The Canada Geese (Brant canadensis) are in Colorado in numbers right now. They are gobbling up crops all over the front range and plains. Here’s a bit about the geese and their behavior. Stay tuned over the next couple weeks for more information about the gear and tactics to hunt Canadas, my experiences, and how to prepare your first goose.
Appearance: Canada geese are very recognizable with a black head and neck, brown body, and a white chinstrap, covering the cheeks and bottom of the head. There is little differentiation in either size or coloration between males and females.
Habitat and Range: Their breeding grounds are spread throughout Canada and Alaska. The annual migration takes them south to the USA and even into Northern Mexico. You can find them on any body of water: lake, river, pond, and marsh. The range extends through nearly the entire USA (bad luck, florida and southern AZ).
Diet: Canada Geese are primarily herbivorous, though they do eat some quantity of insects and small fish. The majority of their diet is made up of aquatic plants, grasses, and agricultural crops such as corn, wheat, and alfalfa. In urban areas canada geese have sometimes been known to feed on garbage. In spring and summer canada geese eat primarily grasses and sedges. Come fall and winter their diet shifts to primarily berries and seeds, including agricultural grains.
Breeding: Canada geese typically reproduce in the spring, with females laying two to nine eggs. Nests are a large, open cup on the ground made of dry grasses, lichens, mosses, and other plant material. This nest is then lined with down and body feathers. Nests are typically found near water on slightly elevated sites with a relatively unobstructed view in all directions. The nesting period lasts around 45 days, the incubation period making up roughly 27 days of that period.
Behavior: In the fall and winter (hunting season), Canada Geese split their time between watery roosts and feeding locations, often in agricultural fields. After sunrise the geese will leave the safety of their roost and fly to a feeding site. At the conclusion of the feeding period in the middle of the day they will return to the roost to rest. They are likely to feed a second time in the afternoon during periods of cold weather.
Sign: Green, cylindrical poops about three inches long are a sure indicator of the presence of geese. They leave these in bulk wherever they spend time. Canada geese also have a very loud and recognizable honk audible from far off. They fly in a V-formation, though other migratory geese do sometimes mix into this formation. Given that they roost in bodies of water and nearby land, the presence of canada geese can also be determined by their tracks in the mud.
Subspecies: At least 11 subspecies have been recognized, though distinguishing between them is a complicated matter. The four smallest forms have been classified as a different species: the Cackling Goose. Nearly identical in coloration, the primary differentiation is a smaller stature and shorter neck than the canada goose–some cackling geese may be as small as a mallard. Cackling geese are more common in the western US and Canada. The general rule is that Canada geese tend to get darker as you travel west and smaller as you travel north.
Pests?: In many places there are now populations if Canada geese that no longer migrate. Non-migratory canada goose populations are often considered pests due to their degradation of crops, their often aggressive behavior, and the bacterial pollution created by their droppings. They are also sometimes considered to be a hazard due to the potential for collision with airplanes. This occured most notably to US Airways Flight 1549, on which the film Sully was based. On this flight the plane impacted a flock of canada geese shortly after takeoff and lost engine power, forcing the pilot to make an emergency landing in the Hudson river off Midtown Manhattan.