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Canada Goose

Similar to the Gackling Goose, this Goose is widespread across North America and Europe.

Common, widespread, and increasing, the Canada Goose is well known to most people and occurs in many settings from rural to suburban. Often welcomed at first, Canada Geese may soon be accused of making a mess on golf courses or at city park lakes, and can be difficult to displace.

Canada Geese have a range of subspecies which vary dramatically in size. The smallest four subspecies were recently split into a separate species, the Cackling Goose. The giant subspecies known as maxima was once nearly extinct, but has since recovered and established non-migratory populations in many areas.


Description of the Canada Goose


The Canada Goose is the most common and widespread goose in North America. It is mostly brownish gray, with a black neck and cap, and a white cheek patch. Different subspecies vary in size.  Length: 36-45 in.  Wingspan: 53-60 in.

Canada Goose 


Sexes similar.

Seasonal change in appearance



Immature Canada Geese are similar to adults.


Canada Geese inhabit ponds, lakes, marshes and fields, as well as city parks and golf courses.


Canada Geese primarily eat plants or plant products, including grasses, aquatic plants, seeds, and waste grain.

Canada Goose 

Photograph © Alan Wilson.


Canada Geese graze on land, and submerge their heads in water to graze on aquatic plants.


Canada Geese occur over nearly the whole of North America, breeding from the mid latitudes of the U.S. north to northern Canada, and wintering across most of the U.S. The population has increased in recent decades.

More information:

Bent Life History

Visit the Bent Life History for extensive additional information on the Canada Goose.

Wing Shape

The shape of a bird’s wing is often an indication of its habits and behavior. Fast flying birds have long, pointed wings. Soaring birds have long, broad wings. Different songbirds will have a slightly different wing shape. Some species look so much alike (Empidonax flycatchers) that scientists sometimes use the length of specific feathers to confirm a species’ identification.

Wing images from the University of Puget Sound, Slater Museum of Natural History

Fun Facts

Canada Geese mate for life.

Canada Geese have responded well to humans, and have even become pests in local areas where they may become too numerous and permanent residents.


The call of the Canada Goose is a loud “honk.”


Similar Species

Cackling Goose
The Cackling Goose is a group of subspecies of geese once considered Canada Geese but now split into a separate species. Cackling Geese are very similar in appearance to Canada Geese, but most Cackling Goose subspecies are smaller than most Canada Goose subspecies.

The Brant is similar in appearance but lacks the white chin strap.

Greater White-fronted Goose
The Greater White-fronted Goose is not as dark as the Canada Goose and lacks the white chin strap.


The nest is a shallow bowl of grasses and sticks, lined with down, and placed on the ground, on a muskrat house, or on an artificial structure.

Number: Usually lay 4-7 eggs.
Color: White.

Incubation and fledging:
The young hatch at about 25-30 days and leave the nest almost immediately, but are not capable of flight for about 9 weeks.


Bent Life History of the Canada Goose

Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.

Bent Life History for the Canada Goose – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.


The common wild goose is the most widely distributed and the most generally well known of any of our wild fowl. From the Atlantic to the Pacific and from the Gulf of Mexico nearly to the Arctic coast it may be seen at some season of the year, and when once seen its grandeur creates an impression on the mind which even the casual observer never forgets. As the clarion notes float downward on the still night air, who can resist the temptation to rush out of doors and peer into the darkness for a possible glimpse at the passing flock, as the shadowy forms glide over our roofs on their long journey? Or, even in daylight, what man so busy that he will not pause and look upward at the serried ranks of our grandest wild fowl, as their well-known honking notes announce their coming and their going, he knows not whence or whither? It is an impressive sight well worthy of his gaze; perhaps he will even stop to count the birds in the two long converging lines; he is sure to tell his friends about it, and perhaps it will even be published in the local paper, as a harbinger of spring or a foreboding of winter. Certainly the Canada goose commands respect.

Spring: The Canada goose is one of the earliest of the water birds to migrate in the spring. Those which have wintered farthest south are the first to feel the migratory impulse, and they start about a month earlier than those which have wintered at or above the frost line, moving slowly at first but with a gradually increasing rate of speed. Prof. Wells W. Cooke (1906) has shown, from his mass of accumulated records, that beginning with an average rate of 9 miles a day, between the lowest degrees of latitude, the speed is gradually increased through successive stages to an average rate of 30 miles a day during the last part of the journey. Following, as it does, close upon the heels of retreating ice and snow, the migration of these geese may well be regarded as a harbinger of spring; for the same reason it is quite variable from year to year and quite dependent on weather conditions.

The first signs of approaching spring come early in the far south, with the lengthening of the days and the increasing warmth of the sun; the wild geese are the first to appreciate these signs and the first to feel the restless impulse to be gone; they congregate in flocks and show their uneasiness by their constant gabbling and honking, as if talking over plans for their journey, with much preening and oiling of feathers in the way of preparation; at length a flock or two may be seen mounting into the air and starting off northward, headed by the older and stronger birds, the veterans of many a similar trip; flock after flock joins the procession, until the last have gone, leaving their winter homes deserted and still. The old ganders know the way and lead their trustful flocks by the straightest and safest route; high in the air, with the earth spread out below them like a map, they follow no coast line, no mountain chain, and no river valley; but directly onward over hill and valley, river and lake, forest and plain, city, town, and country, their course points straight to their summer homes. Flying by night or by day, as circumstances require, they stop only when necessary to rest or feed, and then only in such places as their experienced leaders know to be safe. A thick fog may bewilder them and lead them to disaster or a heavy snowstorm may make them turn back, but soon they are on their way again, and ultimately they reach their breeding grounds in safety.

