Species Spotlight: Canada Goose

Read this month’s Species Spotlight on the Canada Goose!

Canada Geese by Channel City Camera Club


In most major cities, you expect to hear a honk or two from drivers. However, in Washington, DC this sound is heard from birds passing in the sky. The Canada goose or Branta canadensis is a wild duck with calls that sound like honks, barks, cackles, and the occasional hiss.

They are easy to spot due in part to their all-black heads with signature white cheeks that connect under the chin.  Their feathers range in color from black to brown to white. Newly hatched geese, called goslings, are golden-yellow with black. A mating pair can raise one clutch each year ranging in size from 1 to 10 goslings with 5 or 6 being the average. Seeing those fluffy goslings during the spring and early summer months is enough to activate that “I must touch it” feeling, but remember that these birds are wild animals. The last thing you want is to be chased by geese honking at you for getting too close!

Canada Goose at Kharkiv Gorky Park by Lystopad via Wikimedia Commons.

All ducks go through a molting phase where they shed old feathers to make room for new ones. Adult Canada geese molt once a year. Goslings are not born able to fly and will molt early in their first year to make room for full-flight feathers. The adults will molt during the summer months to replace old and damaged flight feathers. During this period, Canada geese are vulnerable and will hang around a body of water to escape from predators and other threats.

By fall, both the adults and goslings will be ready to fly. Some will migrate south as cooler temperatures set in the North. Others will remain in the area if there is enough water and abundant food despite the cold weather. Have you ever noticed that these Canada geese fly in a V-shaped formation? There are two explanations for this. The first is that this formation allows for each subsequent bird to receive lift from the wingtip vortex of the bird ahead of it. This allows each subsequent bird to expend less energy, thus extending the period of time a flock can fly as opposed to flying solo. Also, this formation makes it easier for each bird to see the next one to prevent colliding while in flight.

Canada geese are large birds, weighing up to 7 pounds (males) and 5.5 pounds (females) with a wingspan of up to 60 inches or 5 feet. Now is the perfect time to view Canada geese in the marshland along the boardwalk at the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. This park is a popular stopping point for them during their annual migration. Grab your binoculars and look for that signature V-formation in the sky.

Canada Geese by Erna Marcus
Canada Geese in the Hardy Lily Ponds by Erna Marcus

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