Considering Canada Geese

Think “Canada goose” and your first image might be a V-formation in the sky. Or geese in water, suddenly diving to harvest bottom grasses. Or, undeniably, the messes they make on sidewalks and paths. But messes happen everywhere, right?

In fact, there’s much to be said about these birds that’s positive. And surprising. For instance, they typically mate for life – which can be up to 24 years — usually returning to the same site every year to lay their eggs. After the nest of twigs, grasses and similar material is made, the mama goose shapes it into a bowl with her body and proceeds with her maternal duties.

With their eyes open, downy goslings hatch after about a month, and within a day, they leave the nest to follow their parents. The gander protects his mate and offspring, sometimes hissing away seeming threats – as he may have done earlier when competing for the goose of his choice. Born swimmers, goslings stay with the family for up to a year, leaning needed skills from their parents and potentially growing up to 20 pounds in weight and five and a half feet in length.

While raising the family, adults – who look alike, by the way — molt, or shed feathers. Since most are flight feathers, entire families are made temporarily flightless at the same time.

Geese seeking a spring or fall change of venue follow strict migration paths with traditional stop-over sites. (Well, when you drive to the shore, don’t you always stop at the same frozen custard stand?) They can fly between 40-55 miles an hour, and travel up to 1,500 miles a day. Their well-known V-formation reduces wind resistance and keeps the flock together. As you might imagine, the goose in the lead works the hardest, so the birds take turns in this role.

Canada geese have serrated bills, helping them to both slice through vegetation and groom, so they’re not only streamlined and strong, but also well-coifed, or feathered. Essentially herbivores, they subsist on grasses, sedges, grains, and berries – which explains their habitats of fresh water or grassland. But they don’t turn up their noses/bills at fish and insects they may encounter.

Found across North America, Canada geese have been introduced to parts of Europe and New  Zealand. (You read that right: Australia wasn’t mentioned in the National Geographic source I consulted. What do Aussies have against them?)

These days, non-migrating Canada geese can be regarded as pests. “They consume vast quantities of vegetation, foul their surroundings, and may even collide with planes near airports,” says Kim Kurki, author-illustrator of the beautiful National Wildlife’s World of Birds: A Beginner’s Guide (2014) — one of my info sources here. (The others were Stan Tekiela’s Birds of New Jersey Field Guide (2000) and various online National Geographic sites.)            

However, Kurki adds, Canada geese are “living beings that we are compelled to treat humanely and live in harmony with.” 

– Pat Summers

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