Courtship: The older geese are paired for life, and many of the younger birds, which are mating for the first time, conduct their courtship and perhaps select their mates before they start on their spring migration. Audubon (1840) gives a graphic account of the courtship of the Canada goose, as follows:

It is extremely amusing to witness the courtship of the Canada goose In all its stages and let me assure you, reader, that although a gander does not strut before his beloved with the pomposity of a turkey, or the grace of a dove, his ways are quite as agreeable to the female of his choice. I can imagine before me one who has just accomplished the defeat of another male after a struggle of half an hour or more. He advances gallantly toward the object of contention, his head scarcely raised an inch from the ground, his bill open to its full stretch, his fleshy tongue elevated, his eyes darting fiery glances, and as he moves he hisses loudly, while the emotion which he experiences causes his quills to shake and his feathers to rustle. Now he is close to her who in his eyes is all loveliness; his neck bending gracefully in all directions, passes all round her, and occasionally touches her body; and as she congratulates him on his victory, and acknowledges his affection, they move their necks in a hundred curious ways. At this moment fierce jealousy urges the defeated gander to renew his efforts to obtain his love; he advances apace, his eye glowing with the fire of rage; he shakes his broad wings, ruffles up his whole plumage, and as he rushes on the foe hisses with the intensity of anger. The whole flock seems to stand amazed, and opening up a space, the birds gather round to view the combat. The bold bird who has been caressing his mate, scarcely deigns to take notice of his foe, but seems to send a scornful glance toward him. He of the mortified feelings, however, raises his body, half opens his sinewy wings, and with a powerful blow, sends forth his defiance. The affront can not be borne in the presence of so large a company, nor indeed is there much disposition to bear it in any circumstances; the blow is returned with vigor, the aggressor reels for a moment, but he soon recovers, and now the combat rages. Were the weapons more deadly, feats of chivalry would now be performed; as It is, thrust and blow succeed each other like tbe strokes of hammers driven by sturdy forgers. But now, the mated gander has caught hold of his antagonist’s head with his bill; no bulldog can cling faster to his victim; be squeezes him with all the energy of rage, lashes him with his powerful wings, and at length drives him away, spreads out his pinions, runs with joy to his mate, and fills the air with cries of exultation.

Nesting: Reaching their breeding grounds early in the season and being in most cases already paired, these geese are naturally among the earliest breeders; their eggs are usually hatched and the nests deserted before many of the other wild fowl have even laid their eggs, the dates varying of course with the latitude. When I visited North Dakota in 1901 there were still quite a number of Canada geese breeding there; probably many of them have since been driven farther west or north, as they love solitude and retirement during the nesting season. ‘We found them nesting on the islands in the lakes and in the marshy portions of the sloughs, building quite different nests in the two locations. On May 31 we found a nest on an island in Stump Lake, which had evidently been deserted for some time; the island was also occupied by nesting colonies of doublecrested cormorants and ring-billed gulls and by a few breeding ducks; the goose nest was merely a depression in the bare ground among some scattered large stones lined with a few sticks and straws and a quantity of down. In a large slough in Nelson County we found, on June 2, a deserted nest containing 3 addled eggs, the broken shells of those that had hatched being scattered about the nest. It was in a shallow portion of the slough where the dead flags had been beaten down flat for a space 50 feet square. The nest was a bulky mass of dead flags, 3 feet in diameter and but slightly hollowed in the center. Within a few yards of this, and of a similar nest found on June 10, was an occupied redhead’s nest; the proximity of these two ducks’ nests to those of the geese may have been merely accidental, but the possibility is suggested that they may have been so placed to gain the protection of the larger birds. This suggestion was strengthened when I saw a skunk foraging in the vicinity; undoubtedly these animals find an abundant food supply in the numerous nests of ducks and coots in these sloughs.

Somewhat similar nests were found by our party in Saskatchewan, including two beautiful nests on an island in Crane Lake, found on June 2, 1905. The largest of these was in an open grassy place on the island, about 25 yards from the open shore; it consisted of a great mass of soft down, “drab gray” in color, measuring 16 inches in outside diameter, 7 inches inside, and 4 inches in depth; it was very conspicuous and contained 6 eggs. As I approached it and when about a hundred yards from it, the goose walked deliberately from the nest to the shore and began honking; her mate, away off on the lake answered her and she flew out to join him. Both of these nests had been robbed earlier in the season and the birds had laid second sets.

According to Milton S. Ray (1912) the Canada goose nests quite commonly at Lake Tahoe in California; he found a number of nests there in 1910 and 1911. The nesting habits in this region are not very different from what we noted in northwest Canada. Referring to the nests found in 1910, Mr. Ray writes:

Anxious to learn something of their nesting habits, and hoping I might he in time to find a nest or so, May 23 found me rowing up the fresh-water sloughs of the marsh, unmindful of the numerous terns, blackbirds, and other swamp denizens, in my quest for a prospective home of the goose. Nor was I long without reward, for when about 100 feet from a little island that boasted of a few lodge-pole pine saplings and one willow, a goose rose from her nest, took a short run, and rising with heavy flight and loud cries, flew out to open water, where she ~vas joined by her mate. The cries of the pair echoed so loudly over the marsh that it seemed the whole region must be awakened. Landing on the island I found on the ground, at the edge of the willow, a large built-up nest with 7 almost fresh eggs. The nest was composed wholly of dry marsh grasses and down, and measured 22 inches over all, while the cavity was 11 inches across and 3 inches deep.

After a row of several miles I noticed a gander in the offing, whose swimming in circles and loud honking gave assurance that the nesting precincts of another pair had been invaded. A heavily timbered island, now close at hand, seemed the most probably nesting place. This isle was so swampy that most of the growth had been killed, and fallen trees, other Impedimenta, and the icy water, made progress difficult. I had advanced but a short distance, however, when a goose flushed from her nest at the foot of a dead tree. This nest was very similar to the first one found, and, like it, also held 7 eggs, but these were considerably further along in incubation. On the homeward journey, while returning through the marsh by a different channel, I beheld the snakelike head of a goose above the tall grass (for the spring had been unusually early) on a level tract some distance away. Approaching nearer, the bird took flight, and on reaching the spot I found my third nest. As it contained 5 eggs all on the point of hatching, I lost no time in allowing the parent to return.

Of his experiences the following year, he says:

I found the goose colony to consist of but a single nest, placed on the hare rock at the foot of a giant Jeffrey pine near the water’s edge. It was made entirely of pine needles, with the usual down lining, and held an addled egg, while numerous shells lay strewn about. The parents wore noticed about half a mile down the bay. Two days later at Rowlands Marsh I located another goose nest with the small compliment of 2 eggs, 1 infertile and 1 from which the chick was just emerging. The nest was placed against a fallen log, and besides the lining of down was composed entirely of chips of pine bark, a quantity of which lay near. From the variety of material used in the composition of the nests found, it seems evident that the birds have little or no preference for any particular substance, but use that most easily available.

