Although they are sometimes incorrectly known as Canadian geese, the official name for Branta Canadensis is Canada goose. Originally introduced to London from North America in the 17th century, they are now one of the UK’s most widespread resident geese. The species’ population is swelled each spring by the addition of large broods to family flocks, regularly seen grazing on open fields. But how long can adult Canada geese expect to live? Read on to find out.
In the wild, Canada geese live for between 10 and 24 years. Older individuals have been recorded, with captive geese living considerably longer lives. Once a Canada goose gosling has reached the fledgling stage, it stands a good chance of surviving until adulthood.
Considered an agricultural pest by many farmers due to the extensive damage flocks can do to fields of crops, annual managed culls of Canada geese are carried in certain parts of the world. Population numbers are controlled in this way, although the species remains one of the most widespread – and long-lived – geese, with one captive individual recorded as having reached nearly 50 years of age.
In order to learn more about the potentially extremely long lifespan of a Canada goose, we take a look at the different factors and adaptations that affect their ability to survive for so long, both in captivity and in their natural habitats.
In the wild, Canada geese can live up to 24 years
The average lifespan of a Canada goose is between 10 and 24 years, with 20 years not being an uncommon age to reach. The oldest known example of a wild Canada goose was ringed in Ontario in 1969 and died in 2001, making her at least 33 years and 3 months old.
Survival rates among young and juvenile Canada geese improve once goslings reach the fledgling stage. Between 28 and 59 percent of the Branta Canadensis Interior subspecies are estimated to die between hatching and fledging. Once a gosling has reached adulthood, survival rates improve, with fully grown birds being less of a target for predators.
In captivity, Canada geese have the potential to live extremely long lives, with the oldest recorded individual living for 49 years and 8 months. Anecdotal accounts exist of other geese that have also lived into their 40s, but cannot be verified.
Canada Goose rising out of the water
In agricultural areas, Canada geese may be considered pests, and around 2.6 million are culled in North America each year as part of official legal controls. In the UK, a special licence is needed to hunt Canada geese, as they are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Other factors that may cause the death of Canada geese and goslings include attacks by predators, disease (especially avian flu), and starvation. Collisions with power cables and being struck by vehicles also rank among causes of mortality of Canada geese, with collisions of flocks of geese with aircraft being reasonably well documented.
Canada geese breed once a year, in April to May, laying between 2 and 10 eggs. Eggs are incubated by the female only, although the male remains nearby to protect the nest.
Eggs hatch after 28 to 30 days, and the well-developed goslings are ready to leave the nest within the first 24-48 hours depending on the weather. Goslings are able to swim and walk almost straight away, and from this time, they accompany both parent birds to forage for food.
Canada goose goslings are ready to fledge between 6 and 9 weeks, but continue to be fiercely guarded by their parents until they are 10-12 weeks old, and remain in family flocks until their first spring.
After one year, juvenile Canada geese are considered fully independent. Both males and females reach sexual maturity between 2 and 3 years, but breeding usually takes place for the first time after 3 years.
A family of Canada Geese with their young goslings
Foxes, crows, ravens and gulls are among the most common predators of Canada goose eggs and goslings. In their native North America, coyotes, racoons, bears, and wolves may hunt adult geese as well as their young.
The oldest Canada goose on record was a captive male named George, who hatched in April 1927 and died in December 1976, aged 49 years and 8 months.
Canada Goose grazing along the river bank
Canada geese need to feed twice a day, and spend up to 8 hours a day grazing on land during daylight hours. They need to eat up to 1 kg of grass every day, and their health can rapidly decline if they do not have access to grazing grounds with sufficient nutritious food and vegetation.
Although some Canada geese will migrate during winter months, they can survive winter with no great difficulty, provided there is enough food to keep them sustained. Geese can regulate their body temperature and have developed adaptations that help them to cope when temperatures drop below freezing.
Standing on one leg is one particular adaptation, which stops body heat from escaping. Similarly tucking their beak into their wing feathers is another method of preserving heat in freezing conditions.
Despite these adaptations for being able to survive the extreme cold, Canada geese can potentially freeze to death if exposed to extended periods of sub-zero temperatures. Not having access to sufficient food sources in winter months can also lead to a rapid decline in a goose’s health, as they won’t have the necessary fat reserves to keep warm.
Canada Goose standing on one leg on a frozen lake
Canada geese are currently ranked as a species of least concern by the IUCN. However, this has not always been the case. At the start of the 20th century, Canada geese were on the brink of extinction in the United States, having been hunted to the point that the wild population was in severe decline.
Controls on unregulated hunting were brought in, and the Canada goose population experienced great recovery. Numbers were boosted as the species was introduced to different regions, on newly created pastures and urban lakes and parklands.
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