Canadian Birds

.. vy wind is wiffeling, to do this the goose turns its body sideways so that it’s wings are perpendicular to the ground, the bird loses it’s left and basically falls out of the sky, this technique is known to glider pilots as side slipping because you slip out of the sky (Breen). Most people believe that the migration north and the migration south are the same but actually they are different (Breen). The migration north to the breeding grounds is a slower and more relaxed one than that of the one moving south (Wormer). The migration north sometimes begins in late January for Canada Geese that are wintering far south, but the majority of movement occurs in March (Resource Reader). The female chooses the breeding grounds and nesting site, the breeding grounds are those of which she was hatched (Breen).

Ideal breeding grounds have the following characteristics: Browsing area for prior to nesting season, firm foundations, excellent visibility in all directions, isolated, brooding area of open water, aquatic feeding area, cover of emergent plants for protection during molting, and a browsing area for brood after they learn to fly (Wormer). Some areas with these characteristics are: swamps, marshes, meadows, rivers, lakes, ponds, islands, Tundra and coastal plain (Wormer). Preferred places to build the nest are small islets, muskrat houses, other birds abandoned or sometimes unabandoned nests, in the case where the nest is still occupied the female goose will incubate the other birds eggs as well as her own. Canada Geese especially the Giant Canada will also use man made nests like washtubs, old tires and haystacks (Wormer). Nest size varies from four inches deep by ten inches wide to fifteen inches deep and forty-four inches wide (Wormer).

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After the female has chosen the breeding grounds, nesting site and built the nest the male guards while she incubates the eggs (Wormer). Canada Geese breed all over Canada and in ideal breeding areas there may be many geese per acre but some territories may be as much as thirty five acres (Wormer) (See maps 1 and 2 for breeding areas and densities of geese). The migration south to the wintering grounds is a much faster paced migration than the one north and done in much larger flocks (Breen). Each flock usually consists of a group of families (Breen). October and mid- November is when the greatest numbers of Canada Geese can be seen moving south (Resource Reader). Popular wintering grounds have a good food supply, suitable resting grounds near a lake, river or resivoir, the body of water should be large and have low banks or shorelines for loafing and the climate should not be to cold (Wormer). It is often on the wintering grounds that the geese choose their mate whom they will pair with for life, unless one is killed (Obee).

Some Canada Geese migrate as far as Mexico, others stop further north, some don’t migrate at all and some even migrate across the ocean to Japan (Ross) (Refer to maps 1 and 2 for wintering areas and densities of geese). Canada Geese like to feed mid-morning and just before sunset leaving the mid-day for relaxing. Canada Geese graze cord grass, spike rush, naiad, glasswort, bullrush, salt grass, seepweed, Bermuda grass, golden dock, lycium, brome grass, wild barley, rabbit-foot grass, pepper grass, saltbush, cattail, alkali grass, and tansy mustard (Wormer). They will eat Ladino or Dutch white clover if it is mixed with other grasses that the goose normally eats, they will not eat alfalfa unless it is young and tender (Wormer). Canada Geese also feed on all human grown grains but their favorite of all foods is corn (Breen).

The most popular foods are, corn which forty three percent of geese feed on, small grain fed on by twenty four percent of geese, twenty two percent feed on pasture, and soybeans accounts for the other nine percent (Breen). Apart from dry land grazing Canada Geese also feed on some aquatic growth (Wormer). Canada Geese are mostly vegetarian but they do feed on some small insects, insect larvae, mollusks and small crustaceans (Wormer). Dogs will chase and kill Canada Geese for fun and coyotes and wolves will also kill Canada Geese for food, but most of the time geese are much to fast for land mammals unless they are hurt or wounded or it is during molting season (Wormer). Molting season is the most dangerous time of the Canada Goose’s life because it cannot fly, however even without their flight feathers a Canada Goose can still outrun a man over land and may even be able to fight of an attacker with strong blows from it’s wings and using it’s beak as a weapon (Breen).