A long day’s work at the marsh on June 9 revealed three more nests. The first of these, one with 6 eggs, well incubated, was the most perfectly built nest of the goose that I have ever seen, being constructed with all the care that most of the smaller birds exercise. It was made principally of dry marsh grasses. The second nest held a set of 5 eggs, and was placed by a small willow on a little mound of earth rising in a tule patch In a secluded portion of the swamp. Dry tules entered largely Into its composition. In this instance the bird did not rise until we were within 25 feet, although they usually flushed at a distance varying from 40 to 100 feet.

In the Rocky Mountain regions of Colorado and Montana the Canada goose has been known to build its nest, sometimes for successive seasons, on rocky ledges or cliffs at some distance from any water or even at a considerable height. In the northwestern portions of the country it frequently nests in trees, using the old nests of ospreys, hawks, or other large birds; it apparently does not build any such nest for itself, but sometimes repairs the nest by bringing in twigs and lining it with down. John Fannin (1894) says that in the Okanogan district of British Columbia, “Canada geese are particularly noted for nesting in trees, and as these valleys are subject to sudden inundation during early spring, this fact may have Something to do with it.” He also relates the following interesting incident:

Mr. Charles deB. Green, who spends a good deal of his spare time In making collections for the Museum, writes me from Kettle River, Okanogan district, British Columbia, to the effect that while climbing to an osprey’s nest he was surprised to find his actions resented by not only the ospreys but also by a pair of Canada geese (Branta canadensis), the latter birds making quite a fuss all the time Mr. Green was in the tree. On reaching the nest he was still further surprised to find 2 osprey eggs and 3 of the Canada goose. He took the 2 osprey’s eggs and 2 of the geese eggs. This was on the 1st of May. On the 12th of May he returned and found the osprey setting on the goose egg; the geese were nowhere in sight. Mr. Green took the remaining egg and sent the lot to the Museum.

A. D. Henderson has sent me the following notes on the nesting habits of the Canada goose, in the Peace River region of northern Alberta, as follows:

The geese breed on the small gravelly Islands In the Battle River and Its two tributaries, known at that time as the Second and Third Battle Rivers. Another favorite breeding place Is In old heaver dams, where they nest on the old sunken beaver houses, which in course of time have flattened down into small grass-covered islets. Even Inhabited beaver houses are used as nesting sites, as my half-breed hunting partner, on one of our trips, took 5 eggs from a nest on a large beaver house In an old river bed of the Third Battle, which we repeatedly saw entered and left by a family of beaver, showing that the geese and beaver live together in unity.

On May 18 I found a nest containing 7 eggs on a low grassy islet, probably a very old beaver house, in the same flooded beaver meadow. The nest was made of grass lined with finer grasses and feathers. The sitting bird permitted a near approach, with her head and neck stretched out straight In front of her and lying flat along the ground, watching my approach. This appears to he the usual behavior when the nest is approached during incubation. We saw two other nests on this day, one on a small grassy islet in the same beaver meadow, containing 3 eggs, and another on an island in the Third Battle with 6 eggs.

Eggs: The Canada goose lays from 4 to 10 eggs, usually 5 or 6. They vary in shape from ovate to elliptical ovate, with a tendency in some specimens toward fusiform. The shell is smooth or only slightly rough, but with no gloss. The color is creamy white or dull, dirty white at first, becoming much nest stained and sometimes variegated or nearly covered with “cream buff.” The measurements of 84 eggs, in various collections average 85.7 by 58.2 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 99.5 by 56, 87.6 by 63.6, 79 by 56.5, and 86.5 by 53.5 millimeters.

Young: The period of incubation varies from 28 to 30 days; probably the former is the usual time under favorable circumstances. The gander never sits on the nest, but while the goose is Incubating he is constantly in attendance, except when obliged to leave in search of food. He is a staunch defender of the home and is no mean antagonist. Audubon (1840) relates the following:

It is during the breeding season that the gander displays his courage and strength to the greatest advantage. I knew one that appeared larger than usual, and of which all the lower parts were of a rich cream color. It returned three years in succession to a large pond a few miles from the mouth of Green River, in Kentucky. and whenever I visited the nest it seemed to look upon me with utter contempt. It would stand in a stately attitude until I reached within a few yards of the nest, when suddenly lowering its head and shaking it as if it were dislocated from the neck, It would open its wings and launch Into the air, flying directly at me. So daring was this fine fellow that In two instances he struck me a blow with one of his wings on the right arm, which for an instant I thought was broken. I observed that immediately after such an effort to defend his nest and mate he would run swiftly toward them, pass his head and neck several times over and around the female, and again assume his attitude of defiance.

The same gifted author writes regarding the care of the young as follows:

The lisping sounds of their offspring are heard through the shell; their little bills have formed a breach in the inclosing walls; full of life and bedecked with beauty they come forth, with tottering steps and downy covering. Toward the water they now follow their careful parent; they reach the border of the stream; their mother already floats on the loved element; one after another launches forth and now the flock glides gently along. What a beautiful sight. Close by the grassy margin the mother slowly leads her innocent younglings; to one she shows the seed of the floating grass, to another points out the crawling slug. Her careful eye watches the cruel turtle, the garfish, an(l the pike that are lurking for their prey, and, with head inclined, she glances upward to the eagle Or the gull that are hovering over the water in search of food. A ferocious bird dashes at her young ones; she instantly plunges beneath the surface, and in the twinkling of an eye her brood. disappear after her; now they are among the thick rushes, with nothing above water but their little bills. The mother is marching toward the land, having lisped to her brood in accents so gentle that none but they and her mate can understand their import, and all are safely lodged under cover until the disappointed eagle or gull bears away.

More than six weeks have now elapsed. The down of the goslings, which at first was soft and tufty, has become coarse and hairlike. Their wings are edged with quills and their bodies bristled with feathers. They have increased in size and, living in the midst of abundance, they have become fat, so that on shore they make their way with difficulty, and as they are yet unable to fly, the greatest care is required to save them from their numerous enemies. They grow apace, and now the burning days of August are over. They are able to fly with ease from one shore to another, and as each successive night the hoarfrosts cover the country and the streams are closed over by the ice, the family joins that in their neighborhood, which is also joined by others. At length they spy the advance of a snowstorm, when the ganders with one accord sound the order for their departure.

