Most of us can easily recognize the “honking” sound of the Canada goose.
This large waterbird is found throughout North America. The Canada goose is 25-to-45 inches long with a wingspan of 43-to-60 inches. Most have light brownish bodies with a white breast, a long black neck with a distinctive white cheek. They have webbed feet and a wide, flat bill.
The male goose is usually larger than the female. There are 11 subspecies of the Canada goose. The giant Canada goose that bred from Manitoba, Canada to Kentucky was nearly driven extinct in the early 1900s. Efforts to reestablish this subspecies have been successful.
The Canada goose lives in a variety of habitats, but usually near a water source. They can be seen in open grasslands, farm fields and closely mowed lawns on golf courses, airports and parks. The large open areas give the geese an ample food supply and allow them to see approaching predators.
In the spring and summer the Canada goose feeds mainly on grasses while in the fall and winter they rely more on berries, seeds and grains. Canada geese also feed by sticking their head under shallow water in search of food.
The male and female Canada goose mate for life. The pair do not breed until the fourth year when the pair bond is stronger and better able to successfully raise a family. This is smart family planning.
In the spring, flocks of geese spread out to form nesting territories. The male establishes and defends a territory by hissing or honking at male intruders. Sometimes there are altercations where a male grabs another male with its beak and hits it with its wings, occasionally resulting in injury.
The female builds the nest usually in marshy areas and incubates the eggs. The young stay with their parents for a full year.
Some migratory geese are not flying as far south due to warmer weather patterns and agricultural practices that leave more grains available for food. Geese breeding in the U.S. migrate shorter distances or may not migrate at all. During migration and movement, the Canada goose forms the familiar “V” formation. The more experienced birds take turns leading the flock.
Flocks of migrating Canada geese consist of loose family groups, and migrate both night and day. During the winter months I hear and see a flock of geese that fly in a “V” formation over my Albuquerque neighborhood every day, probably heading to the valley areas to feed. Late afternoon, I hear them return from the river valley to wherever they spend the night.
Mary Schmauss is the owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Albuquerque. A lifelong birder and author of “For the Birds: A Month-by-Month Guide to Attracting Birds to your Backyard.”