Canada geese can be found all over Will County. Known for their “V” formations in the sky, their big honking noises and sometimes the evidence of their presence that they leave behind, these large waterfowl don’t get the respect they deserve.
Read on to find out some cool facts about Canada geese and learn why you should appreciate these big birds.
Baby geese are called goslings. They are quick learners, mimicking others to learn life skills. Movement attracts a baby goose to its mother. Following her as she walks around and hunts for food strengthens their recognition and bond. Sometimes they get confused and trail after anything that moves, like a dog or a person, but learning by following serves them well.
By watching their parents, goslings learn how to swim in just 24 hours after hatching. At only one day old, they can dive 30 feet to 40 feet deep. Parents teach goslings to fly when they are 2 months or 3 months old. Goslings stay with their parents for about a year, migrating with them.
As they grow and become more independent, young goslings start to hang out together. These groups are called brood gangs, and they can include up to 100 goslings. They spend time together, exploring, playing and even fighting.
Canada geese usually stick to one partner and can be together for 10 years to 25 years, spending most of their time with each other. At around 2 years to 3 years old, they begin looking for a mate. They usually partner up with another goose about their size. This is called assertive mating. Occasionally a pair will “divorce” and separate. If a goose dies, its surviving partner will try to find another mate.
Share the load
Mom and dad work together to raise their young. Females get the nest ready, picking a spot near water that has open views. The soon-to-be-parents need to see any potential predators like raccoons, foxes or coyotes coming. The mom sits on the eggs and stays with the young goslings, while the dad stands guard.
Find a scale
There are 11 subspecies of Canada geese. As you go farther north, the subspecies get smaller. As you go farther west, the subspecies get browner. The ones we see in Will County are giant Canada geese. These are the largest geese in the world! Males, which are slightly larger than females, usually weigh in at 5 pounds to 14 pounds, but they can bulk up to 20 pounds.
A world without Canada geese?
Things were grim if you were a giant Canada goose in 1900. They were on their way to extinction, but bird-loving groups raised awareness and laws were written to protect them. Scientists banded the legs of the birds to learn more about their lives and migration. Now their population is doing just fine.
The long flight south
They need open water for food and to get out the reach of land animals who want to make them lunch. Frozen ponds, rivers and lakes just won’t do, so every fall they head south, flying 2,000 miles to 3,000 miles. It’s a long trip, but they can fly as far as 1,500 miles in 24 hours of flight! They keep a steady pace of about 40 miles per hour during their long flight, but with a little help from strong tailwinds they can reach speeds of 70 miles per hour. There might be 30 to 100 Canada geese in one migration group.
Get in formation!
It’s easy to recognize Canada geese even when they are flying way up high in the sky. Just look for birds traveling in a “V” formation. Each goose flies slightly higher than the bird in front of it, probably because it breaks up the strong headwinds. They talk by honking even thousands of feet in the air, letting each other know when it’s time to switch positions and give the bird in the front a break.
Canada geese don’t back down from threats, especially if it is to protect their young. Warning signs that they don’t want an animal — or you — around start with stretching out their necks aggressively, honking and hissing and progress to wing slapping and even biting.
They molt once a year when the weather warms up, and during this time they lose their flight feathers. During this six-week period, the geese can’t fly. This makes them vulnerable to predators. If there is a threat, geese will show aggression. What if an animal still won’t leave them alone? They head to the safety of open water.
On the menu
Geese love grasses, especially in spring and summer. You can find them munching on sedges, skunk cabbage and especially the grass like what’s in your lawn. Come fall and winter, many geese turn to berries and seeds. They love blueberries! They have also become experts at separating corn kernels from the cob. Look for flocks of them feasting in corn fields.
The more people are around, the more geese stick around all year. They love our open, manicured lawns with water features. There are not as many predators around for them to worry about, and when they do come, Canada geese can see them coming from a mile away. The lawn is a buffet they can digest all year. Plus neighborhood ponds are designed not to freeze. With food, water and safe spaces, why migrate south?
Hopefully you have a new appreciation for these giant honking birds that fill our skies and yards. Go outside and spend some time watching them. Just make sure to keep some distance between you and them!
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