The Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) is the larges goose not only of the Branta genus but also the largest goose in the entire northern hemisphere. It is also one of the marine goose species. Actually Canada Geese are natives of the North American continent. However, in the 20th century this species was introduced to the wild in northwest Europe. Nowadays it is a regular breeding bird in the Netherlands and in the northwestern part of Germany. Canada Geese are mainly found close to bodies of fesh water.
It is quite remarkable how adaptable the Canada Goose is to a life in highly frequented areas parks, recreational and urban areas where they also settle in northwest Europe. In such areas Canada Geese show no sign of fear towards people coming close.
Very similar to the Canada Goose in appearance and plumage is the Cackling Goose which, however, is a species in its own right.
Geographical Variations of the Canada Goose
There arre seven recognised subspecies of the Canada Goose. Subspecies are hard to identify when alone. However, it is easier to differ between the known population and a subspecies that rests in the area for a while. The known subspecies are:
- Branta canadensis canadensis – Eastern Canada, Northeast US
- Branta c. interior – Canada South Baffin Island, around Hudson Bay, near border of Manitoba and Nunavut; North Quebec. Nowadays also expanding to the southwest of Greenland. Wintering in eastern US, southwards to northern Florida and central Texas.
- Branta c. maxima – southeast of Canada and eastern US and southwards to northern Florida and Kansas – nearly extinct due to extensive hunting the 20th century
- Branta c. moffitti – western US
- Branta c. parvipes – western Canada, northwest Manitoba, British Columbia and Central Alaska; wintering in the Great Plains, east Colorado and Kansas and southwards to northeast of New Mexico and Central Texas
- Branta c. occidentalis – south coast of Alaska
- Branta c. fulva – Canadian Pacific coast – wintering on the south coast of British Columbi
This post is about the nominal form Branta c. canadensis
Characteristics of the Canada Goose
Family: Ducks (Anatidae)
Sub-Family: Geese and Swans (Anserineae)
Genus: Marine Geese (Branta)
Species: Canada Goose
Scientific Name: Branta canadensis c. Linnaeus 1758
Names and Synonyms of the Canada Goose
French: Bernache du Canada
Spanish: Barnacla canadiense grande
Italian: Oca canadese maggiore
Dutch: Grote Canadese Gans.
Czech: Berneška velká
Slovak: Bernikla veľká
Hungarian: Kanadai lúd
Polish: Bernicla kanadyjska
Russian: Казарка канадская, Канадская казарка
North Sami: Kanádačuonjá
Inuit: Nedlenuk, Nookliuk
The Canada Goose is a native to the arctic and temperate regions of eastern North America. From there the distribution area stretches southwards to Florida and even Texas. Large populations of the Canada Goose have been established on the Pacific side of North America; beginning in Canadian British Columbia and stretching southwards to northeast California. One of the largest populations in North America is established in the Canadian and US sides of the Great Lakes region. In the northern parts of their distribution area, Canada Geese are mostly migrational.
Canada Goose in Europe
Canada Geese were introduced to northern and northwest Europe where these birds could establish large populations in Ireland, Great Britain, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Germany. Emigrants brought Canada Geese to Chile, New Zealand, Argentina and even to the Falkland Islands (!). In Northwest Europe the introduction happened mainly in the middle of the 18th century when the birds were brought in as game birds. From there they managed to establish wild-living populations in Europe.
The Canada Goose living outside North America
Outside North America we find Canada Geese naturally on the Kamtchatka Peninsula, eastern Siberia, eastern China and Japan. Sometimes Canada Goose can be watched in Greenland also.
Movements and Wintering
In Europe, Canada Geese are mainly sedentary but juveniles tend to migrate. The northernmost populations in Sweden and Finland migrate during winter to the western shores of the Baltic Sea, Denmark and eastern Germany and also to the North Sea coasts of Germany, the Netherlands and Southern England. Small contingents move to the Czech Republic and to western Russia and the Baltic states.
In Europe we find the Canada Goose on larges bodies of water, small lakes, rivers, wetlands, gravel pits and fish ponds. Also, they tend to settle close to human areas. Grazing areas are close to the breeding grounds. Canada Geese live in coastal areas and also inlands when sufficient fresh water is available. They winter on harvested fields (stubble fields), grassland and wetlands.
In North America the habitats of the Canada Goose are similar to those in Europe. There, the Canada Goose lives in lowlands, tundra, large bodies of water, lakes and wetlands. They tend to breed in lose colonies.
