Canada Goose

Branta canadensis

This large bodied goose is both adaptable and social having been imported into Europe and Asia from its native lands in North America. A monogamous bird which pairs for life, it is considered a pest in some areas as being both messy and aggressive, particularly within urban environments.

Canada Goose

Length:

90cm to 110cm

Wingspan:

150cm to 180cm

Weight:

4.3g to 5g

What does a Canada Goose look like?

Adult Canada Geese of both sexes have a long black neck, head and large, wide bill, with a prominent broad white ‘chinstrap’ extending from the base of the lower mandible, upwards under the chin ending just below the crown. The breast is a pale grey morphing to white across the belly and under tail, whilst the flanks are a darker brownish grey. The undertail coverts are white. The upperparts are predominantly a browny grey with a black rump and uppertail, contrasting with white upper tail coverts. The legs and feet are black and the irides a dark brown. Adult males are generally larger than females. Juveniles are similar in markings and patternation to adult birds.

A pair of Canada Geese

A pair of Canada Geese

What does a Canada Goose sound like?

The call of the Canada goose is a loud, low pitched honk, often repeated, rather similar to an old fashioned rubber bulbed car horn.

Canada Goose call (flight call)

Susanne Kuijpers, XC642222. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/642222.

Canada Goose searching for food

Canada Goose searching for food

What does a Canada Goose eat?

The Canada goose is a herbivore, often seen in large groups on low lying open grassland close to fresh water, grazing on grasses and green vegetation. During winter months their diet will often vary to include agricultural grains, seeds and berries. In urban and suburban areas they will also scavenge from waste bins and refuse tips.

Canada Geese in flight

Canada Geese in flight

Distribution

The Canada goose is found predominantly in the Northern Hemisphere with vast numbers across North America and Western Europe in particular. However, populations have also been introduced to New Zealand, the Falkland Islands, Argentina and Chile. Traditionally their breeding grounds were in the arctic and sub-arctic regions and whilst the majority of North America geese still breed mainly in Alaska and Canada, breeding populations can now be found throughout Canada and continental USA. Those birds resident within Western Europe breed from Greenland across Scandinavia and the United Kingdom, through Benelux countries into Germany, France, Ukraine and across Russia to the Pacific coast at Kamchatka. Many Canada goose populations have lost their migratory instinct or move relatively short distances south of their breeding grounds and this is particularly noticeable within Western Europe, whilst within North America, those birds from the northern most breeding ranges will migrate south with many birds overwintering in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and across the border into Mexico.

A family of Canada Geese

A family of Canada Geese

Sub-species

There are seven different sub-species of the Canada goose, all of which can be found within North America. The single variant introduced into Europe and Japan is the Branta canadensis canadensis which, within North America, is mainly confined to Canada. Branta canadensis maxima (Giant Canada Goose) is considered the heaviest of the subspecies with the greatest wingspan and is a resident of the American Midwest. This variant was introduced to New Zealand in 1905, where it is now considered a pest.

Nesting Canada Goose

Nesting Canada Goose

Signs and Spotting tips

Although there are minor size and colour differences between the sub-species, all variants of Canada goose are easily identifiable by their shape, size and patternation. Within North America they may be confused with a similar coloured bird, the Cackling Goose. However, this latter species of goose is considerably smaller and stocky with a short neck. The Canada goose is never far away from freshwater and can be found in public parks, reservoirs, lakes, marshes, rivers, flooded gravel pits, in fact anywhere with wide open grasslands or arable crops, coastal plains and even forests. It is a gregarious, noisy bird found in large flocks and often seen flying in V formations honking loudly as they pass overhead.

Flock of Canada Geese

Flock of Canada Geese

Breeding

The breeding season lasts from March through to June, dependent upon location. A scrape in the ground, often lined with leaf mould, reeds and down, is constructed as a nest, frequently on small islands to avoid predation. Birds are monogamous and will mate from the age of two years. One clutch averaging 5 – 6 cream coloured eggs is laid and incubated by the female for between twenty six to thirty two days. The chicks, also known as goslings, are able to feed, swim and dive within twenty four hours of hatching. Fledging occurs between six to eight weeks after hatching and in general the young will remain with their parents for up to a year.

Canada goose nest

Canada Goose nest

Canada goose with goslings

Adult with goslings

How long do Canada Geese live for?

Life expectancy is between twenty to twenty five years although captive birds may survive considerably longer.

Similar birds to a Canada Goose

Other birds in the Ducks, geese and swans family