Humans are the largest predator of the Canada Goose (Wormer). However due to strict management of hunting of Canada Geese the population has not been decreased by hunting (Wormer). In 1995 Goose hunting season for North Game Bird District opened on September first and closed December ninth with a bag limit of nine daily which not more than six may be dark geese and of these not more than four may be whitefronts (Wiens). In the South Game Bird District of Saskatchewan the season for goose hunting opened on September eleventh and also closed on December ninth with a bag limit of eighteen of which not more than twelve may be dark geese and of these not more than six may be whitefronts (Wiens). Parasites are not responsible for to many adult goose deaths but they do cause some (Wormer). Most of the damage parasites do is killing goslings two to three days old (Wormer). Some internal parasites of Canada Geese include both worm and blood parasites (Wormer).

Externally the Canada Goose also has various kinds of lice (Wormer). Some times a female Canada Goose will nest in a nest that has already been made by an eagle or hawk and may still be occupied (Wormer). If the nest contains the eggs of the bird who built the nest the female Canada Goose will incubate the other birds eggs as well as her own (Wormer). This benefits both birds because it leaves the other bird more time to rest and eat and the Canada Goose gets to use a nest (Wormer). Canada Geese frequently nest on top of muskrat houses because they are on open water where the eggs are safe from other birds and foxes, this does not disturb the muskrat in any way (Wormer). The Canada Goose will also nest in an abandoned nest of a hawk, eagle or other large bird (Wormer). There have been cases reported of small songbirds seen riding on the backs of Canada Geese on their migration route or hunters who have shot a goose and found a smaller bird tucked away in it’s feathers, However there is no scientific documentation of this (Breen). The Canada Goose’s largest competition is usually other Canada Geese (Wormer).

Canada Geese do not mind if other waterfowl such as ducks are nesting nearby but they will fight other Canada Geese for their territory if it is necessary (Wormer). It is important that Canada Geese do not build nests to close together because when the goslings are first hatched they cannot recognize their parents nor can their parents recognize them and the goslings can become easily mixed up and follow a different set of parents (Wormer). Humans have had a strong effect on the population of the Canada Goose, good and bad effects. Agricultural waste water kills many geese each year another human waste that kills geese is when they ingest spent ammunition with gravel, the geese die of lead poisoning and it is a very painful death and more common than most people think (Wormer). Urban growth, industry and draining land for farming contribute to the four hundred thousand acres of wetland lost each year in the United States which has had a tremendous effect on some waterfowl, however this does not directly effect the Canada Goose’s birth rate because most Canada Geese breed far enough north that they are isolated from progress (Breen).

The disappearing of wetlands does effect them indirectly though because they are used for resting and feeding along the migration route and are important for safety (Breen). Nesting sites in the north aren’t totally safe from humans though, the Exxon oil spill has damaged Canada Goose habitat (Breen). Plans to dam the Yukon River could also ruin the nesting grounds for over two hundred thousand Canada Geese (Breen). The number of people who are trying to protect wetlands has become quite large (Breen). The largest and best known group is probably Ducks Unlimited Canada which was founded in 1937 and has over one-hundred thousand members most of which are hunters (Breen).

In 1973 it expanded into the United States which now has over five-hundred and fifty thousand members also which are mostly hunters and one year after in 1974 Ducks Unlimited de Mexico joined the other two groups in wetland protection (Breen). Since their founding Ducks Unlimited have raised nearly one half billion dollars ninety three percent of which has been invested in projects to aid waterfowl such as the Canada Goose (Breen). As long as the Canada Goose’s private northern breeding grounds are not disturbed this magnificent bird should be with us a long time. For most people the Canada Goose symbolizes autumn when we see them gracefully soaring through the air to their warm winter home and they also symbolize spring time when they come back from their winter home. The Canada Goose is a bird with dignity and pride and is a bird that is loved by all who see and hear it Animal Science.