By Josh Boyd
The honk of a Canadian Goose is unmistakable and is being heard by those far and wide on an ever-increasing basis. These days, Canadian Geese can be found inhabiting nearly every reach of the continental United States and, of course, Canada.
Both resident and migrating flocks can be seen in many areas, depending upon the time of year. From golf courses to marshes, one need not look far to find these resilient fowl in numbers.
However, just because Canadian Geese numbers are on the rise, does not mean that these sizable birds have it easy. Quite the contrary, the journey from egg to air is quite the tale, filled with many obstacles that pit these iconic birds against the odds from the day they hatch.
In the spring of the year, female Canadian Geese begin nesting. Nesting sites are typically returned to on an annual basis if no new environmental factors have made them unsuitable for use.
Geese usually construct their nests on ground that is slightly raised above that which surrounds it. This provides an unobstructed view, through which surroundings can be readily observed. These nests are constructed from a combination of grasses, mosses, and other plant material that is shaped into a bowl-like configuration.
Once settled, a Canadian Goose typically lays 2-8 eggs, which have an incubation period of 25 to 28 days. During this period, a goose remains on her nest, leaving only briefly each day to feed. The gander, with which the goose is paired, also stands guard over the nest’s exterior.
When the time arrives, the goslings within the eggs begin to peck their way out, piece by piece. During this period, both goose and gander stand watch over their hatch.
The First Days
Goslings are born covered in a layer of yellow down feathers, and with their eyes open. These young geese will venture from their nest on an initial outing within the first 24 hours of their birth. During this first outing, newborn goslings begin to instinctively peck at their surroundings, following the lead of the goose and gander that accompany them.
Within the first 24 to 48 hours, goslings take to the water for the first time. They are born with the ability to float and swim, with many submerging their heads and diving below the surface within the first week of life.
In as little as 1 to 2 days, goslings begin to forage on nearby vegetation as they travel about. As time passes, they learn to seek out preferred food sources, as their appetite grows.
During this time, goslings are never without oversight from both goose and gander, as they instinctually defend their young. Ganders, especially, are known to hiss, and violently flap their wings at anything they perceive to be a threat.
The Initial Flight
In as little as two months, goslings begin to take flight. At first, these flights are limited, often only encompassing a few yards, followed by prolonged periods of rest. However, wing strength and technique begin to rapidly develop, making longer flights possible.
During the summer months, most flight occurs within a localized area that is in close proximity to frequented feeding and roosting/resting pond sites.
As the summer passes, goslings grow rapidly, increasing in size by the day. These young geese bulk up substantially in preparation for the fall and winter ahead.
During this period of time, goslings also learn to identify danger from their goose and gander. Geese have several natural predators which include foxes, coyotes, raccoons, and even birds of prey such as eagles.
Additionally, the increased use of urban and suburban areas by geese lead to additional dangers for young goslings. Vehicle collisions rank highly on the list of causes related to goose mortality in heavily trafficked areas.
As the Winter Winds Blow
When summer turns to fall, followed shortly thereafter by winter, migrating flocks begin to head south to find a more hospitable habitat. Goslings take part in this first journey with their parents, following the lead of the others within the flock.
This will serve as a learned behavior that will be repeated many times within their lifespan. These migrations vary substantially in length but can encompass hundreds of miles.
Goslings spend the duration of the winter feeding up and continuing to put on weight. As the spring thaw begins to arrive, they will once again journey back north to their nesting range. Once there, year-old geese will group up with those of a similar age class and form loose social flocks.
Birds of a Feather
Canadian Geese are magnificent in their ability to survive against insurmountable odds. However, evident by flourishing numbers, they are true survivors of the waterfowl world. The next time your view is graced by the sight of a V-shaped flock above, you will know the journey that every one of the flock’s members took to reach that exact moment.