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Canada Goose

A picture of Canada geese swimming in a line on a pond

Scientific name: Branta canadensis

New York Status: Not Listed
Federal Status: Not Listed

Description

Few people realize that there are distinct populations of Canada geese in New York. Wildlife managers often refer to geese that breed in Northern Canada and winter in the U.S. as migratory. These are the honking harbingers of the changing seasons, as waves of high flying geese pass over during spring and fall migration. Geese that breed in Southern Canada and the U.S. are referred to as residents because they spend most of their lives in one area. Banding studies have shown that resident Canada geese are not simply migrant geese that stopped migrating.

Life History

Resident geese are long-lived, upwards of 20 years or more. Most resident geese begin breeding when they are 2-3 years old and they nest every year for the rest of their lives. Pairs mate for life, but if one member dies, the remaining goose will mate again. Geese lay an average of 5-6 eggs per nest, about half of which will hatch and become free-flying birds in the fall. A single female goose may produce more than 50 young over her lifetime.

The annual life cycle for resident geese begins in late winter when adult pairs return to nesting areas in late February or March, as soon as waters open up. Egg-laying (1-2 weeks) and incubation (about 4 weeks) generally extend through April, with the peak of hatching in late April or early May. Geese will aggressively defend their nests and may attack if approached. Non-breeding geese often remain nearby in feeding flocks during the nesting season. After hatching, goose families may move considerable distances from nesting areas to brood-rearing areas, appearing suddenly at ponds bordered by lawns.

After nesting, geese undergo an annual molt, a 4-5 week flightless period when they shed and re-grow their outer wing feathers. Molting occurs between mid-June and late July, and the birds resume flight by August. During the molt, geese congregate at ponds or lakes that provide a safe place to rest, feed, and escape danger. Through the fall, geese gradually increase the distance of their feeding flights. During this time, they are more likely to be found away from water until ice or snow eliminates feeding areas. At this time, the geese are forced to nearby open water areas or south, where they remain until milder weather returns and nesting areas open up.

Canada Goose New York State Breeding Bird Atas Map 2005

Distribution and Habitat

Migratory populations of Canada geese have existed for as long as we know, while the resident population is a recent phenomenon. In the early 1900s, only a handful of Canada geese nested in New York State. These geese were descendants of captive birds released by private individuals in the Lower Hudson Valley and on Long Island. Local flocks grew rapidly and spread to other areas. During the 1950s and 1960s, game farm geese were released by the State Conservation Department on Wildlife Management Areas in upstate New York (north and west of Albany) to establish local flocks in huntable areas.

Today, New York's resident Canada goose population numbers are close to 200,000 birds, with nesting documented all across the state. Combined with populations nesting in other eastern states, there are more than one million year-round resident geese in the Atlantic Flyway. Every fall, these are joined by similar numbers of migratory geese from Northern Canada. Resident populations have grown steadily because of milder, more favorable conditions for nesting and survival. Migratory populations, on the other hand, have experienced some dramatic ups and downs caused by harsh weather on breeding grounds and greater exposure to harvest by hunters.

Status

All Canada geese, including resident flocks, are protected by Federal and State laws and regulations. In New York, management responsibility for Canada geese is shared by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the DEC. It is illegal to hunt, kill, sell, purchase, or possess migratory birds or their parts (feathers, nests, eggs, etc.) except as permitted by regulations adopted by USFWS and DEC.

Migratory Game Bird Hunting Regulations

Management and Research Needs

Canada geese are one of the most familiar wildlife species in New York State. These birds are important for the recreational opportunities they provide and because of problems they can cause. Balancing these two views of Canada geese is a tremendous challenge for wildlife managers, property owners, and communities across the state.

Attention Long Island birders and hunters: Please report neck-banded geese!

Yellow neck collars and bands were placed on 186 Canada geese in Greenland in 2014, in addition to many more neckbands that have been deployed there since 1992. Past sightings have shown Long Island to be a regular wintering location for some of these geese. The latest series begins with the letter G (see details below). Also, some birds have a two-symbol leg band only (goslings that were too small for a neck collar) with the series beginning with a G or H. Sightings and recoveries have come from several eastern states to date. Please, report any sightings to the Bird Banding Lab by calling 1-800-327-2263 or by visiting the Banded Bird Encounter Reporting website (leaves DEC website).

  • Neck collars deployed in Greenland in summer 2014: GPn, GSn, GTn, GUn, GVn, GXn, GnA, GnB, GnC, GnD, GnF, GnH, GnJ, GnL, GnN, G2n, G3n, G4n, G5n, G6n, G7n, G8n, G9n (the "n" can be a digit between zero and nine).
  • Leg bands only (fitted to goslings too small to bear a neck collar): Gx, Gn and Hx (where "n" can be a digit between zero and nine, and "x" can be a letter between A and Z).

Other yellow neck bands may also be observed, from previous studies of resident geese in the New York City metropolitan area. Please report sightings of any neck-banded birds that you encounter. Thank you!