Facts & Figures

Resident Canada Geese

Genus & Species: Branta canadensis maxima

Order: ANSERIFORMES

Family: ANATIDAE
Subfamily: Anserinae

The most familiar and widespread goose in North America, the Canada Goose, can be found all across the continent, from the tundra in Canada to the Gulf Coast. Many populations are resident in urban and suburban areas, and often come into conflict with people.

In appearance, a “resident” Canada goose is identical to a migrant. The only differences between a resident and migrant are that the resident breeds in the United States and does not migrate. The “acid test” to determine residency is the presence of nests and goslings in the contiguous United States during the spring breeding season.
There are an estimated 5 million resident geese and just 2 million migrant Canada geese in the continental US today.

Description

  • Size: 30-43 inches
  • Wingspan: 50-67 inches
  • Weight: 6-15 pounds
  • Male and female; juvenile and adult birds all look very similar.

Background

  • At least 11 subspecies of Canada Geese have been recognized, although only several are distinctive. See the University of Tennessee website for more details and pictures. Most resident geese represent the “maxima” or “giant” species.
  • Geese have not simply “forgotten” to migrate. Migration is a learned behavior – not instinct – and the birds must learn to migrate from their parents. If the adults do not migrate, each new generation will also not migrate.
  • Often maligned for their prodigious fecal output, a goose typically produces 1.5lbs of “poop” per day.
  • Geese, whether resident or migrant, typically return to the same nesting location every year.
  • Just because geese are resident does not mean that they do not move around. Resident birds will move from site to site during the day to feed, roost or loaf, and may even “migrate” a short distance to a breeding site.
  • Adult resident birds have few predators. In urban settings, foxes and coyotes will feed on smaller birds and eggs. Raccoons especially enjoy goose eggs, although both goose and gander will aggressively protect the nest.
  • Geese can live up to 25 years, although 15 is more typical. Therefore, once a resident population is established, it requires both short and long-term strategies for effective management.

History & Regulations

  • In the early 1900’s, hunters used live decoys – captured geese which had their flight feathers clipped. When live decoys were banned, the birds were abandoned and did not migrate. According to one theory, the resident geese which exist today are all related to these non-migrating birds reintroduced in well meaning repopulation efforts.
  • The giant Canada goose, Branta canadensis maxima, was considered extinct as recently as the early 1960’s. Extraordinarily successful repopulation programs created many of the resident flocks that have developed into a nuisance in urban and suburban areas today.
  • Migrants as well as residents are protected under Federal Law, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) of 1918. This legislation gave authority to the Department of Interior, US Fish & Wildlife to manage the populations of migratory birds. Recent changes in regulations allows for increased “take” of resident birds.
  • Check with your local Department of Natural Resources or Fish & Game Office before undertaking any program designed to reduce the bird population. Better to be safe than sorry!

Food & Feeding

  • Geese are entirely herbivorous, consuming plant material exclusively. In the wild, the birds can eat nearly all plant species and parts, including aquatic, but especially enjoy grasses, clovers, sedges, grain, and berries.
  • The birds will readily accept handouts and quickly become habituated to people and “free food”. Unfortunately, this practice assures that the birds will stay in places where they are least tolerated.

Reproduction

  • Geese build a nest in a large open cup made of dry grasses, lichens, and mosses, lined with down and some body feathers. Nests are usually placed on slightly elevated sites near water, such as a pond or river edge, although in extreme cases, can be found on top of buildings.
  • Geese breed just once a year, during March and April.
  • A goose lays 2-8 eggs, called a clutch. The eggs are creamy white and the incubation period is 25-28 days.
  • In the event the clutch is lost to a predator, the goose will lay a new clutch.
  • The goslings come out of the egg covered with down and eyes open. They leave the nest within 24 hours of hatching with the ability to swim and feed. Chicks “fledge” – capable of flying – in 6-7 weeks.
  • The survival rate of goslings from resident birds is better than that of their migrating cousins, and it is estimated that the total population is growing at 15%, annually. The migrant goose population has been stable over the last 20 years.
  • Geese typically start breeding at 3 years of age and can continue for up to 17 years.
  • Geese mate for life and will only seek a new mate if the other dies.
  • Geese will aggressively defend their nest sites and can harm people if provoked.
  • Geese “molt” or lose their flight feathers once a year, in July. During this period they can be readily captured.