Canada Goose Dossier

by Carl Strang

Over the weekend I realized that I forgot to resume my winter practice of sharing my species dossiers. Better late than never, I guess. The idea here is to keep a record of everything one knows of a species from personal experience, apart from the literature or other second-hand reports. It is a discipline that supports a practice of observation, and when I first set these up in the 1980’s I was embarrassed to find how little I could write for many common species. The dossier begins with that introductory paragraph, followed by dated notes from subsequent years. Date codes take this form: 6MR14, where the first number is the date, followed by a two-letter unique month code and the year. Though the cackling goose more recently has been recognized as a separate species, such was not the case when I was in Alaska, so I combine them with Canada geese here.

Goose, Canada

A pair of Canada geese

A pair of Canada geese

I know Canada geese principally from observations in western Alaska (cackling Canada goose) and DuPage County, IL (giant Canada goose). They migrate in large flocks through Culver, IN, occasionally using the center of Lake Maxinkuckee as a nighttime roost, and staying several days. Pairs stay together year round, and their brood of young remain with them through its first winter. Several thousands overwinter in DuPage County, roosting at Amoco Research Center and Fermilab. In spring, McKee Marsh is a major site. They nest on small islands whenever possible. The nest is built on the ground, of grass lined with a down and grass mixture. The male stands guard while female incubates. The young leave the nest when fully dry, the day after they hatch. Goslings eat small insects, sedge and grass seeds when very young, graze when older. The peeping cry of young can remain well into fall, when their plumage is similar to adults.’ Corn and other grains, as well as grass stems, are popular adult foods. They have a loud honking flight, or “nervous” call, higher pitched in the smaller cackler and other tundra subspecies. The pair’s duet “song” of similar notes is performed on territory. Stranger adult and older young are kept away by the adults. Cackler broods wander after the hatch, but usually remain in the general vicinity of the nest. The eggs are white, becoming yellowish stained over time. V formations and higher altitudes are used in longer flights. Cacklers covered nests and snuck off sometimes. At Kokechik Bay, their nests were concentrated in a zone 0.75-1.25 mile from the edge of bay, in taller lowland tundra vegetation than brant.

Data on cackling Canada goose nests, 1971. All but 2 females flushed from a distance of more than 20 meters. The nearest water to the nest ranged 2-80 feet, all but 3 within 5 feet. Vegetation height around the nest ranged 3-10 inches, all but 4 less than 6 inches. The nest interior diameter ranged 4-6.25 inches, median 5 inches. The outer diameter ranged 5×16 to 9.5×19 inches. Nest depth ranged 2-4 inches. Clutch sizes were 2, 3, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 5, 5, 5, 6 and 7. Egg widths ranged 43.4-52.3 mm, and egg length ranged 63.0-79.8 mm.

Nests often are constructed on old nests from earlier years. Cackling geese usually saw me approaching from a very great distance, at least partly covering nest and departing before I discovered it.

Here are migrant cackling and Canada geese, side by side for size comparison.

Here are migrant cackling and Canada geese, side by side for size comparison.

19AP87. McKee Marsh, Blackwell Forest Preserve. Territorial encounter with males curving necks and bringing chins in contact with surface of water. Roaring, hoarse calls of males backed by higher-pitched hoots of females. Larger pair pushed back smaller. Sometimes larger male turned toward his female, then back toward other pair. Both pairs rested within 8 feet of one another for a while, preening immediately after the encounter. When retreating, smaller pair kept themselves low in the water, seemed to ignore larger pair and did not call or display, simply swam away from them.

Canada goose incubating a nest on a muskrat house

Canada goose incubating a nest on a muskrat house

18MR99. A pair of Canada geese stayed around the island in the Willowbrook marsh all week (eventually nested).

12AP99. The Willowbrook geese are on the nest.

14AP99. The goose nest has been destroyed, the eggs preyed upon, at Willowbrook. Tracks in mud show at least 2 coyote round trips wading out. No other predator tracks.

16AP99. The goose pair continues to stay close to their nest site (also there as late as 3MY; never did renest).

Canada goose pair with goslings

Canada goose pair with goslings

29AP11. Mayslake. A pair of Canada geese with 2 goslings crossed the isthmus from Trinity to May’s Lake, settled onto one of the south side lawns. This was not the pair nesting on a muskrat house in the parking lot marsh; that nest still is under incubation. That pair is different from the pair that successfully brought 4 goslings to the lake last year and got 2 to fledging; the male in last year’s pair was banded. They showed up, without their goslings, in February but later were absent.

Winter roost, Hidden Lake Forest Preserve

Winter roost, Hidden Lake Forest Preserve

(Additional observations have been the subject of blog posts, and can be accessed by using the blog’s search feature with the species’ name).



  1. March 6, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    The mother incubating on the Muskrat lodge was certainly giving you that “back off” posture! 🙂

    • natureinquiries said,

      March 7, 2014 at 6:51 am

      No doubt what she wanted. That posture is common among geese across the genera, and also makes the incubating bird less likely to be spotted. It is especially effective in emperor geese, whose white heads and necks then resemble sticks of bleached driftwood.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: