The Canada Goose is well known for flying in V-formation flocks, its white chin strap, and distinctive honks. However, there are many other interesting facts about these geese.
These waterfowl are often found in parks, golf courses, farmlands, and other locations, year-round in North America. They carefully choose mates using assortative mating and then typically stay together for over 2 decades until a mate dies.
Their offspring are quick learners, and imprint on whatever moving object that they first experience. The Canada goose can even shut down one side of its brain and sleep with one eye open!
These facts and more are below offering fascinating information in greater detail about the Canada Goose.
1. The Canada Goose Has 20,000 to 25,000 Feathers
One Canada goose has 20,000 to 25,000 feathers on its body. This is significantly more than other birds such as sparrows or wrens which only have from 7,000 to 10,000 feathers.
The feathers of a Canada goose consist of flight and down. Feathers help the goose to fly, dispel water, and give it its distinctive markings. The down feathers help to insulate the bird in cold waters and freezing temperatures.
Every year, the goose’s feathers molt and they grow new ones.
2. Canada Geese Cannot Fly When They Molt
The Canada goose’s flight feathers shed all at once in the late summer, which is unlike other birds. This causes them to be grounded, or unable to fly for about 4 weeks.
This inability to fly can be dangerous because they cannot use flight to escape predators such as coyotes, foxes, bears, eagles, and more.
During this time, Canada geese tend to move towards open areas of water with ample food sources. This allows them to walk to get food and float to escape predators.
Usually, non-breeding geese molt first. Adults with offspring molt shortly after this, so that they regain flight feathers at the time their young also do, about 70 days after hatching.
3. They Have Special Visual Functions
Canada geese have monocular vision, like American robins, using each eye to see things independently.
Canada geese are also capable of seeing over 180 degrees vertically and horizontally and can see ultraviolet light waves. This benefits them greatly during flight, allowing them to see a wide range at a great distance.
Goslings (offspring) learn early on to follow the gaze of other geese. They use vision to learn about threats, food and water sources, and social interactions.
Even if geese look the same to us, geese can recognize individual geese and goslings can identify siblings by their appearance.
4. They Can Shut Down One Side Of Their Brain
Geese can shut down one hemisphere of their brain. This allows them to sleep with one eye open to watch for predators and still get some rest.
This is called unihemispheric slow-wave sleep (USWS).
5. Canada Geese Use Assortative Mating
Around the age of 2 or 3 years old, mature Canada geese choose mates of similar size. This is referred to as “assortative mating”.
They may be done for genetically selective advantages. This allows them to choose mates with phenotypic similarities.
In addition to this female geese choose mates that put on an impressive display that indicates they can protect her. She shows her final choice by following him on land and in water.
6. They Are Monogamous For A Decade Or Longer
Once Canada geese find a mate, they stay together and mate for life, raising a yearly single brood of 2 to 8 eggs.
The pairs stay together on average for 10 to 25 years. If a mate dies, the surviving goose will find a new mate.
Goslings stay with their parents until the spring after they hatch. They then join groups of other juveniles until they are old enough to form their own pairs.
7. Canada Geese Show Distress Over Social Conflicts
Geese have elevated heart rates when their mates or relatives are engaged in conflicts.
These physiological changes indicate that there are social connections among these birds.
8. They Have Sensitive Bills
Geese have Herbst corpuscles at the tip of their bills. These are sensitive remote touch sensory receptors to detect movement and pressure changes in soil and water.
While their olfactory sense of smell is not like other animals, such as dogs, waterfowl such as geese can detect odors as well as pheromones of mates.
Geese will shake their heads when they smell something unpleasant or uncomfortable to them such as lavender.
9. Sizes & Color Shades Of The Canada Goose Vary By Region
There are 11 subspecies of the Canada Goose, often incorrectly called “Canadian Geese”.
The biggest is the giant Canada goose (Branta canadensis maxima), weighing up to 12.5 pounds. The smallest is the cackling Canada goose (Branta hutchinsii) weighing around 4 pounds.
