Of all the geese, from a distance the Canada goose is easily identified. His body is brown, neck and head black, but his head wears a triangular white patch. He is the biggest of our geese, and is found either as a resident or a migrator over most of the United States.
In the spring and fall, he is seen flying very high in great long wedges to and from his wintering and summer breeding grounds, coming down into city parks, reservations and sanctuaries for a rest period and for food.
Their voices are strong as they are heard uttering a loud resonant "honk" in flight or on the water. While feeding, or together on a pond, they talk in little intimate cries and grunts.
This is the hunter's bird, being the most sought after of the geese. As a result "Canada" has become exceedingly wary, putting down only after having scanned and circled the area with much care. Their sharp eyes can quickly spot a hunter and the best of blinds can be discovered. Second only to the wild swans, the Canada is a big bird on the dinner table, weighing from seven to fourteen pounds, with a wing spread of between five and six feet.
Contrary to the ducks, which seek new mates each season, the Canada goose is supposed to mate for life. Should either partner die or be killed, it is said that the mate never "remarries." Just why Mother Nature chose to make this arrangement, no one knows, but she must have had her reasons.
Certainly this is a drawback to the numbers of the Canada. A certain amount of good can be done by raising these gallant game birds and stocking areas with them, and in fact this is being done in many sections of the country. The biggest cause of death to these birds is not the hunter, but pollution of the waters in which it lands along its flight routes. Development of wetlands and shore property have lessened the areas of comparative remoteness where "Honkers" will consider landing. They simply will not come down where there are signs of civilization, unless it is a sanctuary. They can spot such a safe spot by looking over the other birds on the water and will feel safe in landing.
Jack Minor of Kingsville, Ontario, was the first to recognize the need for sanctuaries for this grand game bird. Starting with the small pond on his property, he fed the geese during the migration seasons until tremendous flights of them would return to his care each year. The sanctuary has grown in size and has been financed, for the feeding bill for these birds is enormous. Others have followed in his footsteps, so that the Canada is assured at least a few spots where it is safe. Banding has helped to discover their migrations.
Canada geese generally nests on the ground near the water. The type of nest depends on the locality. It is usually a slight depression in the ground lined with material from the vicinity such as sticks, flag grass and soft grey down from the goose's breast. At other times the nests are large bulky affairs. In some parts of the country when the terrain demands, the nests are in trees, but never far from the water and preferably right above it.
During the breeding season the gander, or male goose shows off his staunchness as the family guard and defender. If you approach the nest they will at first look at you with contempt. Come closer and they will become alarmed and hiss, wave their powerful wings and be ready to pick a fight. The author has had many a battle with them without so much as provoking one, so true to their cause do they become when an intruder comes by. Don't underestimate their powerful wings; they can knock you down very easily and, even though they have no teeth in their bills, they are sharp, and if they bite you, the cut can be quite severe.
Unlike the ducks, both parents are quite taken up with caring for the young. When swimming on the water, the gander usually leads, the little ones follow and then mother takes up the tail of the parade.
Their food is largely vegetable matter. They love to graze in the stubble fields and the prairies. Pasture lands are their pleasure, particularly during the fall migration, for they burn up a great deal of energy during the flight, which must be replaced. Quite often, clouds of them will descend on a farmer's corn field, even though there is little or no water nearby. They have been known to be quite destructive in this habit.
The Canada is one of the earliest water birds to migrate northward in the spring. How it is they know that the ice is melted from the lakes, when they are wintering one or two thousand miles south, is a mystery, but they know it and proceed.
After the summer molt the geese become quite inactive. Then they begin to gain back their flight feathers, begin to assemble in flocks and become restless. On a cool night when the winds are right, they will take off on the first leg of a long journey, husbands and wives flying together. They are masters at knowing flight patterns and wind resistance. Their flying wedge is so designed that the lead goose breaks the currents for the rest of the wedge. After a spell, the lead goose drops back to the end of the line and the succession continues so that no bird takes the brunt of the wind.
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Proper Hunting Supplies for Goose-hunting
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All pictures of geese taken by Ted Grey.