Question from Danielle in Hudson, QC

Migration means heading north in spring and south in fall, so why am I seeing geese heading north now?

It is true, the geese are flying north in fall! Geese are not in a hurry to head south, rather, they mosey along food patch to food patch. If the food is no longer available because it has been eaten or been covered by snow, then it really is time to move on. They also need open water where they can spend the nights safe from predators. This region offers both. With the Lake of Two Mountains and great forage in the fields around this area, we offer a great stop-over for these snow-birds.

Canada geese have not been slow to use the changes we have made to the landscape over the past hundred plus years. In fact, it is estimated that the numbers of geese are now higher than in pre-European days. Our farming practices have made migration an easier one for many species, especially geese, as they feed on the waste grains from the crop fields.  Historically, the other big leveler of these birds are avian diseases. Prior to the settling of the southern reaches of North America with its major changes on the landscape with settlement and farming, the geese congregated in a swath along the Gulf of Mexico and the eastern coast of the US. This meant any disease outbreak would move rapidly through these concentrations of birds, killing them in the thousands. Disease then acted as a form of population control. This is no longer the case as the birds are able to spread over much wider areas with a changed landscape offering a wider range of options. So a lower density of birds equals a lower impact when a disease does break out.

The groups of geese we see passing overhead are often family units. They stay closely associated for the first year, or at least until the parent birds set up a nesting site again. At that stage the youngsters are pushed out of the parental territory. They will go on to breed at about 3 years of age. Meanwhile they just hang out, feeding and socializing with other unattached flock members, starting to look for a partner. The pairs form a monogamous lifelong bond. If one of the pair dies however, the other will go on to form another pair bond.

We are so familiar with the vee formation as the geese fly together, but how often do we look up to see that having been attracted by that wonderful honking. You can pick out the younger ones from their calls; they sound more like a small dog yipping. So next time a flock goes over, stop and listen, see if you can pick out two distinctive calls.

This past summer, I had the greatest pleasure watching the many families of geese who breed in the Delta Marsh, Manitoba. Each pair went off, laid eggs and hatched them, so far so good. What happened next was fascinating. The dominant pair ‘adopted’ all the goslings born about the same time into their brood, allowing their parents to act as watch geese to the group. So some pairs had groups of fifty odd goslings ringed by several other adult birds, quite a sight.  The goslings thus have many pairs of eyes watching out for them which is reflected in a high survival rate for these guys. We got to watch hundreds of goslings go through the gorgeous cute fluffy stage, then the gawky teen stage, to become young adults, almost indistinguishable from their parents – adoptive or biological.