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Canada Goose

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A giant Canada goose ( Branta canadensis maxima), a subspecies of Canada goose, photographed at Sylvan Heights Bird Park in Scotland Neck, North Carolina

About the Canada Goose

The ubiquitous Canada goose is one of the best known birds in North America. It is found in every contiguous U.S. state and Canadian province at one time of the year or another.

Adaptations to Changing Environments

Canada geese are adaptable to many habitats and may thrive wherever grasses, grains, or berries are available. Because of changing weather, settlement, and farming patterns, many Canada (not “Canadian”) geese have begun to alter their migrations. Typically, the birds summered in northern North America and flew south when cold weather arrived. This cycle endures, but some northern populations have shortened their flight to traditional wintering grounds in the southern U.S. and Mexico. Other Canada geese have become permanent residents of parks, golf courses, suburban subdevelopments, and other human habitats across much of North America. In some areas, such as airports, they are so numerous that they are considered a nuisance. Just 50 geese can produce two and a half tons of excrement in a year.

Migrations

When the birds do migrate, they form impressive and aerodynamic “V-formations.” They can cover 1,500 miles in just 24 hours with a favorable wind, but typically travel at a much more leisurely rate. These noisy groups honk their way along established paths that include designated “rest stops.” These social birds remain in flocks year-round, except while nesting.

Population Recovery

Canada goose populations represent a successful wildlife protection program that revived dwindling numbers in the beginning of the 20th century. The birds were guarded by law and even reintroduced in some areas where their numbers had become low. Today the geese are a popular game bird, and some management concerns center on keeping populations in check because of their detrimental effect on crops.