Canada geese are a species of bird that is extremely common in the Northeastern United States and other parts of the country, too. Although some people consider geese to be pests, they are actually beautiful creatures with a complex social structure and excellent survival instincts.
Canada geese can live up to 30 years. Males and females look identical except that females are usually slightly smaller than the males. Full grown male geese can grow to be 43 inches in length with a 73 inch wing span and can weigh up to 24 pounds. When Canada geese fly, they form a V-shape formation and “honk” to communicate.
Canada geese are herbivores, meaning that they eat plants such as grass and seeds as well as some small insects. They have also been known to dine on small fish, seaweeds, and food that people offer them such as bread. Geese travel in flocks and one member always stays on alert for predators while the rest of the flock grazes. Eagles, wolves, and coyotes are predators to Canada geese as are foxes, raccoons, and even cats. Although some of these creatures live in areas where geese inhabit, Canada geese have relatively few predators in places like New York and thus their populations have grown substantially in the past years.
In the second year of life Canada geese find mates and generally remain monogamous for the rest of their lives, unless one partner dies prematurely. Females generally lay between 3-8 eggs, although in some cases a single couple can have as many as 15 goslings (baby geese) or as few as one. Both parents build and protect the nest, but the female spends more time sitting on the incubating eggs than the male who only sits upon the eggs when the female grazes (male Canada geese have also been known to bring food to their nest-bound mates). Egg incubation lasts for about 28 days and babies generally hatch in the warm months of May and June.
Goslings start to walk practically as soon as they are born and are led around by both parents in a line formation. In most cases, one parent will lead the way as the babies line up behind them and the second parent stays at the back of the line to ensure that no baby wanders off or gets taken by a predator. Canada geese are fiercely protective and excellent parents, meaning that nearly all goslings reach adulthood in good health. This also explains why Canada geese are consistently listed as being amongst the “least endangered” of bird species alongside pigeons and sparrows.
Geese are generally docile creatures but they will hiss, chase, bite, and beat other creatures (including offending humans) with their wings if they feel that they are being threatened or that they need to protect their young. Geese actually have an interesting social structure. For instance, when several couples have young they will band together in groups labeled “crèches” to protect each other’s goslings. Likewise, if one goose gets injured or weakens with age or sickness, another will stay with it until it either gets better or dies. Even when a flock is grazing peacefully in a park, as soon as one goose sees a possible threat—such as a dog—it will instinctively honk to warn the others.
Although they were once considered migratory birds, Canada geese are highly adaptable creatures and have turned into year-round “non-migratory” residents in most of places which they inhabit. Although this has occasionally led to issues around airports (like the infamous US Airways Flight 1549 that crashed, thankfully without any human casualties, due to a mid-air collision with geese in January 2009) and occasional traffic jams (see video embedded in this article) many people like geese and wish them no harm.
Although these birds might seem like nuisances to some, they are actually interesting animals with social behaviors that are far more complex than a person might realize. By learning about animals, we discover that we humans have much more in common with them than we might think.