Canada Goose

Branta canadensis
Family

Anatidae (ducks, geese, swans) in the order Anseriformes

Description

Canada geese have a grayish-brown or tan body, usually with lighter-colored underparts. The long neck and head are black, as are the legs and webbed feet. A white chin patch extends along the sides of the head to the ears. During migration, they fly in chevrons (V-shaped groups).

The giant Canada goose subspecies (Branta canadensis maxima) is resident in Missouri and much of the Midwest. Other subspecies appear in our state as seasonal migrants. Compared to other subspecies, individuals of the giant subspecies are larger, have a deeper voice, have a paler belly, have the brownish body coloration extend higher on the neck, and have the white cheek patch extend as far as the lower bill.

Size

Length: 24–48 inches (tip of bill to tip of tail).

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Photo of Canada geese pair with nest and goslings
Canada Goose Nest
On average, giant Canada geese poop every seven minutes. Watch where you step!

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Photo of young Canada goose gosling
Canada Goose Young

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Photo of Canada geese crowding on grassy area
Canada Geese Flock

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Canada geese on lawn
Canada Geese on Lawn

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Photo of two Canada geese and a white-fronted goose standing near a lake.
Canada Geese and White-Fronted Goose
Migratory animals play a role in every ecosystem they travel through, as well as in their breeding and overwintering places.

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Video of Canadian geese in the wild.

Canada Goose

Male Canada geese make a long, loud "a-honk!", while the females make a faster, higher-pitched "hink!" Goslings make a wheezy "wheep, wheep, wheep."
Habitat and conservation

Canada geese live on farm ponds, lakes, and marshes. They may be found in and around nearly any body of water surrounded by large open areas of low grass, for example, at city parks, golf courses, and so on.

Foods

Canada geese are herbivore grazers, feeding on aquatic vegetation, tender grasses, and various other plants and seeds, as well as insects and aquatic organisms.

image of Canada Goose distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Common statewide on ponds, lakes, and marshes. In the coldest winters, fewer Canada geese stay in northern Missouri.

Status

Locally common summer resident on farm ponds, lakes, and marshes; common migrant and winter resident throughout the state.

Life cycle

Pairs bond in the spring as early as their second year of life and stay together for life (if one is killed, the other may find another mate). By their fourth year, nearly all are breeding. Nests are constructed on the ground near water: open cups of dried grasses and other vegetation and lined with feathers. Usually 3–8 eggs are laid; these are incubated for 25–28 days. Adults lose their flight feathers during incubation and cannot fly for nearly a month. Within a few days of hatching, the young are able to leave the nest and walk and swim. There is 1 brood a year. Canada geese begin to gather in flocks in late summer. The young do not leave their parents until after the spring migration. A Canada goose can live to be at least 33 years old.

Human connections

Once close to extinction, the Canada goose's "giant" subspecies has made an amazing recovery.

The sight and sound of migrating Canada geese flying overhead signals spring and autumn across North America.

Canada geese can be so numerous they can cause problems from overgrazing, abundant droppings, collisions with aircraft, destruction of newly sprouted crops, and more. Thus they can be a nuisance to landowners, golfers, park supervisors, and others.

Canada geese are popular among waterfowl hunters. More than 2.5 million Canada geese are harvested each year in North America.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act protects these geese, their nests, and eggs, but the Missouri Department of Conservation can issue permits to help control nuisance geese.

Ecosystem connections

Many predators feed on the eggs and young. Adults, especially when old or injured, may be eaten by bald eagles, large owls, coyotes, and other predators.

Canada geese are important grazers in wetlands statewide. When they and other waterfowl gather in large numbers in wetland staging areas along migration routes, their impact as grazers is magnified.

Just as pair bonding helps geese parents raise their young successfully, joining together in flocks helps each goose survive the winter migration.