Photo: Benjamin Schelling/Audubon Photography Awards

Canada Goose

Branta canadensis

This big "Honker" is among our best-known waterfowl. In many regions, flights of Canada Geese passing over in V-formation -- northbound in spring, southbound in fall -- are universally recognized as signs of the changing seasons. Once considered a symbol of wilderness, this goose has adapted well to civilization, nesting around park ponds and golf courses; in a few places, it has even become something of a nuisance. Local forms vary greatly in size, and the smallest ones are now regarded as a separate species, Cackling Goose.
Conservation status Species as a whole probably still increasing: responds well to management on wildlife refuges, and has become a common resident of city lakes and parks in many areas. Some distinctive populations are scarce or declining.
Family Ducks and Geese
Habitat Lakes, ponds, bays, marshes, fields. Very diverse, using different habitats in different regions; always nests near water, winters where feeding areas are within commuting distance of water. Nesting habitats include tundra, fresh marshes, salt marshes, lakes in wooded country. Often feeds in open fields, especially in winter. In recent years, also resident in city parks, suburban ponds.
This big "Honker" is among our best-known waterfowl. In many regions, flights of Canada Geese passing over in V-formation -- northbound in spring, southbound in fall -- are universally recognized as signs of the changing seasons. Once considered a symbol of wilderness, this goose has adapted well to civilization, nesting around park ponds and golf courses; in a few places, it has even become something of a nuisance. Local forms vary greatly in size, and the smallest ones are now regarded as a separate species, Cackling Goose.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • adult male and female with goslings
  • adult
  • adult
  • adults
  • adults
Feeding Behavior

forages mostly by grazing while walking on land; also feeds in water, submerging head and neck, sometimes up-ending. Feeds in flocks at most seasons.


Eggs

4-7, sometimes 2-11. White, becoming nest-stained. Incubation is by female, 25-28 days; male stands guard nearby. Young: Parents lead young from nest 1-2 days after hatching. Young are tended by both parents, but feed themselves. Age at first flight varies, usually 7-9 weeks, tending to be longer in the largest forms.


Young

Parents lead young from nest 1-2 days after hatching. Young are tended by both parents, but feed themselves. Age at first flight varies, usually 7-9 weeks, tending to be longer in the largest forms.

Diet

almost entirely plant material. Feeds on very wide variety of plants. Eats stems and shoots of grasses, sedges, aquatic plants, also seeds and berries; consumes many cultivated grains (especially on refuges, where crops planted for geese). Occasionally eats some insects, mollusks, crustaceans, sometimes small fish.


Nesting

May mate for life. Male defends territory with displays, including lowering head almost to ground with bill slightly raised and open, hissing; also pumps head up and down while standing. Nest site (chosen by female) is usually on slightly elevated dry ground near water, with good visibility. Much variation; may nest on cliff ledges, on muskrat houses, in trees, on artificial platforms. Nest (built by female) is slight depression with shallow bowl of sticks, grass, weeds, moss, lined with down.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Migration

Historically, each local population followed rigid migratory path, with traditional stopovers and wintering areas. Today many geese in urban areas and on refuges are permanent residents. Other populations have changed routes or wintering areas as habitats have changed.

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Migration

Historically, each local population followed rigid migratory path, with traditional stopovers and wintering areas. Today many geese in urban areas and on refuges are permanent residents. Other populations have changed routes or wintering areas as habitats have changed.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Rich musical honking.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.