Generally, the geese that nest farther north are smaller, and those to the west are darker in color.
10. They Have A Distinctive White Chinstrap Mark
Canada geese look much alike regardless of size and color shades.
Females and males alike have gray-brown bodies, black tails and heads, and black feet, legs, and bills. They have long black necks with a distinctive white chinstrap or cheek patch.
Goslings are light yellow with green-gray heads, darkening in color as they mature.
11. Canada Geese Have A Long Lifespan
Canada geese have a relatively long lifespan of 10 to 25 years, with reports of some living even longer.
For example, a female banded goose was banded in 1969 and found 30 years and 3 months later.
12. Goslings Can Imprint On Different Species
Newborn goslings rely on bonding with their mother as soon as they hatch for warmth and nutrition. Imprinting on their parents is important because the goslings learn how to be geese and develop a sense of identity.
However, geese will imprint on anything that moves right after hatching. This can include people or even colored balls and they will identify with that person or object for the rest of their lives.
13. Goslings Are Quick Learners
Once the goslings hatch and imprint on their parents, they get to work learning. They mimic the adults and learn to swim on the first day of life, capable of diving underwater 30 to 40 feet deep.
At 2 or 3 months old, their feathers are formed and they learn to fly, capable of migrating long distances with their parents.
14. Goslings Form Gang Broods
As goslings mature, they form “ gang broods”, hanging out with other goslings instead of their parents. A gang brood can have 20 to 100 goslings moving around together.
Parents are still present, however, some parents watch over the group while others forage for food.
15. Canada Geese Have Aggressive Behavior
Canada geese are bold birds ready to defend their goslings, nests, and themselves.
A threatened goose will stretch out its neck, pump its head, and spread its wings open wide. It will charge at threats in this position as well, biting, slapping with its wings, and kicking with its legs.
They produce a distinctive loud honk that is used for communication, including when fighting.
During the molting season, if their aggressive tactics do not work, they cannot fly. This is why they stay close to the water to retreat and float on water for safety.
This video shows some aggressive geese interacting with each other:
16. Canada Geese Fly In V-Formations To Conserve Energy
Canada geese fly in V-formations, honking with each other to communicate when they migrate. This helps the birds to conserve energy and maintain communication.
The lead bird reduces wind resistance and creates a drafted airflow for the birds behind it. When it gets tired, it will move to the back of the formation for rest, while other birds take on more of the wind.
17. They Are Hazardous To Airplanes
Geese are hazardous to planes, especially because they fly in large groups.
Often bird and airplane collisions take place during take-off and landing periods but can happen at any time. This is because geese can fly at high elevations over 27,000 feet.
When a group of birds collides with an airplane’s windshield or engine, it can be catastrophic resulting in bird death, engine failure, or a crash.
18. Not All Canada Geese Migrate
Today, Canada geese are not migrating as far south, if at all, as they have in the past. They are adapting to and staying on grasslands, farmlands, and urban and suburban areas year-round.
If geese can find food sources and the weather is favorable, they may stay put for longer. This includes spots like manicured lawns and man-made ponds.
Many Canada geese are partially migratory. The northernmost ones of North America are more likely to travel greater distances depending on how cold it is.
Canada geese will migrate to places that offer a non-frozen water source and food supplies.
These geese can travel 1,500 miles per day in ideal weather. On average, they migrate at about 40 miles per hour (mph) but can go as fast as 70 mph with a strong tailwind.
The Canada Goose is an aggressive waterfowl found year-round in many places in North America. Their distinctive honks can be heard as they fly overhead in V-shaped formations.
These birds use assortative mating to form a bonded pair with a mate that is similar in size. They then spend the next 10 to 25 years together, raising a yearly brood of offspring.
Goslings are ready to learn as soon as they hatch, imprinting on their parents and learning how to be a goose.
These geese can keep an eye on things while resting by sleeping with one eye still open, shutting down one brain hemisphere.
These facts and more as mentioned above make the Canada Goose an interesting bird species to know about.