Samuel N. Rhoads (1895) published the following interesting note, based on the observations of H. B. Young in Tennessee:

At Reelfoot Lake the goose nearly always builds in the top of a blasted tree over the water, sometimes nesting as high as 50 feet or even higher. When the young are hatched the gander soon gets notice of it and swims around the foot of the tree uttering loud cries. On a signal from mother goose he redoubles his outcries and, describing a large circle immediately beneath the nest, beats the water with his wings, dives, paddles, and slashes about with the greatest fury, making such a terrible noise and commotion that he can be heard for several miles. This effectually drives away from that spot every catfish, spoonbill, loggerhead, hellbender, moccasin, water snake, eagle, mink, and otter that might take a fancy to young goslings, and into the midst of the commotion mother goose, by a few deft thrusts of her bill, spills the whole nestful. But a few seconds elapse ere the reunited family are noiselessly paddling for the shores of some secluded cove with nothing to mark the scene of their exploits hat a few feathers and upturned water plants and above them the huge white cypress with its deserted nest.

While the family party is moving about on the water the gander usually leads the procession, the goslings following, and the goose acting as rear guard. The old birds sometimes lead their young for long distances over large bodies of water. While cruising on Lake Winnipegosis on June 18, 1913, we came upon a family party fully 5 miles from shore and evidently swimming across the lake. The two old birds when hard pressed finally took wing and flew away, leaving the three half-grown young to their fate. The young were still completely covered with down, and their wings were not at all developed, although their bodies were as large as mallards. They could swim quite fast on the surface, could dive well, and could swim for a long distance under water. They were surprisingly active in eluding capture, and when hard pressed they swam partly submerged, with their necks below the surface and their heads barely above it, in a sort of hiding pose.

P. A. Taverner (1922) describes an interesting pose assumed by a family party on Cypress Lake, Saskatchewan. When pursued by a motor boat:

they put on more speed and arranged themselves in a long single file, one parent leading, the other bringing up the rear, swimming low, and both with their long necks outstretched an(l laid down flat on the water, making themselves as inconspicuous as possible. The young, coaxed from ahead and urged from behind, paddled along vigorously between, one close behind the other. From our low and distant point of view the effect was interesting. They looked like a floating stick. Certainly they would not impress the casual eye as a family of Canada geese, and if we had not first seen them in a more characteristic pose they would undoubtedly have been passed without recognition.

Dr. Alexander Wetmore tells me that, in the Bear River marshes In Utah where these geese breed, both old and young birds resort during the summer to the seclusion of the lower marshes. Here he found numerous places where the thick growth of bullrushes had been beaten down to form roosting places for family parties, well littered with cast-off feathers and other signs of regular occupancy. Here they live in peace and safety while the young are attaining their growth and their parents are molting. Before the shooting season begins they gather into larger flocks, now strong of wing and ready for their fall wanderings.

James P. Howley (1884) gives the following account of the behavior of these geese in Newfoundland:

During the breeding season they molt tile primary lying and tail feathers, and are consequently unable to fly in the months of June, July, and the early part of August. They keep very close during this molting season and are rarely seen by day; yet I have frequently come across them at such times in the far interior and on many occasions have caught them alive. When surprised on some lonely lake or river side they betake themselves at once to the land and run very swiftly into the bush or tall grass to hide. But they appear somewhat stupid, and if they can succeed in getting their heads out of sight under a stone or stump imagine they are quite safe from observation. When overtaken in the water and hard pressed they will dive readily, remaining a considerable time beneath, swimming or running on the bottom very fast. About the 13th of August the old birds and most of tile young ones are capable of flight, and from thence to the 1st of September they rapidly gain strength of wing. Soon after this they betake themselves to the seaside, congregating in large flocks in the shallow estuaries or deep fords, to feed during the nighttime, but are off again to the barrens at earliest dawn, where they are generally to be found in daytime. Here they feed on the wild berries, of which the common blueberry, partridge berry, marsh berry, and a small blackberry (Empetrum nigrum) afford them an abundant supply. They are exceedingly wary at this season, and there is no approaching them at all on the barrens.

Mr. Henderson has given the following observation regarding the young:

On June 4, while walking up the river bank looking for bear, we met a pair of geese and four goslings on shore and got within 20 yards before they moved. The old birds made a great fuss and flew down to the foot of a rapid and waited on the still water about 60 yards below. The goslings took to the water, which was tumbling and boiling over the stones; swimming and diving, they went down the rapid, under water most of the time, and joined their fond parents below.

On the 28th, while walking up the gravel banks of the Third Battle, hunting bear, I came on a pair of geese with six goslings, also three other geese about 100 yards upstream from them. The three geese flew on my approach, and the female took her brood across the stream to about 30 yards distant. Her mate went upstream, flopping along the water pretending to be crippled. He would allow me to approach to about 40 yards and then flap along the water again for a few yards and wait for rue again. He repeated this performance several times, until he thought be had enticed me far enough around the next bend, when he had a marvelous recovery, flying away and giving me the merry honk! honk! for being so easy. I am sure he enjoyed the ease with which he fooled me, and I enjoyed watching him and letting him think so.

Plumages: The downy young when recently hatched is brightly colored and very pretty. The entire back, rump, wings, and flanks are “yellowish olive,” with a bright, greenish-yellow sheen; a large central crown patch is lustrous “olive”; the remainder of the head and neck is bright yellowish, deepening to “olive ocher” on the cheeks and sides of the neck and paling to “primrose yellow” on the throat; the under parts shade from “deep colonial buff” on the breast to “primrose yellow” on the belly; the bill is entirely black. Older birds are paler and duller colored, “drab” above and grayish white below.

When about 4 weeks old the plumage begins to appear, the body plumage first and the wings last; they are fully grown when about 6 weeks old, and they closely resemble their parents in their first plumage. There is, however, during the first summer and fall at least a decided difference. The plumage of young birds looks softer and the colors are duller and more blended. The head and neck are duller, browner black; the cheeks are more brownish white, and the edges of the black areas are not so clearly cut; the light edgings above are not so distinct; and the sides of the chest and flanks are indistinctly mottled, rather than clearly barred. During the fall and winter these differences disappear by means of wear and molt, so that by spring the young birds are practically indistinguishable from adults.

Food: Canada geese live on a variety of different foods in various parts of their habitat and at different seasons, but they seem to show a decided preference for vegetable foods where these can be obtained. They usually feed in flocks in certain favored localities where suitable food can be found in abundance, feeding during the daytime if not too much disturbed, or at night, if necessary, in localities where it would be unsafe to feed in daylight. The feeding flocks are guarded by one or more sentinels, which are ever on the alert until they are relieved by some of their companions and allowed to take their turns at feeding. Their eyesight is very keen and their sense of hearing very acute. They are very wary at such times and among the most difficult of. birds to approach; at a warning note from the watchful sentry every head is raised and with eyes fixed on the approaching enemy they await the proper time for taking their departure. Geese are very regular in their feeding habits, resorting day after day to the same feeding grounds if they are not too much disturbed; they prefer to feed for a few hours in the early morning, flying in to their feeding grounds before sunrise and again for an hour or two before sunset, spending the middle of the day resting on some sandbar or on some large body of water.

While on their spring migration overland wild geese often do considerable damage to sprouting grain, such as wheat, corn, barley, and oats; nipping off the tender shoots does no great harm, but they are not always content with such careful pruning and frequently pull up the kernel as well. They also nibble at the fresh shoots of growing grasses and other tender herbage, nipping them off sideways, cleanly and quickly.

Aububon (1840) says that “after rainy weather, they are frequently seen rapidly patting the earth with both feet, as if to force the earthworms from their burrows.” Farther north, where they meet winter just retreating, they find the last year’s crop of berries uncovered by the melting snow in a fair state of preservation and various buds are swelling fresh and green. Later on some animal food becomes available, insects and their larvae, crustaceans, small clams and snails, and probably some small fishes. In the marshes they feed on wild rice, arrowhead, sedges, marsh grasses, and various aquatic plants, eating the roots as well as the leaves and shoots. On the fall migration they again frequent the grain fields to pick up the fallen grain, pull up the stubble, and nibble at what green herbage they can find. They resort to the shallow ponds and borders of lakes to feed after the manner of the surface-feeding ducks, reaching down to the bottom with their long necks and even tipping up with their feet in the air, in their attempts to reach the succulent roots and the tender water plants. On the coast in winter they prefer to feed in fresh or brackish water on the leaves, blades, and fruits of marine plants, such as Zostera marina, the sea lettuce (Ulva lactuca) and various Algae. Probably some small mollusks, crustaceans, and other small marine animals are taken at the same time.

Behavior: In flight, Canada geese impress one as heavy, yet powerful birds, as indeed they are. In rising from the water or from the land they run along for a few steps before rising, but Audubon (1840) says that “when suddenly surprised and in full plumage, a single spring on their broad webbed feet is sufficient to enable them to get on the wing.” When flying about their feeding grounds or elsewhere on short flights, they fly in compact or irregular bunches. Their flight then seems heavy and labored, but it is really much stronger and swifter than it seems, and for such heavy birds they are really quite agile. It is only when traveling long distances that they fly high in the air in the well-known V-shaped flocks, which experience has taught them is the easiest and most convenient for rapid and protracted flight. In this formation the leader, cleaving the air in advance, has the hardest work to perform; the lead is taken by the strongest adult birds, probably the ganders, which change places occasionally for relief; the others follow along in the diverging lines at regular intervals, so spaced that each has room enough to work his wings freely, to see clearly ahead, and to save resistance in the wake of the bird ahead of him. As the wing beats are not always in perfect unison, the line seems to have an undulatory motion, especially noticeable when near at hand; but often the flock seems to move along in perfect step. Flight is not always maintained in the stereotyped wedge formation; sometimes a single, long, sloping line is formed or more rarely they progress in Indian file. The speed at which geese fly is faster than it seems, but it has often been overestimated; the following statement by J. W. Preston (1892) is of interest in this connection:

The Canada goose presses onward, borne up by strong and steady pinions. For forceful, solid business he has few rivals. I remember once, while traveling by rail at a rate of 30 miles an hour, our way lay for a time along the course of a swollen creek. A flock of geese, among them one little teal, came alongside the train and kept almost within gunshot for fully 10 miles. seemingly at an ordinary rate; and the teal was at no loss to keep his place among his larger companions.

There are exceptions to the orderly method of procedure outlined above. Audubon (1840) says that:

When they are slowly advancing from south to north at an early period of the season, they fly much lower, alight Inure frequently, and are more likely to be bewildered by suddenly formed banks of fog, or by passing over cities or arms of the sea, where much shipping may be in sight. On such occasions great consternation prevails among them, they crowd together in a confused manner, wheel irregularly, and utter a constant cackling resembling the sounds from a disconcerted mob. Sometimes tile flock separates, some individuals leave the rest, proceed in a direction contrary to that in which they came, and after awhile, as if quite confused, sail toward the ground, once alighted on which they appear to become almost stupefied, so as to suffer themselves to be shot with ease, or even knocked down with sticks. Heavy snowstorms also cause them great distress, and in the midst of them some have been known to fly against beacons and lighthouses, dashing their beads against the walls In the middle of the day. In the night they are attracted by the lights of these buildings, and now and then a whole flock Is caught on such occasions.

When preparing to alight the whole flock set their wings and drift gradually down a long incline until close to the surface, then scaling or flying along they drop into the water with a splash. They swim gracefully on the water after the manner of swans and can make rapid progress if necessary. That they can dive and swim under water, if need be, is well illustrated by the following incident, related by Audubon (1840):

I was much surprised one day, while on the coast of Labrador, to see how cunningly one of these birds, which, in consequence of the molt, was quite unable to fly, managed for awhile to elude our pursuit. It was first perceived at some distance from the shore, when the boat was swiftly rowed toward it, and it swam before us with great speed, making directly toward the land; but when we came within a few yards of It, it dived, and nothing could he seen of It for a long time. Every one of the party stood on tiptoe to mark the spot at which it should rise, but all in vain, when the man at the rudder accidentally looked down over the stern and there saw the goose, its body immersed, the point of its bill alone above water, and its feet busily engaged in propelling It so as to keep pace with the movements of the boat. The sailor attempted to catch it while within a foot or two of him, but with the swiftness of thought it shifted from side to side, fore and aft, until delighted at having witnessed so much sagacity in a goose, I begged the party to suffer the poor bird to escape.

