The Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) is the familiar goose of parks and golf courses. In the spring and fall the loud honking of V-shaped migrating flocks overhead often draw the eyes of birders and non-birders alike. Unfortunately, its very ubiquitousness often makes it the target of ire.

Canada Goose in a field

Canada Goose in a field at Five Rivers EEC, Delmar, NY

The Canada Goose is solely native to North America, breeding from coast to coast from Alaska to the eastern Canadian provinces and Greenland, and further south inland and along the east coast of the United States (though it has been recently introduced to Europe). The more southern breeding populations, often non-migratory or only partially migratory, are a result of numerous introduction programs and would likely not have happened without the agency of humanity. It seems that the southern portion of the west coast of the U.S. is the one part of North America where Canada Geese are not likely to be seen. According to Bull’s Birds of New York State it winters “from the southern portion of the breeding range to the Gulf states and northern Mexico.”

Canada Goose on nest

Canada Goose “hiding” on nest

The Canada Goose is difficult to confuse with other species, although some of the smaller subspecies might be confused with the recently split species, Cackling Goose. However, the Cackling Goose should be readily identifiable by its very short neck and shorter, stubbier bill. If in doubt, it’s a Canada Goose.

flock of temporarily flightless Canada Geese

flock of temporarily flightless Canada Geese with goslings

Pairs of Canada Geese stake out a territory early in the spring and begin the construction of their nest. They will defend their nesting territory and young with vigor against other geese, animals, and people. Woe to the nonobservant walker who gets too close to the nest! A goose bite can really hurt, and if one flies at your head and buffets you with its wings you will not soon forget the experience!

Unlike the unfaithful drake Mallard, the male Canada Goose sticks around to help defend and watch over the young. This is why you often see a family of geese strung out single file, with a parent at each end.

Canada Goose family

family of Canada Geese

Interestingly, Canada Geese molt all of their flight feathers at once, leaving them unable to fly and vulnerable to predation. This is probably why before humanity got involved they nested exclusively in the far north (less predators). However, even birds that breed in the southern portion of their range may leave their young with another family of geese and fly north to molt! Even when this behavior doesn’t occur several families of geese often conglomerate into a large flock while the birds are flightless, allowing more eyes to keep a lookout for danger. At Five Rivers every spring I enjoy watching these groups of geese wandering the paths, gobbling up green grass and preventing people from getting past (you try getting past a flock of geese with young present). And the goslings get so fat so fast!

Canada Goose Goslings

Canada Goose goslings at Five Rivers EEC, Delmar, NY

Locally, an overabundance of Canada Geese caused quite a controversy in the village of Scotia last summer when the village board proposed catching and gassing the geese, claiming that their (the geese’s, not the village board’s) droppings were polluting Collins Lake. Local residents and animal-rights activists rallied to the geese’s defense and the plan was prevented! It is somewhat ironic that geese that are only present in our area because of humanity’s short-sighted actions are now threatened by the power of small-minded people who can’t see past the goose-poop on the ground.

Canada Geese dabbling

Here’s what we think of you, Scotia Village Board!

So when you next hear the wild honking of Canada Geese in migration over your head remember that when humans mess with nature the results are not always (and in fact, probably rarely) what was intended (rabbits in Australia anyone?).

And now for something completely different: my favorite YouTube video ever (not appropriate for children (though they probably hear worse on the school bus) or the workplace).

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Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy, their son, Desmond Shearwater, and their indoor cat, B.B. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.