Be Your Own Birder

Weekly Bird: Canada Goose

The Canada goose is a bird that seems overly familiar, and because of that, too many people disregard all that is fascinating about these waterfowl. But there is much more to enjoy about these bold and persistent geese than many people realize!

Canada Geese in Flight

Canada Geese in Flight – Photo by Don DeBold

Canada Goose Fun Facts
  • Despite its name, the Canada goose (Branta canadensis) is not found only in Canada. This bird’s range extends throughout the United States and well into northern Mexico, as well as southwestern Greenland. They have also been introduced and are now widespread in Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, and western Europe. Naturally migrating Canada geese are also found in eastern Siberia and China, and these birds have been introduced as a game bird in New Zealand.
  • There are at least seven recognized subspecies of Canada goose, and the cackling goose (one of the smallest subspecies) was split into its own species in 2004. Some ornithologists believe there may be up to 100 or even more subspecies of Canada goose, though that large number is not widely accepted as yet.
  • In general, Canada goose subspecies are smaller overall in the north than they are in the south, and western populations tend to have darker plumage. There is a great deal of variation, however, but all the birds have the distinctive white chin strap, heavy brown body, black neck, and white abdomen that help identify the species.
  • These are largely herbivorous birds and they eat a wide range of plant material, including seeds, grain, grasses, berries, buds, nuts, roots, algae and more. They graze while on land, and will “dabble” in the water, tipping their butts up to stretch for food underneath the water.
  • Canada geese are monogamous birds, and a mated pair will keep that bond for life, raising new broods of goslings each breeding season.
  • In migration, Canada geese typically fly at an altitude of 3,000 feet, but have been recorded as high as 29,000 feet in altitude.
  • While these geese are known for their characteristic V-shaped flight formation, the same bird does not always stay in the lead position. Birds switch that position regularly, as it takes greater energy to fly at the head of the formation and the lead bird will tire more quickly than the rest of the flock.
  • Adult Canada geese are very vocal and have a loud honk, but young goslings have many other vocalizations, including peeps and trills. Goslings even start communicating with their parents before the eggs hatch! Adult females have lower voices than adult males.
  • Unfortunately, because these birds can be aggressive and territorial, they are often considered a pest species and may be culled, particularly in urban or suburban areas where large flocks of Canada geese create unsightly messes, beg incessantly for handouts, and take over parks and ponds.
  • Canada geese can live 10-25 years. There are a few reports of wild, banded geese reaching ages over 30 years, while one record of a captive Canada goose notes it was over 40 years old.
Adding the Canada Goose to Your Life List

These are very easy geese to see, particularly during the summer in urban and suburban areas. Visit parks, golf courses, or planned communities that have significant ponds and cultivated lawns, and you’re likely to see a flock of Canada geese. They are also common in agricultural fields after grain harvests. In winter, they may congregate in large numbers near open freshwater sources. You can even spot them easily in the air thanks to their loud honks and V-shaped or diagonal line flight formations.

Learn More About the Canada Goose

There is always more to learn about Canada geese, and these resources can help…

Canada Goose and Gosling

Canada Goose and Gosling – Photo by Don DeBold

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