Mr. Henderson describes in his notes an interesting habit of pose assumed by this species, as follows:

I rode down the river a short distance to where I had noticed a pair of geese aught and soon saw one standing on a gravelly Island. Making a short detour and riding closer, I saw both birds lying flat on the gravel, head and neck outstretched along the ground, precisely as they do on the nest. They were hiding right in the open without the slightest cover. Though I have what is called the hunter’s eye pretty well developed, it is doubtful if I would have noticed them If I had not previously known they were there. They remained perfectly motionless and resembled pieces of water-worn driftwood so perfectly that I now understand how it was that in descending rivers in a canoe I had so often failed to observe them until they took wing. It was the most beautiful example of protective coloring I have ever seen. As I rode up to the river bank in plain sight and making a good deal of noise, one bird remained perfectly still and the other moved its head slightly to watch me. I then rode out into the river to within 35 yards before they broke the pose and took to flight.

M. P. Skinner has noticed similar habits in Yellowstone Park. He says in his notes:

Geese have a curious habit of “playing possum.” Instead of flying away, they squat flat with head and neck stretched out straight before them In a most ungooselike attitude. After one has passed by three or four hundred yards they raise their heads slowly an Inch or two at a time and finally get to their feet again. They do this on the ice, on stony banks of streams, on bowlders, on sandbars, in the grass, and I have even seen a sitting bird do it on her nest. On the ice it makes them inconspicuous, on stony shores or bowlders the deception is perfect, for the rounded gray back looks just like a stone; as sand beaches may have stones, the method is good hiding there; but on the grass “playing possum” fails because of the contrast. In the water’s edge the deception is good, as the inert, idly rocking body looks very little like a live bird. And this method is carried even further, for I have seen geese swim the Yellowstone River with heads and necks at the surface and have had them sneak off through the grass in the same way. This subterfuge is used more in spring than in summer, hut is practiced sometimes in September and October.

Geese are social and like to be together, although the flocks are usually small unless there is strong reason for their gathering temporarily. Pages can be written of the sagacity and wisdom of these birds. Wary as they are, they are one of the first to realize the protection given them and are quick to lose their suspicions of man and his ways. But it is interesting to observe that although they pay no attention to autos passing along a road near them, they are at once on the alert and suspicious if a car stops near. Often we find the geese tamer than the pintail and mallard they are associating with. And their sagacity extends to wild animals as well; they know just how near it is safe to let a coyote approach, and one September day I watched a flock on a meadow seemingly indifferent to a black bear near by, although they never let him get within 20 feet, first walking away, then flying, if he came too near.

The well-known resonant honking notes of a flock of geese flying overhead on the migration are familiar sounds to every observant person; they are characteristic and distinctive of such migrating flocks and are sometimes almost constant. The Canada goose is also a noisy bird at other times, indulging freely in softer, lower-toned, conversational honking or gabbling notes while feeding or in other activities. Ora W. Knight (1908) gives a very good description of the notes of this species, as follows:

The cry uttered when on the wing is a clear trumpetlike “honk,” seemingly uttered by various individuals in the flock. When the weather is foggy their ‘~honk’~ seems uttered more frequently and in a querulous tone. When a flock has alighted and is sporting in the water without apprehension of trouble they swim gracefully about, plunging their heads and necks under the water to feed. Now and then some lusty or exuberant individual (probably a gander) will stretch itself up in the water, flap its wings over its back, and utter a series of resonant honks, the first loudest, longest drawn out, and highest pitched, and gradually lessening in loudness and length and decreasing in pitch, about as follows: “h—o—n—k, h—o—n—k, h–o–n–k, h-o-n-k, honk, onk, uf,” the last note being a mere expelling of the breath. This proceeding I have only observed with one flock, never having been able to observe others while they were unconscious of my whereabouts and feeding, but judge that it is a characteristic habit.

The attitude of the Canada goose toward other species seems to be one of haughty disdain; although it often frequents the same breeding grounds and the same feeding resorts with various other species of geese, ducks, and other waterfowl, it never seems to mingle with them socially or to allow them to join its flocks. Toward man and other animals it shows remarkable sagacity in discriminating between harmless friends and dangerous enemies, and the latter must be very crafty to deceive it. On this point Audubon (1840) writes:

At the sight of cattle, horses, or animals of the deer kind, they are seldom alarmed. but a bear or a cougar is instantly announced, and if on such occasions the flock is on the ground near water, the birds immediately betake themselves in silence to the latter, swim to the middle of the pond or river, and there remain until danger is over. Should their enemies pursue them in the water, the males utter loud cries, and the birds arrange themselves in close ranks, rise simultaneously in a few seconds, and fly off in a compact body, seldom at such times forming lines or angles, it being in fact only when the distance they have to travel is great that they dispose themselves in those forms. So acute is their sense of hearing that they are able to distinguish the different sounds or footsteps of their foes with astonishing accuracy. Thus the breaking of a dry stick by a deer is at once distinguished from the same accident occasioned by a man. If a dozen of large turtles drop into the water, making a great noise in their fall, or if the same effect is produced by an alligator. the wild goose pays no regard to it; but however faint and distant may be the sound of an Indian’s paddle, that may by accident have struck the side of his canoe, it is at once marked, every individual raises its head and looks intently toward the place from which the noise has proceeded, and in silence all watch the movements of their enemy.

These birds are extremely cunning also, and should they conceive themselves unseen, they silently move into the tall grasses by the margin of the water, lower their heads, and lie perfectly quiet until the boat has passed by. I have seen them walk off from a large frozen pond into the woods, to elude the sight of the hunter, and return as soon as he had crossed the pond. But should there he snow on the ice or in the woods, they prefer watching the intruder, and take to wing long before he is within shooting distance, as if aware of the ease with which they could be followed by their tracks over the treacherous surface.

