Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)
Prepared by Paul Nicholson, London Bird Team, March 2022.
Left: Canada Geese typically nest on an elevated site so that they can detect threats from all directions. Right: Goslings leave the nest when they are just 1 or 2 days old. They are already able to walk, swim, and find food. All photos by Paul Nicholson unless otherwise indicated.
The Canada Goose is by far the most common of the four wild geese species regularly seen across Southwestern Ontario. With a wingspan of 150 cm, it is also the largest of the four geese. It has a greyish-brown body, white undertail coverts, a black neck, head, and beak, and an obvious white chin patch.
This is a social species. Bird watchers will often see groups of Canada Geese, whether they are feeding on a lawn, swimming, or flying.
Most Canada Geese are monogamous and will mate for life. The female will lay between two and nine eggs each spring on a nest that is typically raised off the ground for improved safety. The eggs are incubated for approximately one month. The goslings leave the nest almost immediately. The young birds stay with their parents for a full year.
Interestingly, there are seven recognized subspecies of the Canada Goose such as the Dusky Canada Goose and the Lesser Canada Goose. Information about these subspecies is reviewable on the Avibase website.
Listen to the distinct honking calls of the Canada Goose below:
Canada geese are intelligent, sensitive animals that are docile through most of the year outside of their breeding season. Photo by Brian Salt.
Because Canada Geese are so ubiquitous, many people have developed a strong opinion about the bird. Yet, these gentle, magnificent birds are often misunderstood.
On the one hand, it is one of just a few birds named for Canada, so this native species can instil a sense of national pride. The sight of a flock (or skein) of Canada Geese flying in a classic V-shape during migration seasons is simply iconic. The Canada Goose is also a symbol of the power of bird conservation initiatives. Because of over-hunting in the 19th century, populations of the Canada goose plummeted. Through the efforts of conservationists such as Jack Miner in Kingsville, Ontario, Canada Goose populations stabilized and then recovered. The work of Miner and others led to the ratification of the Migratory Birds Convention between Canada and the U.S. in 1916.
On the other hand, since Canada Geese are synanthropes - as wild animals that have adapted so well to human environments – they are sometimes characterized as noisy, aggressive, poop machines. Because of their defensive behaviour around their nests, their large size and abundance, the birds are sometimes prone to conflicts with humans. These incidents can range from defensive attacks around nests during breeding season, to bird-airplane collisions. Some North American municipalities have tried to implement Canada Goose population control initiatives in response to residents’ complaints about the bird. These range from non-lethal approaches, including cannon sounds and dogs that chase the birds, to destroying nests, oiling eggs, and even shooting the birds. To learn more about preventing conflicts with Canada Geese, please visit our Help London's Birds pages.
Canada geese provide several important ecosystem services. With diets consisting mostly of plants, geese contribute to dispersing seeds and reducing vegetation. Goose droppings, in moderate quantities, provide organic material to topsoil that acts as a natural fertilizer for plants. Canada geese intermingle with other waterbird species in mixed flocks and can help to defend their shared breeding territories in spring. Geese, as well as their eggs and young, provide food for a host of other animals.
Canada geese are very important animals to Indigenous peoples in North America. For instance, geese play a critical role in a Haudenosaunee creation story by catching Sky Woman (the first human on Turtle Island) as she fell down from the sky, effectively saving her life. Many Indigenous peoples, such as James Bay Cree, have traditionally relied on Canada Geese as a food source. In northern Quebec during spring migration, Cree communities have held a “goose break” hunt for centuries.
Reliable locations to observe Canada Geese in London are Springbank Park, Harris Park, and Victoria Park. In springtime, if you listen for their honking calls, you can find Canada geese just about anywhere.
The three birds at the front of this photo are Cackling Geese and the birds behind them are Canada Geese. Cackling Geese, which are much less common than Canada Geese, have similar field marks to Canada Geese but they are smaller and have stubbier beaks. Cackling Geese, Greater White-fronted Geese, and Snow Geese are seen with flocks of Canada Geese more often than they are seen on their own.
Help make London more Canada Goose friendly:
Learn more about preventing conflicts with Canada geese: Help London's Birds
Avoid areas that Canada geese use for nesting during spring (late March through April). Do not disturb nests of Canada geese under any circumstances.
Drive slowly and be careful to avoid Canada geese that may cross the street, especially near natural areas and fields.
Don’t leave litter or fishing line by rivers and ponds. If you find some, consider collecting and disposing of it.
Support the protection of wetland habitats and support efforts to address climate change.
Avoid use of pesticides and reduce your ecological footprint as much as possible.