permanent residents. Canada geese that don’t migrate are known as “resident Canada geese” or “temperate-nesting Canada geese”.
One study of winter Canada goose populations in Kansas found an increase from a population of 1,600 in 1983 to over 18,000 geese by 2003.
According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, there is an estimated 3.34 million resident geese in the United States and 1.37 million in Canada based on 2003-2005 bird counts.
Suburban and urban landscapes tend to have fewer natural predators and lots of access near ponds and lakes to water and food. This combination has led Canada geese to become year round waterbirds in some temperate areas such as along the Pacific coast extending from Vancouver, Canada down to the Northern California Bay Area.
Canada geese also have a high tolerance for the presence of humans and will solicit food from them. This has also allowed them to adapt well within urban areas.
Wide open grassy areas are preferred by Canada geese as they provide a vantage point for the parents to scout for predators as they protect their offspring.
The presence of water is also important as it provides a place for goslings to quickly escape to in order to evade land predators (foxes, coyotes, and snakes among others) and birds such as ravens and crows that feed on them.
Baby Canada geese, known as goslings, are impressionable and learn how to swim, feed, and fly from their parents. Precocial, goslings learn to swim within 24 hours of hatching and can dive as far as 30 to 40 feet underwater.
Very young goslings have yellow down. Over the first few weeks of life, the yellow fades as the gosling down grows into a grayish-light brown color.
Hummel, D. (1983). Aerodynamic aspects of formation flight in birds. Journal of theoretical biology, 104(3), 321-347. https://doi.org/10.1016/0022-5193(83)90110-8
Kozák, J. (2011). An overview of feathers formation, moults and down production in geese. Asian-Australasian Journal of Animal Sciences, 24(6), 881-887.
Maccarone, A. D., & Cope, C. H. (2004). Recent trends in the winter population of Canada geese (Branta canadensis) in Wichita, Kansas: 1998-2003. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science (1903), 77-82. https://doi.org/10.1660/0022-8443(2004)107[0077:RTITWP]2.0.CO;2
Wege, M. L., & Raveling, D. G. (1983). Factors influencing the timing, distance, and path of migrations of Canada geese. The Wilson Bulletin, 209-221. https://www.jstor.org/stable/4161751