Fall: The beginning of the fall migration in Ungava is described by Lucien M. Turner, in his unpublished notes, as follows:

The birds first seen in the fall in the vicinity of Fort Chimo are those asserted to have been reared in the Georges River district and repair to this locality in search of fresh feeding grounds. They appear about August 12 to 20, but are in very lean condition. By the first of September the earlier birds hatched north of the strait begin to appear and become quite numerous by the latter week of September. By this time they are in tolerable condition and rapidly become fat by the first of October, feeding on vegetable matter growing in the ponds, in the swamps and flats along the river banks. They remain until the latter part (24th) of October and follow up the rivers which flow from the south. In the year 1882 immense numbers of these geese flew southward on the 19th of October. Hundreds of flocks of various sizes, from 15 to 80 birds, passed over. A cold snap immediately succeeded, although a flock of 6 settled in the river a fexv yards from the houses on October 24.

From the foregoing it will be seen that the fall movement from the breeding grounds begins early in the season, the flocks gradually gathering on the coasts or on the larger bodies of water in large numbers, moving about slowly and deliberately and reveling in the milder temperatures and abundant food to be found in such places. But the shortening days and the sharpening frosts of autumn accelerate their movements and they prepare for their long journey; at length the leaders summon their hosts to meet on high; and forming in two long converging lines, pointing toward the already feeble rays of the noonday sun, they start. High in the air they travel on, cheered by the clarion call of the leader, answered at frequent intervals by his followers, far above all dangers and straight along the well-known path. When bewildered by fogs or storms or when overtaken by darkness the flight is lower and full of dangers. But usually toward night a resting place is sought; per haps some well-known lake is sighted and the weary birds are glad to answer the call of some fancied friend below them; so setting their wings the flock glides down in a long incline, circling about the lake for a place to alight, and greeting their friends with loud calls of welcome. Too often their friends prove to be domesticated traitors, trained to lure them to the gunner’s blind, and it is a wary goose indeed that can detect the sham. But, if all goes well, they rest during the hours of darkness and are off again at daybreak, for now they must push along fast until they reach their winter haven. Dr. John C. Phillips (1910 and 1911a) has published two very interesting papers on the migrations of Canada geese in Massachusetts which are well worth reading; but as they are principally of local interest and are too lengthy to quote in full, I would refer the reader to them rather than attempt to quote from them.

Game: Many and varied are the methods employed by gunners to bring to bag the wily wild goose. On account of its large size and generally good table qualities it has always been much in demand as ‘a game bird; it is so wary, so sagacious, and so difficult to outwit that its pursuit has always fascinated the keen sportsman and taxed his skill and his ingenuity more than any other game bird. According to Henry Reeks (1870) the settlers of Newfoundland were formerly adepts in tolling geese with the help of a dog; he describes the method, as follows:

The sportsman secretes himself in the bushes or long grass by the sides of any water on which geese are seen, and keeps throwing a glove or stick In the direction of the geese, each time making his dog retrieve the object thrown; this has to be repeated until the curiosity of the geese is aroused, and they commence swimming toward the moving object. If the geese are a considerable distance from the land, the dog is sent into the water, but as the birds approach nearer and nearer the dog is allowed to show himself less and less; in this manner they are easily tolled within gunshot. When the sportsman has no dog with him he has to act the part of one by crawling in and out of the long grass on his hands and knees, and sometimes this has to be repeated continuously for nearly an hour, making It rather a laborious undertaking, but I have frequently known this device to succeed when others have failed. The stuffed skin of a yellow fox (Vulpes fulvus) Is sometimes used for tolling geese, and answers the purpose remarkably well, especially when the geese are near the shore, by tying it to a long stick and imitating the motions of a dog retrieving the glove or stick.

On the coast of New England in winter geese have been successfully pursued by sculling upon them among the drift ice in a duck float. The float sits low in the water, with pieces of ice on her bow and along her sides; the gunner, clad in white clothing, crouches out of sight, and if properly handled the whole outfit can scarcely be distinguished from a floating ice cake. But a much more successful arid more destructive, though less sportsmanlike, method is used on the inland lakes and larger ponds of eastern Massachusetts. This is the duck-stand method, which I have so fully described under the black duck that it is necessary only to refer to it here. Perhaps it should have been described under this species, for, although more ducks than geese are usually killed in such stands, the goose-shooting part of it is the more highly developed. Large numbers of live decoy geese are raised and trained for annual use in these stands and the most efficient teamwork is employed. The old mated pairs and their young are separated and made to call to each other in such a way that the wild birds are attracted. An old gander may be tethered out on the beach, while its young are kept in a “flying pen” back of the stand; when wild geese appear the goslings are released by pulling a cord; they fly out to meet the incoming flock; their parents call to them and they return to the beach, bringing the wild birds with them. When the geese are near enough and properly bunched a raking volley from a battery of guns is poured into them and other shots are fired as the survivors rise, with the result that very few are left to fly away. Even some of these may return and be shot at again if the leaders or the parents of the young birds have been killed. Such slaughter can hardly be regarded as sport.

Farther south on the Atlantic coast, in Virginia and North Carolina, geese are shot from open blinds in a much more sportsmanlike manner. A box, large enough for a man to lie down in or deep enough for a man to sit in and barely look over the top, is sunken into the ground on some sand spit or bar where the geese are wont to come for gravel or to rest, or perhaps it is placed on some marshy point on their feeding grounds where it can be concealed in the tall grass or covered with grass to match its surroundings. The decoys, either live birds or wooden imitations, are strung out in front of the blind, and the hunter crouching in the box eagerly awaits the inspiring sight of a flock of oncoming birds. At last a long line of dark, heavy birds in a wedge-shaped phalanx is seen approaching, with apparently labored flight. The well-known challenge note of the leader, repeated along the line of his followers, arouses the decoys to answering notes of invitation to alight. The flock wheels and swings in to the decoys, anxiously scanning the surroundings for any suspicious object. Seeing nothing to alarm them, they all set their wings and scale down to join their fellows. This is the sportman’s opportunity for a flight shot; the pothunter would prefer to wait until they had all alighted and gathered in a dense hunch near the decoys. But in either case the birds have a better chance than in front of a concealed battery of heavy guns.

Goose shooting on the western grain fields is perhaps the most sportsmanlike method, as it is practically all wing shooting. The birds frequent the grain fields in large numbers to feed on the tender shoots of growing grain in the spring or on the stubble and fallen grain in the autumn. They are very regular in their feeding habits, flying in to the fields from their roosting grounds on the lakes and sloughs about daylight and feeding for a few hours after sunrise; they rest during the middle of the day and come in again to feed for a few hours before sunset. Gunners take advantage of these regular habits to shoot them on their lines of flight. A hole is dug in the ground deep enough to conceal the gunner entirely. and the decoys, usually wooden ones, are set out around it. Or a convenient and effective blind is made by hollowing out the center of a corn shock, with which the geese are already familiar. Concealed in such a blind before daylight, the hunter is well prepared for some excellent shooting when the flight begins, especially if lie is an expert in calling the birds by imitating their notes. It must be exciting sport to shoot these large birds flying over and often within easy range.

