Canada Geese (Branta canadensis)



Affiliate Disclaimer

We’re reader-sponsored! By checking out our awesome handpicked recommendations, you not only support us without spending a dime but also help us earn commissions from qualifying purchases made through links on this website. Let’s have fun and discover amazing birds together!

The Canada goose is a large and distinctive goose species native to North America’s arctic and temperate regions. It is easily recognized by its black head, white cheeks, brown body, and large size.

The Canada goose is among the most widespread North American birds. It is commonly found near bodies of fresh water, such as lakes, park ponds, rivers, city parks, and marshes. During migration periods, it can also be found in much more distant locations worldwide, such as northern Europe.

Canada Goose Nomenclature & Taxonomy

Which is correct — Canadian goose or Canada goose?

Both Canada goose and Canadian goose are correct, but Canada goose is the most often used to refer to this particular goose species. The website of Cornell Lab of Ornithology refers to these waterfowl as Canada geese. Likewise, Audobon’s (named after John James Audubon) website also refers to these birds as Canada geese.

Relationship with Cackling Goose

Previously, the cackling goose was considered a subspecies of the larger Canada goose. However, in 2004, the smallest four (Richardson’s cackling goose, Aleutian cackling goose, small cackling goose and Taverner’s cackling goose) of the eleven Canada goose subspecies were removed from the group and became known as the cackling goose. This decision was based on several factors, including behavioral differences, distinctive plumage patterns, and genetic and morphological analysis.

Despite these distinctions, there is some overlap between the two species in terms of habitat and behavioral patterns. Additionally, hybrids between Canada and Cackling Geese have been found in several locations across the USA and Canada. While this suggests some degree of overlap between these two groups, it also makes identification more challenging for those encountering these geese in the wild.


The Canada goose has seven subspecies:

  • Atlantic Canada goose (B. c. canadensis)

  • Interior Canada goose (B. c. interior)

  • Giant Canada goose (B. c. maxima)

  • Moffitt’s Canada goose (B. c. moffitti)

  • Vancouver Canada goose (B. c. fulva)

  • Dusky Canada goose (B. c. occidentalis)

  • Lesser Canada goose (B. c. parvipes)

The Giant Canada Goose subspecies (Branta canadensis maxima) was thought to be extinct in the 1950s until Harold Hanson of the Illinois Natural History Survey discovered wintering geese in Rochester, Minnesota in 1962.

Canada Goose Description

The Canada goose is a large and distinctive waterfowl species with a unique black head, long neck, and a prominent white cheek patch that extends under the chin to form a “chin strap.”

The upper parts of the Canada goose are mostly brown, with pale markings on feathers that form indistinct bars and create a mottled appearance.

The Canada goose’s lower back, rump, and tail are all black, helping to create a striking contrast with the white “V” shaped mark at the base of the tail.

The upper wings of the Canada goose feature dark flight feathers, while its underside is paler in color with whitish breasts and yellowish flanks. Additionally, the lower belly and undertail-coverts are pure white, while its underwings are dark brown.

The bill, legs, and webbed feet of this waterfowl species are also black, while its eyes are dark brown plumage.

Male and female Canada geese have similar appearances; however, males tend to be slightly larger than females.

Except for the cackling goose and barnacle goose (a derivative of the cackling goose lineage), the Canada goose is distinguished by its black head and neck with a white “chinstrap.

Listen to Canada Goose

The loud calls overhead from large flocks of Canada geese flying in a V formation signal the arrival of spring and autumn.

Canada Goose Habitat

The Canada goose is a remarkably adaptable bird, living in a wide range of habitats. While they prefer to be near water, they can also be found in grassy fields, and agricultural areas, particularly places with lots of open, uncluttered space.

The Canada geese’s habitat preference is due to their keen eyesight and desire to naturally seek out open areas where they can easily spot predators approaching. As such, Canada geese are commonly found in parks, airports, golf courses, and other large green spaces with expansive lawns.

And thanks to their ability to digest grass and different vegetation types, these birds have been able to thrive in these increasingly urbanized environments.

Canada Goose Range

The population distribution of Canada goose is one of the most widely distributed geese in the United States and Canada. A large population of this waterfowl is maintained throughout most of eastern and central Canada, as well as portions of Alaska, the western United States, and northern Mexico.

While there are some populations that migrate to more southerly regions during the winter, local populations of Canada geese will remain in their typical range year-round, making them a very successful species despite the extremely cold winters. This is due to changes in habitat and food sources.

Canada geese that migrate to their wintering range in the southern United States follow a rigid migratory path.

Most geese can thrive in a variety of climates and have adapted very well to human development, making them a common sight in many urban and suburban areas in North America.

