This time of year vast flocks of Canada Geese ply the skyways from early morning late into the night. It’s the soundtrack of Essex autumn. (Rosslyn Redux)
From early September through late November, we hear the familiar honking and see the V-shaped flight formations as the Canada Goose migration begins. Often we can experience a large flock settling on Lake Champlain or into a recently cut corn field in nearby Adirondack valleys. So much a part of fall (and spring) it’s easy to overlook these fascinating waterfowl as just another nuance of North Country living.
Canada Goose Identification
Although the telltale V formation and windy honking handily describes the Canada Goose migration, let’s take a closer look at the Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) so that we can more readily identify it. The following identification criteria are provided by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
- Size & Shape Canada Geese are big waterbirds with a long neck, large body, large webbed feet, and wide, flat bill.
- Color Pattern Canada Geese have a black head with white cheeks and chinstrap, black neck, tan breast, and brown back.
- Behavior Canada Geese feed by dabbling in the water or grazing in fields and large lawns. They are often seen in flight moving in pairs or flocks; flocks often assume a V formation.
- Habitat Just about anywhere near lakes, rivers, ponds, or other small or large bodies of water, and in yards, park lawns, and farm fields. (Cornell Lab of Ornithology)
Unlike many bird species there is little distinction in markings between the male and female Canada Goose. It is only among young goslings that any significant coloration or plumage differences are observed.
The male and female Canada goose are similar in appearance, although the male is generally larger than the female … Juvenile Canada geese resemble the adults, but are slightly duller in colour and have a more brownish-black head and neck. Young goslings are olive-brown above and yellowish below, with a darker crown… (ARKive.org)
Before leaving the life cycle of the Canada Goose it’s worth noting that the species typically mate for life, with male and female remaining together all year-long unlike some species which separate for much of the year and only come together during the mating season.
The most distinctive call of the Canada goose is a loud, nasal, two-syllable ‘ronk-ronk’ or ‘ka-ronk’, which is given by flocks in flight. (ARKive.org)
Canada Goose in the Adirondacks
This story published in the Audubon Guides captures the “mixed blessing” of living along the Canada Goose north-south migration corridor, and it introduces an interesting shift in Canada Goose migration habits. Enjoy.
In northern climes, some creatures hole up for the winter, others carry on fending off the cold however they can, and the rest just leave. Earlier this week, I did some preliminary fending off of the cold myself, closing up my lake house in the Adirondacks for the winter, though about 1,000 other visitors to the lake on those two chilly days, were leaving. Their honking kept me awake all night as flight after flight of Canada geese (Branta canadensis) landed on the water, jostled for position, took off and then landed again. They fed constantly, diving for aquatic plants and yanking up grass on my lawn, which got a good pre-snow fertilizing in the process.
Native to North America, Canada geese breed in Canada and the northern United States in the spring, raise their young then fly south for the winter. They need open water. As lakes, ponds and rivers freeze, they continue south, returning the following spring. However, this migratory instinct has disappeared in many populations of Canada geese. Since the latter half of the 20th century, the Canada goose population has grown substantially with many becoming year-round pests. The reason is two-fold: Their natural predators (coyotes, fox, wolves, owls, and eagles) diminished in many regions; and man-made bodies of water on golf courses, in parks and in planned communities abound, so food is available year-round, including human food. Though geese prefer grasses and grains, they aren’t above scavenging trash.
Luckily, there are no “garbage geese” on the lakeshore where I rake leaves and move deck furniture. The fall chores take a little longer than expected. I can’t help but watch each grand flying V as it passes over the lake, breaks formation, then drops to the water’s surface with a controlled grace that belies a bird weighing up to 15 pounds. They can fly over 55 miles per hour and travel more than 600 miles in a day! I’m glad my little spot in the Adirondacks is an annual rest stop on their great migration. (Audubon Guides)
What are your experiences with the Canada Goose? Do you welcome its seasonal arrival in the autumn and spring? We welcome your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks!