My Australian shepherd pup, Brew, and I take early-morning walks each day that are filled with quiet solitude.
Lately, however, the morning silence has been interrupted by the notorious incoming “honks” of the migrating Canada geese. November brings the familiar sound, a universal sign of the changing seasons.
They are often audible well before they are visible, flying overhead in an impressive V formation, known as a wedge. Their long black heads and necks, with the distinctive white cheek patches, make this bird one of the most recognized in Ohio.
It can be found in every contiguous U.S. state and Canadian province — as well as on every golf course I have ever played! It amazes me that this species was hunted so extensively that it almost became extinct in the 1920s. Our office is located near a small subdivision with a pond and nearby crop fields — and we see these large birds nearly every day.
Not all Canada geese are the same. Wildlife experts recognize 11 distinct subspecies. The two we most likely see in Ohio are the resident giant race, Branta canadensis maxima, and the migrant goose or interior race, Branta canadensis interior. The subspecies can be difficult to distinguish and requires a keen eye for detail as to size, weight, neck length, chest coloration, head and bill shape, and other features. The giant male weighs around 12.5 pounds with a wing span that can exceed 5.5 feet whereas the Cackling Goose, Branta hutchinsii minima, is smaller than a mallard.
Canada geese eat mainly leaves, grass, seeds, berries, algae and roots. When more nutrients are needed, they sometimes eat aquatic invertebrates, insects, small fish, crustaceans and mollusks. Geese are monogamous. Peak mating activity is February and March, nesting is March through June, and the average nest size is five eggs.
The eggs hatch in May and the parents lead the goslings from the nest within 24 hours. The goslings experience their first flight about 70 days after hatching.
The birds are adaptable to many habitats and thrive wherever grasses, grains or berries can be found. They also need marshes and wetland habitats throughout the year, as well as proximity to water during nesting. Many Canada geese have altered their migrations from summering in northern North America and flying south with the arrival of cold weather. The cycle endures but some geese have become permanent residents of parks, golf courses, suburban green spaces, airports and other human habitats to the point they are considered a nuisance. This change in migration is not fully understood by wildlife biologists and there is concern about the dwindling numbers of migratory Canada geese that breed in the Arctic and subarctic.
Canada geese are adaptable and tolerant and, if left undisturbed, will establish nesting territories on any suitable pond, soon wearing out their welcome. Migration is taught by the parents, so if the parents do not migrate, the offspring will also become non-migratory and what started out as a pair of geese can quickly burgeon into 50 to 100 in just a few years. The Canada goose is protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and hunting is governed by both state and federal regulations. Visit www.wildlife.ohiodnr.gov for information on wildlife watching opportunities for migratory Canada geese, hunting regulations, and ideas for controlling nuisance geese.
As you have heard, the best offense is a good defense, a sentiment that is applicable to Canada geese. Feeding Canada geese is a major cause of human-Canada goose conflicts in parks and residential developments. I recall an incident when working at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources headquarters when a co-worker was walking from one building to another in the office complex and a nesting goose attacked the employee from behind, knocked her to the ground and caused severe injuries. Canada geese, like many wildlife species, quickly adapt to handouts and become very reluctant to leave areas where food is provided on a regular basis. Do not feed Canada geese! That way you can still enjoy their honking as they fly overhead in November.
Brad Ross is communications specialist at the Delaware Soil and Water Conservation District. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.