Few spectacles symbolize autumn better than a gang of Canada Geese
crossing a cloudy sky in V-formation. Common throughout most of
North America, Canada Geese live around ponds, rivers, and lake
shores where they feed on aquatic grass, roots, and young sprouts,
as well as corn and grain. A strong inward pull called instinct
urges these waterfowl into the skies to make this great annual southward
migration. But instinct does not determine the route the birds take.
Canada Geese migrate in family groups, and they will travel the
same route year after year. The young geese learn the route from
their parents, and use the same route in subsequent years with their
Canada Geese are more family-oriented than many other species
of waterfowl. Adults mate for life, although a widow will often
choose another mate. Pairs look for appropriate nesting sites in
early spring, just as soon as there is open water for mating, and
snow-free sites for nesting. Together, they use grass and plant
material to build their nests, lining it with feather down. When
the nest is ready, the male, called a gander, will guard the area
as his mate lays her eggs. An average clutch is five to seven eggs,
but it can be as low as two or as high as twelve. Each egg will
take a day of more to lay, and incubation lasts about a month.
Both goose and gander are present when the eggs begin to hatch.
Goslings use their sharp egg teeth to peck their way out of their
shells, an arduous task that can take a full day or two. These newly
hatched babies resemble ducklings, with yellow and gray feathers
and dark bills; but within a week they will have changed into awkward-looking,
fuzzy gray birds. Once out of their eggs, goslings are able to swim
immediately, and will enter the water accompanied by both parents.
There they will begin their first task of diving and eating. They
must eat continually in order to grow sufficiently for their first
flight. Newly-hatched goslings can dive 30-40 feet underwater for
nutritious, aquatic plants.
At nine or ten weeks of age, goslings have grown their flight
feathers and look like smaller versions of their parents. Canada
Geese are easily identifiable with their long black necks and heads
and contrasting white cheek and throats. Their back, upper wings,
and flank areas are brown capes draped over nearly white breasts
and bellies. Short black tails, black legs and black webbed feet
are visible when they waddle across an open field. While Canada
Geese range in size, they are typically 20-50 inches long, with
a 50-68 inch wingspan. The largest varieties are called honkers,
while smaller geese, one fourth the size, are called cacklers.
The first two months of a gosling's life its entire goose family
is earth-bound. Ganders molt directly after mating, and geese molt
shortly after her eggs hatch. Unable to fly, the family abandons
the nest on foot to find better feeding areas. Adults will have
re-grown their new feathers just in time to give their young their
first flying lesson.
Few birds are as vocal as Canada Geese, and some say they encourage
each other as they take their challenging journey. If you listen
carefully, you can determine the gender of the goose by their vocalizations.
Ganders speak in a low-pitched honk, while geese use a high-pitched
hink. Goslings have a soft, wheezy call.
The journey is made easier by flying in V-formation. By flying
in formation, the flock adds 71% greater flying range than if each
bird flew alone. As each goose flaps its wings, it creates uplift
for those following behind. The geese take turns in the point position,
as tired birds rotate back. If a goose is wounded or falls out of
formation for any other reason, two of its flock will stay with
it until it dies or is able to fly again. Then they will join another
formation or catch up with their flock.
Canaa Geese, though common, are fascinating creatures. In the words
of Milton Olson, we can learn a lot from a goose!
About the Author
Emma Snow has always adored wild animals. Emma provides content
for Wildlife Animals http://www.wildlife-animals.com
and Riding Stable http://www.riding-stable.com.