We all recognize the infamous Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)! The black head and contrasting white “chinstrap” makes this goose easy to identify at a glace. Also notice the black bill, pale breast and sides, brownish-gray back, white tail coverts, black legs, and black tail.
One thing that we don’t often realize about the Canada Goose is that it varies widely in size. The smallest Canada Geese are about the same size as the largest Cackling Geese. On the other hand, many Canada Geese are hefty giants.
The juvenile Canada Goose looks very similar to its parents, but less cleanly marked. Its chinstrap may be splotched with black, and its neck may blend in more with its breast.
Best Field Marks
- Tapered head and bill.
- Black head with white chinstrap.
- Contrast between black neck and lighter breast.
Canada Geese are noisy birds, and have been known to make thirteen different kinds of calls. The deep honking note is the best known, of course, but they can also snore, cluck, murmur, and cackle. And don’t forget that all-too-familiar hiss! Smaller varieties tend to make higher, faster calls than larger varieties, and females typically have higher-pitched voices than males.
Baby Canada Geese have their own interesting vocabulary. Before they even hatch they can signal either contentment or distress with various peeps and trills. After they emerge from the nest, they make a variety of quiet, wheezy calls.
Distribution & Occurrence
Not surprisingly, Canada Geese are common all across Kansas, having adapted to everything from rural ponds to city parks. They are somewhat more selective about their nesting habitat, however, mostly preferring the abundant water and food supplies of the eastern half of the state. West of the Flint Hills, Canada Geese are most likely to nest around irrigation ponds.
Canada Geese can now be found in Kansas year-round thanks to the nonmigratory giant varieties that have been reintroduced to the United States. The smaller varieties arrive in the fall, spend the winter, and depart in the spring.
The V-shaped flight formation of Canada Geese is a familiar sight to many. This efficient pattern enables flocks to cover over 650 miles a day, switching leaders periodically so that no one gets too tired. With their strong wing beats, Canada Geese can achieve speeds up to 50 miles per hour.
The Canada Goose is willing to either walk on land or dabble in the water to find food. Mostly herbivorous, it eats grasses, berries, seeds, and grain. However, Canada Geese will eat small insects and fish, and they have been known to raid the occasional garbage can, as well.
Canada Geese mate for life between two and four years of age. In Kansas, they may build their nests as early as mid-March. The female does the work by building a shallow cup on the ground or on an artificial platform out of grass, weeds, moss, and sticks, and lining it with down. She then lays four to seven white eggs, which she incubates for 25 to 30 days while her mate stands guard. Canada Geese defending nests or goslings are not pleasant birds, as some can bear witness. They warn off potential threats by hissing violently, and if provoked may attack with both bill and wings.
The goslings leave the nest only one or two days after hatching (late April or early May in Kansas) and immediately follow their parents down to the nearest body of water. They learn how to care for themselves by imitating their mother, finding their own food with a little assistance. Smaller subspecies learn to fly first, some as early as 42 days of age. Giant Canada Geese may take up to 63 days to learn how to fly. All varieties of Canada Geese remain in family groups until after the next spring migration.
Canada Geese are considered a nuisance by most. A few birdwatchers, however, enjoy building nesting platforms for them.
Hunters attract Canada Geese to wooden decoys by using a variety of honking and clucking calls. Expert hunters can become quite proficient at imitating the large vocabulary of the Canada Goose.
The Cackling Goose can present considerable confusion because it looks just like a miniature Canada Goose. Size is the main distinguishing characteristic. However, there are subtle proportional differences in the head that can actually be more reliable indicators once mastered. The Cackling Goose has a rounder head and a stubbier bill. The Canada Goose’s head is longer, tapering smoothly into the bill for a triangular effect.
The Brant is colored similarly to the Canada Goose, but a quick look at the head and breast can tell you everything that you need to know. The Canada Goose has a bold white “chinstrap,” while the Brant has only a few white feathers on the sides of its neck. Furthermore, the Canada Goose has a black neck and light breast, while the Brant is dark all the way to the waterline.
Photos, audio, and more information from Cornell’s All About Birds site.
Artificial Nest Structures for Canada Geese
Free PDF download from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service on building and monitoring a variety of nesting structures for Canada Geese.