What is a Canada Goose?

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

A large, distinctive bird from North America, the Canada Goose belongs to the Anatidae family along with ducks, swans, and other geese. The bird features a black head and neck with a large patch of white on its throat. Scientifically named Branta canadensis, the wild goose has been introduced to the United Kingdom, where it has widely spread.

Canadian geese use lichen to build part of their nests.
Canadian geese use lichen to build part of their nests.

In addition to its trademark black head and white chin, the Canada Goose typically has a brown back and white cheeks. Its breast is a light tan hue. Big waterbirds, they have large webbed feet, long necks, and flat, wide black bills. These types of birds can reach 16 to 25 inches (41 to 63 centimeters) in length, with an overall wing span of up to 50 to 68 inches (127 to 173 centimeters). Social creatures, they typically travel in pairs or flocks, forming a V formation in flight.

Canadian Geese can be seen around gravel pits, rivers, town parks, ponds, and lakes all year round. Intentionally introduced to both suburban and urban neighborhoods, the geese have a strong presence in many areas. Sometimes the birds occupy areas in very large numbers, to the point where locals consider them a noisy, and messy, nuisance.

The Canada Goose is a vegetarian. Its diet consists mainly of roots, leaves, grasses, and seeds. During the summer months, eelgrass and skunk cabbage are favorite foods of the Canada Goose. Berries, seeds, and farm grains make up most of the bird's diet during the fall and winter. To feed, a goose will dip its beak into the water or graze in large grassy areas, such as lawns, farms, or fields.

Eggs of the Canada Goose are laid in clutches of two to eight. The creamy white eggs are incubated for up to one month in a ground nest. Nests are fashioned from dry grasses, mosses, lichens, and goose down. Females select nest locations and construct the nests while males guard and protect their mates.

Upon hatching, hatchlings feature yellow down, and can leave the nest after one to two days. At this time, they can usually feed, walk, swim, and dive alongside their parents. In the wild, a goose can expect to live from 10 to 24 years. The oldest known wild Canada Goose lived to be just over 30 years of age.

Though only a few subspecies of Canada Goose are distinctive, at least 11 have been identified. The farther north a species is, the smaller it generally is in size. The farther west a species is, the darker it tends to be. Though migratory Canada Geese used to travel far south for the winter, some populations no longer do this. Reasons why vary, though many scientists believe it is due to the wider availability of grain on farms during the fall and winter, changes in the weather, and changes in hunting pressure.

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

A graduate of Southeast Missouri State University, Sara has a Master’s Degree in English, which she puts to use writing for wiseGEEK and several magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She has published her own novella, and has other literary projects currently in progress. Sara’s varied interests have also led her to teach children in Spain, tutor college students, run CPR and first aid classes, and organize student retreats.

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