Canada Geese are mainly diurnal. They feed on land but also swimming in shallow waters where they harvest aquatic plants with head and neck under water, like swans do. Couples are monogamous lifelong pairs. Very loud and noisy birds. Can be heard over long distances.
Canada Geese can be most aggressive when feeling threatened or when they believe their goslings being in danger. In such cases the birds assume a threatening pose by standing erect in which they stretch their long neck and open their wings. In the next stage, if the threat does not go away they attack with bites and blows by their large wings which can be most painful to those being attacked.
Field Characteristics of the Canada Goose
Larger than Cackling Goose with black long thin neck and head. Large bill. White cheeks, but smaller white patch as is the case with the Barnacle Goose. Stocky structure, more greyish colour with the black of the neck extending down to the breast. Pales underparts are pale grey to sort of whitish.
Size of European Birds:
Size: 90-100 cm – male larger
Weight – male mainly heavier:
♂ = 4,170-5,410 g
♀ = 3,670-4,950 g
Wingspan: 160-183 cm
Wing: 450-550 mm
From my point of view these geese are the most noisy birds I have ever come across. It is possible to identify them over long distances only on their specific and loud calls. The calls sound like a serious of wonk-wonk-wonk sounds. Even couples tend to communicate rather loudly.
Canada Goose Breeding Facts
Sexually Mature: first breeding mainly between second and fourth year.
Mating: Canada Geese mate during their second year.
Breeding Pair: Pairs stay together as lifelong breeding pairs.
Begin of Breeding: as of end-March to April.
Clutches per breeding season: 1 clutch per year
Nest: Ground nest close to water, on the edges and islands of small waterbodies. The nest is mostly a platform of branches and twigs; usually lined with palnts and downs.
Eggs and Egg Measurements
Clutch: (1-) usually 5-6 (rarely up to 12) eggs
Eggs: oval or elliptical with with yellowish white shell.
Recurrent Clutch: ???
Eggs and Egg Weights:
Length: 79.0-99.5 mm
Width: 53.5-63.6 mm
Ø = 85.7×58.2 mm
Fresh egg weight: on average Ø = 228 g
Shell weight: 17.1-25.3 g; Ø = 18.5 g
Laying – Incubation – Fledging & Dependency
Laying Interval: 1-2 days
Incubation: 28-30 days, ♀ incubates and is guarded and fed by ♂.
Fledging: goslings leave the nest shortly after hatching and follow their parents. Juveniles fledge after 48-86 days.
Dependency: The family stays together during autumn (fall) and winter.
Food: Canada Goose lives mainly on plants and grass especially; also rhizomes, clover, young seeds, plants in shallow water, marine algae and flowering plants such as zostera and ulva.
Longevity: With adults in GB mortality is about 22 per cent per annum. According to studies in North America, only 45 per cent of all juveniles reach the end of their first year. The oldest known ringed bird reached an age of 23 years and 4 months.
Threats: In general, known predators threatening eggs and goslings are: fox, coyotes, northern raccoon, larges gulls and the American Black Bear. This is the case for all distribution areas. Adult birds can be threatened by coyotes, grey wolves and eagles. Canada Geese are open for hunting in most areas but are protected outside the hunting season. Another threat are collisons with aircraft.
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Glutz von Blotzheim, Urs et. al (HG), Handbuch der Vögel Mitteleuropas, Band 2, Anseriformes (1. Teil), Akademische Verlagsgesellschaft, Wiesbaden, 1979, Nachdruck der Auflage von 1968
Svenson, Lars et. al, Der Kosmos Vogelführer, Franck-Kosmos Verlag GmbH & Co. KG, Stuttgart, 2. Auflage 2011
Uspenski, S.M. Dr. habil, Die Wildgänse Nordeurasiens, Die Neue Brehm Bücherei, Band 352, A. Ziemsen Verlag Wittenberg Lutherstadt, 1965
Bundesamt für Naturschutz: Nationaler Vogelschutzbericht 2019 gemäß Artikel 12 Vogelschutzrichtlinie, report data section He-Ko breeding birds, (pdf download)
Featured Image of Canada Goose – by ©Raymond Loyal
Post images of Canada Geese – by ©Raymond Loyal
Eggs of Canada Goose – source: By Klaus Rassinger und Gerhard Cammerer, Museum Wiesbaden – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35835524
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