Bird Lore: Canada Geese

Photo by LeRoy Van Hee

Canada Geese are known as the big honkers. They are widespread and abundant throughout Washington. Some subspecies are year-round residents and other subspecies are migrants that overwinter in the state. Those that breed here in the summer are resident birds. Canada Geese used to be symbols of wilderness, their fall and spring migrations once considered as signs of the changing seasons.

In the 1970s two subspecies of Canada Geese were introduced into Washington. Resident populations have expanded over the ensuing decades such that Canada Geese are now common. They have become effective exploiters of urban and suburban habitats and now breed throughout a variety of locations from urban parks, to raptor nests, to relatively high elevations.

The successful range expansion of Canada Geese has led to the urban goose wars. Beaches and grassy fields, enjoyed equally by people and geese, become problematic for people who don’t wish to dance around the myriad piles of goose poop. Controversy always attaches to efforts by parks or health departments to reduce the size of goose populations.

Canada Geese mate for life and are vigilant defenders of their young. Nonetheless, these geese produce more goslings than they can raise, as do Mallards. They become prey for larger predators such as coyotes, raccoons, foxes, and river otters. A pair of geese may successfully hatch seven to nine or more young. By the time the goslings reach the age of first flight, anywhere from six to nine weeks after hatching, there will be fewer of them.

Two pairs of Canada Geese recently have nested successfully in and around the Edmonds marsh. One family has nine goslings and the other has seven. Their nests were slight depressions in the ground, lined with down. The females incubated the eggs while their mates stood guard. Both parents now tirelessly protect their young even though some will succumb to predation. It is the inevitable food chain at work. Nonetheless, you can’t help but root for the survival of these goslings when you see how cute they are and how vigilant are their parents.

The calls of Canada Geese can be heard at this link:

Carol Riddell, author of our new “Bird Lore” feature, manages the bird education displays, on behalf of Pilchuck Audubon Society and Edmonds Parks & Recreation, at the Olympic Beach Visitor Station.

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