Outside of the United States, Canada geese live in some parts of Europe. In the late 17th century, this goose was first introduced in the United Kingdom as part of King James II’s waterfowl collection.

Canada Goose Diet

The Canada Goose is an omnivorous species, but it feeds primarily on aquatic plants and grasslands in terrestrial environments. It typically feeds by grazing, taking both green parts, such as leaves and stems, as well as roots, seeds, fruits, and grains. Additionally, it consumes seaweed and other aquatic vegetation in freshwater systems. The Canada Goose may also feed on insects, mollusks, crustaceans, or small fishes in some circumstances.

Canada Goose Nesting & Mating

Canada geese are migratory geese that nest and mate during the spring months. The breeding season varies depending on the range but typically occurs in the early spring when temperatures rise. During this time, adult geese will form large colonies or choose nesting sites in more secluded locations like cliffs or trees.

The female Canada goose is usually responsible for choosing the nest site, choosing a dry, elevated area near water with good visibility. However, these birds may also choose nesting sites on cliff ledges, trees, or even artificial structures such as park benches or playground equipment.

Once a suitable site has been selected, the female builds a shallow depression lined with sticks, grasses, weeds, and moss and then lines it with soft down feathers from her own body. This bowl-shaped nest is a comfortable resting spot for her eggs and a haven against predators.

The female Canada goose typically lays 4-7 white eggs at a time, gradually becoming stained as they incubate over 25-28 days. The male goose stays close to watch over and protect his mate during this time. Throughout this period, the female goose commonly leaves the nest several times a day to eat, drink, bathe or preen.

As the eggs begin to hatch, the young goslings emerge with olive-brown down on their bodies and distinctive stripes across their eyes. They are fully capable of looking after themselves from an early age. They typically leave the nest within one night to follow their parents to a feeding ground where they will find plenty of food, cover from predators, and comfortable places to rest.

A breeding pair of two geese will provide protection to their young. The female spends more time with the young than the male. Both parents are quite aggressive and will violently chase nearby creatures such as small blackbirds and other species of waterfowl while making a hissing sound.

While growing up, geese may form groups called creches which is a group of goslings and a few adults. Goslings don’t leave their parents until after the spring migration.

Most Canada geese find themselves a mate in the second year of their lives.

Canada Goose Population

Current estimates of the Canada goose population in North America is at 7 million.

The population of Canada geese in North America is on the rise, and a number of different factors may be contributing to this trend.

One factor that is likely playing a role is changes in our climate and environment. As temperatures continue to rise and natural habitats become warmer and drier, Canada geese may be moving into new territories and wintering areas with mild climates where they have not been seen before.

Additionally, the abundance of springtime food sources, such as alfalfa and kale, may attract large flocks of geese than ever before, especially if it is in their migration routes. The rise in popularity of urban areas and parks could also play a role, as these attractive green spaces offer safer nesting sites for these large birds. Lastly, the lack of former predators may encourage a small flock to stay put in urban environments.

Population By State

StatePopulation (estimates)
Alaska30,000 to 50,000
Colorado20,000 to 30,000
Delaware10,000 to 20,000
Illinois50,000 to 60,000
Indiana90,000 to 125,000
Kansas10,000 to 15,000
Kentucky40,000 to 50,000
Massachusetts40,000 to 50,000
Minnesota100,000 to 105,000
Missouri40,000 and 60,000
New Hampshire1,000 to 1,500
New Jersey63,000 to 65,000
New MexicoN/A
New York200,000
North Carolina100,000
North Dakota335,000
Pennsylvania230,000 to 232,000
Rhode Island3,000 to 7,000
South Carolina50,000
South Dakota155,000
West VirginiaN/A
Wisconsin170,000 to 175,000


Canada geese were once on the brink of extinction and in a serious decline. But thanks to conservation efforts such as habitat recreation and improved game laws, their entire population has bounced back and is now stable.

Canada Goose Hunting

Yes, hunting of Canada geese in the US is subject to strict regulations that help to protect these native birds. Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), Canada geese are protected at the federal level and cannot be killed or harmed without a permit.

However, some states issue permits specifically for the purpose of hunting Canada geese when it is deemed necessary, typically to prevent crop damage or reduce safety risks at airports. For example, in Michigan, reduced hunting restrictions have been introduced in an effort to help curb excessive population growth in their native range.

Key Points

  • The Canada goose is the best-known waterfowl in the US and Canada.

  • The cackling goose and Canada goose were once considered the same species because they are virtually identical.

  • The Canada goose primarily feeds on plant material.

  • Canada geese are permanent residents in the southern part of their breeding range.

  • Hunting of these geese is regulated by the state and the U.S Fish & Wildlife Service.

  • Parents protect their young until they are old enough to fend for themselves.

  • Subspecies of Canada geese vary in size and plumage details.

Latest posts