Canada Goose: A Big, Bold, Beautiful Bird

Rick Lewis--In the early 1900s, Canada Geese were almost extinct, caused mostly by people hunting adults and eggs for food and sport. Once they became a protected species, their population increased slowly.

Canada Goose: A Big, Bold, Beautiful Bird

The Canada Goose (Branta Canadensis) is a bird that many of us know well! Large-bodied with long, black necks and a white-and-black head, they have become common in many of our parks and grasslands. They are usually quite tolerant of humans. The migratory arrival and departure of Canada Geese in the Bay Area used to be considered a symbol of the changing seasons. “Honking” as they fly in their easy-to-see V formation, many geese still migrate to breeding grounds to the north. However, Canada Geese started living in the Bay Area year-round in the 1950s. Nesting ramped up by the 1990s and continues to increase today.

Many bird species will migrate no matter what, but Canada Geese have quickly adapted to their changing environment. With an increase in their food supply in Bay Area wintering grounds, such as large areas of turf grass close to ponds, reservoirs, and the Bay, why migrate if they can breed here? In semi-urban areas such as Crab Cove, the lack of large predators like coyotes and bobcats makes it a much safer place to raise their young.

Adults usually mate for life, which can be 10 to 24 years! Their nests are bowl-shaped, with three to 10 eggs on the ground in a sheltered location. The yellow, downy-feathered hatchlings can walk and swim almost immediately, and the family will stay together for nearly one year. At Crab Cove and other parks with water sources, baby geese can often be viewed from April through June, bringing much joy to human observers. Both the mother and father goose provide care equally, and when moving to new locations, one adult tends to be in front and the other in back. They defend their babies ferociously, often warning us humans to back off by hissing, and swinging or bobbing their necks.

We also see baby mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos) around the same time at Crab Cove, rivaling the cute factor. Compared to goslings, fewer ducklings survive due to predation by hawks, gulls, herons, raccoons, dogs and cats. The female mallard raises the babies alone, and since she is much smaller than a Canada Goose, it’s harder to defend her ducklings.

Canada Geese can eat a lot of grass, and one study claims they can poop up to 2 pounds per day (other studies suggest it’s typically closer to ½ pound per day). Geese in parks mow and fertilize lawns without charging for their service. But the volume of goose poop can be unsightly and cause consternation, especially on ball fields and locations adjacent to swim areas. Thankfully, goose excrement has a minimal smell and does not seem to produce a high risk of illness when touched directly (still wash hands after touching it). There is more risk of disease when large quantities impact waterways, sometimes causing swimming areas to be closed.

Visitors have a range of perspectives about Canada Geese in East Bay parklands (and in many other areas). Remember that they are a wild, protected, native species that deserves respect. Please never feed them or any wildlife in our parks. Observe and admire them from a distance, especially when goslings are present, and you will be rewarded by the antics of a highly social, entertaining group of birds.

Michael Charnofsky is a Naturalist for the East Bay Regional Park District, based at the Doug Siden Visitor Center at Crab Cove.