Canada Goose

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Birds

iCanada Goose

Conservation status

Least Concern (LC)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Anseriformes
Family: Anatidae
Genus: Branta
Species: B. canadensis
Binomial name
Branta canadensis
(Linnaeus, 1758)
  • B. c. occidentalis ( Dusky Canada Goose)
  • B. c. fulva ( Vancouver Canada Goose)
  • B. c. parvipes ( Lesser Canada Goose)
  • B. c. moffitti ( Moffitt's Canada Goose)
  • B. c. maxima ( Giant Canada Goose)
  • B. c. interior ( Interior Canada Goose)
  • B. c. canadensis ( Atlantic Canada Goose)

The Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) belongs to the Branta genus of geese, which contains species with largely black plumage, distinguishing them from the grey species of the Anser genus.

The species name, canadensis, is a New Latin word meaning "of Canada".


Yellow plumage of gosling
Yellow plumage of gosling

The black head and neck with white "chinstrap" distinguish this goose from all except the Barnacle Goose, but the latter has a black breast, and grey, rather than brownish, body plumage. There are seven subspecies of this bird, of varying sizes and plumage details, but all are recognizable as Canada Geese. Some are hard to distinguish from the Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii), with which the Canada Goose was long assumed to form one species; the name Lesser Canada Goose is, confusingly, often applied to B. hutchinsii.

This species is 90-100 cm long with a 160-175 cm wing span. Males weigh 3.5–6.5 kg, (8–14 pounds), and can be very aggressive in defending territory. The female looks virtually identical but is slightly lighter at 3–5.5 kg (7–12 pounds), and has a different honk.

Behaviour and habitat

Specialized for plant feeding
Specialized for plant feeding
Example of a creche
Example of a creche
Example of a parade
Example of a parade

These birds feed mainly on plant material. When feeding in water, they submerge their heads and necks to reach aquatic plants, sometimes tipping forward like a dabbling duck. Flocks of these birds often feed on leftover cultivated grains in fields, especially during migration or in winter.

During the second year of their lives, Canada Geese find themselves a mate. Most couples stay together all of their lives. If one is killed, the other may find a new mate. The female lays 4-8 eggs and both parents protect the nest while the eggs incubate, but the female spends more time at the nest than the male. During that time, they lose their flight feathers, so that they cannot fly until after their eggs hatch. This period lasts for 25-28 days.

Adult geese are often seen leading their goslings in a line with one parent at the front, and the other at the back of the "parade". While protecting their young, parents often violently chase away nearby creatures, from small blackbirds to other geese, to humans that approach. However, geese may form groups of a number of goslings and a few adults, called crèches. The young do not leave their parents until after the spring migration, when they return to their birthplace.

This well-known species is native to North America. It breeds in Canada and the northern United States in a variety of habitats. However, the nest is usually located in an elevated area near water, sometimes on a beaver lodge. The eggs are laid in a shallow depression lined with plant material and down. The Great Lakes region maintains a very large population of Canada Geese.

Like most geese, it is naturally migratory, the wintering range being most of the US. The calls overhead from large groups of Canada Geese flying in V-shaped formation signal the transitions into spring and autumn. In some areas, migration routes have changed due to changes in habitat and food sources. In mild climates, such as the Pacific Northwest, due to a lack of former predators, some of the population has become non-migratory.

If a goose feels threatened by another creature it will usually warn the creature by giving off a hissing sound.

Other locations

Branta canadensis Canada Goose distribution: yellow:summer; blue:winter; green:year-round
Branta canadensis Canada Goose distribution: yellow:summer; blue:winter; green:year-round

Canada Geese have reached western Europe naturally, as has been proved by ringing recoveries. The birds are of at least the subspecies parvipes, and possibly others. Canada Geese are also found naturally on the Kamchatka Peninsula in eastern Siberia, eastern China, and throughout Japan.

Branta canadensis, by John James Audubon
Branta canadensis, by John James Audubon

Greater Canada Geese have also been widely introduced in Europe, and have established feral populations in Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia. Semi-tame feral birds are common in parks, and have become a pest in some areas. It is now proven that most Scandinavian and some British birds have established a migration pattern. The geese were first introduced in the Britain in the late 17th century as an addition to King James II's waterfowl collection in St. James's Park. Finally, Canada Geese were introduced as a game bird into New Zealand, but they have also become a problem in some areas there.

By the early 20th century, over-hunting and loss of habitat in the late 1800s and early 1900s had resulted in a serious decline in the numbers of this bird in its native range. The Giant Canada Goose subspecies was believed to be extinct in the 1950s until, in 1962, a small flock was discovered wintering in Rochester, Minnesota by Harold Hanson of the Illinois Natural History Survey. With improved game laws and habitat recreation and preservation programs, their populations have recovered in most of their range, although some local populations, especially of the subspecies occidentalis, may still be declining. They have adapted well to urban environments, especially those with well-trimmed lawns and large ponds, such as golf courses and city parks.


Canada Goose in mid-flight
Canada Goose in mid-flight

The Cackling Goose was originally considered to be the same species or a subspecies of the Canada Goose, but in July 2004 the American Ornithologists' Union's Committee on Classification and Nomenclature split the two into two species, making Cackling Goose into a full species with the scientific name Branta hutchinsii. The British Ornithologists Union followed suit in June 2005.

The AOU has divided the many associated subspecies of both animals:

  • Canada Goose (also known as Greater Canada Goose)
    • Atlantic Canada Goose (Branta canadensis canadensis)
    • Interior Canada Goose (Branta canadensis interior)
    • Giant Canada Goose (Branta canadensis maxima)
    • Moffit's Canada Goose (Branta canadensis moffitti)
    • Vancouver Canada Goose (Branta canadensis fulva)
    • Dusky Canada Goose (Branta canadensis occidentalis)
    • part of "Lesser complex" (Branta canadensis parvipes)
  • Cackling Goose (also known as Lesser Canada Goose or Small Canada Goose)
    • Richardson's Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii hutchinsii)
    • Bering Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii asiatica) - doubtfully distinct from B. h. leucpareia; extinct (c. 1929}}
    • Aleutian Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii leucopareia)
    • Small Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii minima)
    • part of "Lesser complex" (Branta hutchinsii taverneri)

The distinctions between the two geese have led to a great deal of confusion and debate among ornithologists. This has been aggravated by the overlap between the small types of Canada Goose and larger types of Cackling Goose. The old "Lesser Canada Goose" was believed to be a partly hybrid population, with the birds named taverneri considered a mixture of minima, occidentalis and parvipes. In addition, it has been determined that the Barnacle Goose is a derivative of the Cackling Goose lineage, whereas the Hawaiian Goose is an insular representative of the Canada Goose.


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