Known for their V-shaped flocks that accent spring and fall skies, Canada Geese are one of our most abundant North American waterfowl species. From local parks and golf courses to office complexes and housing developments, these big birds have thrived alongside humans and can be found year-round across the northern United States and in southern regions during winter. Easily recognized by black necks and heads featuring a white chin strap, the birds are often considered a nuisance in urban and suburban settings due to their droppings, prickly demeanors, and ability to ruin turf grass. But these birds were once thought of as symbols of wilderness, so put any preconceived notions you have to the side, and get to know this hefty honker a little better.
1.) Canada Geese may be seemingly everywhere now, but in the early 1900s, their numbers had been decimated due to habitat loss and hunting. Today there are more than 5 million Canada Geese across North America thanks to conservation efforts and regulations.
2.) In 2004, the American Ornithologists’ Union split the Canada Goose into two species: Canada Goose and Cackling Goose. Once considered a Canada Goose subspecies, the Cackling Goose looks almost identical to the Canada save for its smaller size, stubbier bill, and other key distinguishing features.
3.) There are seven recognized subspecies of Canada Goose. The biggest of them is Branta canadensis maxima, or the giant Canada Goose. Among the largest waterfowl in the world, the giant Canada Goose subspecies was once widely thought to be extinct until a small population was rediscovered in Rochester, Minnesota in 1962.
4.) Canada Geese practice assortative mating, seeking out partners who are similar in size. They also stick to one mate for life, with adult birds waiting until they are at least two years old to seek out partners.
5.) Goslings—the name for goose chicks—can learn to swim within one day of being born. As they get older, they sometimes form groups with other goslings called gang broods. The gang brood travels and feeds together under the watchful eyes of the parent geese.
6.) Notoriously aggressive, Canada Geese won’t back down when they feel threatened. If an adult Canada Goose thinks its goslings or nest are in danger, it will stretch out its neck, spread its wings out wide, and hiss as it pumps its head up and down. They will also charge and even fly at a perceived threat, including humans.
7.) Canada Geese typically forage in groups and on land, where they mostly feed on a wide variety of plant material, including grass stems and shoots, sedges, and seeds and berries. In the water, the birds eat aquatic plants and the occasional crustacean, mollusk, or fish. During migration, Canada Geese are often found in agricultural fields, where they feast on a whole host of cultivated grains.
8.) The distinctive V-pattern Canada Geese fly in while migrating actually has a purpose—it helps the birds maintain their energy and improves communication. Each bird flies above the bird in front of them to reduce wind resistance. And being able to see the other birds aids overall coordination. When the lead bird gets tired, it moves to the back of the group for a much-deserved rest.
9.) At one time, Canada Geese nested mainly in northern regions, and the vast majority were migratory. But when captive-reared geese were released to establish new populations across the lower 48 states—most of those birds being of the giant Canada Goose subspecies, which were already short-distance migrants—the introduced birds became very common year-round residents. Meanwhile, Canada Geese nesting in far northern regions of the United States and Canada still migrate long distances as they did historically.
10.) A single Canada Goose has between 20,000 and 25,000 feathers. The vast majority of those feathers are short, stubby down that helps insulate the bird from cold water and freezing temperature. To keep the feathers in top condition, they are all replaced every year through a process called molt. The feathers of the head and body are molted gradually over a period of months, but flight feathers of the wings are all shed at once in late summer, causing the goose to be grounded for three to five weeks.