Local Canada Geese remain in winter

While some Canada geese (Branta Canadensis) migrate into our area, many are permanent local residents. Easily recognizable, the black head and neck of a Canada goose is distinguished by a white chinstrap, black bill, brownish body plumage, darker wings and back, light underbody and dark tail, legs and feet. A large bird, males weigh about 10 to 14 pounds, with a 5 to 6 foot wing span. Females have identical coloring, although may be slightly lighter, and are slightly smaller. Very large Canada geese can weigh over 20 pounds.

Maryland, in the traditional wintering range of Canada geese, has historically hosted large migrating populations. Although populations have increased since passage of the 1918 Migratory Bird Protection Act, excessive hunting had depleted migratory Maryland goose populations in the early 20th century.

Local Canada Geese often stay close to home in winter

Hunters in that time period started raising resident geese to serve as decoys to attract migrating flocks, a practice that may be considered too successful. Increasing numbers of Canada geese stayed, diminishing the posting of live decoy geese by the 1920s. Now the numbers of non-migratory geese in our area of Maryland exceed migratory winter residents. Canada geese are believed to have a weak migratory instinct, and a strong homing instinct. Once established in an area as residents, they easily forgo migration and become reluctant to leave.

Canada geese seem to live well in urban and suburban areas. Being primarily plant eaters, the grass of cultivated lawns can become a preferred part of their diet, along with roots, seeds and aquatic vegetation. A Canada goose eats nearly continually when it can and produces about a pound of feces per day per animal. They can rapidly become pests when large numbers live in residential areas at community ponds and lakes. In winter, resident geese will forage for food away from their preferred residence area, flying home late at night, honking loudly. But when snow prevents foraging, they can live off stored fat reserves for weeks if necessary. Because these are group and family-oriented animals, loud honking in flight is thought to help assure that the geese stay together.

Canada geese are monogamous and mate for life at age 3. Females produce a clutch of about a half dozen eggs each spring. After an incubation period of about four weeks, the goslings are hatched with feathers and can walk within a day of birth. While incubating, both parents go through their annual molt.

Males can become very aggressive in defending the nest and the young. The young geese will overwinter with their parents, migrating or as permanent residents. The life span of a Canada goose can reach 20 years or more, with some of the oldest birds observed to reach age 30.

Canada geese have also become resident in many foreign countries through introductions, mainly for hunting. Populations exist in Europe, Britain and New Zealand. They were brought to New Zealand for game birds in the early 20th century. They were protected and managed under wildlife protection law until 2011 when New Zealand removed the protections as a result of overpopulation. In Maryland Canada geese continue to be protected under federal law. Local Canada Geese often stay close to home in winter.

Article by FCFCDB

Nature Note for 2/9/2014