I suppose that the Canada goose has been more persistently hunted, over a wider range of country and for a longer period of years, than any other American game bird, for in the earlier days, when all game was so abundant, only the largest species were considered worth the trouble. In spite of this fact it has shown its ability to hold its own and is even increasing in numbers in many places to-day. Messrs. Kumlien and Hollister (1903) report it in Wisconsin as:

abundant, increasing rather titan diminishing in numbers during the fall, winter, and spring. To such an extent has this species changed its habits that it is no longer looked upon as a sure harbinger of spring, as in most sections of southern and even south-central Wisconsin it remains all winter, flying back and forth from its favorite cornfields to some lake or large marsh for the night. When snow is plenty it even remains in the fields for days at a time. Twenty-five to fifty years ago the flocks which first made their appearance were noted by everyone, and spring was not far distant. Now, the flocks which return from the north in October are continually added to until they are often several hundred strong, and remain thus until the beginning of spring.

On a recent (1916) visit to the great shooting resorts on the coasts of Virginia and North Carolina, I was told by the members of some of the gun clubs that geese were more abundant than ever before and are increasing every year. I certainly saw more geese in the north end of Currituck Sound on one of die rest days than I had ever seen in my life before; great rafts of them were gathering to feed in the shallow water on the fox-tail grass and wild celery which abounds in that region; the water was black with them as far as I could see; flock after flock was constantly coming in from the sea; and sometimes it seemed as if they came in flocks of flocks. They winter here in large numbers probably this vicinity is die greatest winter resort on the Atlantic coast, for here they find abundant food in the fresh-water bays and sounds and ample security from pursuit on the broad waters of Chesapeake Bay or even on the open sea in calm weather. They feed largely at night, as they are often driven out of the bays during the days when shooting is allowed.

Winter: Canada geese spend the winter quite far north in the interior, where they can find suitable food and large bodies of open water.

M. P. Skinner says in his notes:

In winter the reduced number remain at the outlet of Yellowstone Lake and on numerous waters kept open by hot springs and geysers. A number of our meadows are underlain by springs sufficiently warm to melt the snow and even furnish a little green grass all winter. These are frequented by geese as well as mallard and green-winged teal.

On the coast they winter abundantly as far north as Massachusetts; probably the greatest winter resort on the New England coast is on Marthas Vineyard. where the large fresh-water ponds are not always frozen and where there are open salt-water ponds which never or very rarely freeze.

That the Canada goose winters abundantly in northern Florida is well illustrated by the following notes sent to me by Charles J. Pennock:

The numerous shallow bays, bayous, and broad river mouths of the counties ef Wakulla, Jefferson, and Taylor, lying south and southeast from Tallahassee, offer attractive feeding for winter visiting Branta canadensis canadensis, while not infrequently a short distance inland, just back of the bordering salt marshes, numerous sand flats and burnt-over semimarsh areas afford irresistible attractions to a hungry goose. Fresh shoots of grass with plenty of gravel and a clear, clean sand bed on which to take a siesta seems to be a combination most alluring, and in February and early March, with weather conditions favorable, numerous bands of these sturdy birds may be found constantly on the move, flying in as the tide rises and stops their feeding along shore or, If undisturbed after a hearty feeding on the freshly grown grass, they betake them to a long stretch of bare sand, where they evidently feel secure from surprise by virtue of sentinels most alert with keenest senses of sight and hearing, some hunters even claiming them to have a like keen sense of Smell; at any rate they are most difficult to approach at such times and usually beat off up wind just before an approaching hunter gets within range.


Breeding range: Northern North America, south of the barren grounds. East to Labrador (Okak, Nain, Hopedale, etc.), and Newfoundland (Grand Lake). South to the Gulf of St. Lawrence (Anticosti Island), James Bay, South Dakota, northern Colorado (Boulder County), northern Utah (Bear River), northern Nevada (Halleck), and California (Lake Tahoe). Formerly, and perhaps occasionally now, as far south as western Tennessee (Reelfoot Lake) and northeastern Arkansas (Walker Lake). West to northeastern California (Eagle Lake and Lower Klamath Lake), central Oregon (Lake County), central Washington (Douglas County), central British Columbia (Cariboo District), probably to the coast in southern Alaska, and to the upper Yukon (Fort Yukon). North to the northern limit of trees in Mackenzie. (Providence and Fort Anderson) and northern Quebec (Whale River).

Winter range: Nearly all of the United States. East to the Atlantic coast. South to Florida (Wakulla and Marion Counties), the Gulf coasts of Louisiana and Texas, Mexico (San Fernando, Matamoras, etc.), and southern California (San Diego). West nearly or quite to the Pacific coast. North to southern British Columbia (Chilliwack, Shuawap Lake, and the Okanogan Valley), northwestern Wyoming (Yellowstone Park), South Dakota, southern Wisconsin (Sauk County), southern Ohio, southern New England (Long Island and Marthas Vineyard), and northeastward to Nova Scotia (Barrington Bay, Port Joli, etc.).

Spring migration: Early dates of arrival: Rhode Island, Block Island, February 21; central Massachusetts, February 25; southern New Hampshire, March 11; southern Maine, March 5; Quebec City, March 1; Prince Edward Island, March 9; Labrador, SandwIch Bay, April 30; southern Iowa, February 4; Minnesota, Heron Lake, February 23; North Dakota, Argusville, March 8; Manitoba, Aweme, March 9; Saskatchewan, Reindeer Lake, April 17; Mackenzie, Fort Simpson, April 22, and Fort Anderson, May 15. Average dates of arrival: Central Pennsylvania, March 17; central New York, March 13; central Massachusetts, March 17; southern Maine, March 24; Quebec City, March 27; southern Iowa, March 1; southern Wisconsin, March 13; southern Ontario, March 16; Manitoba, Aweme, March 29; Mackenzie, Fort Simpson, April 28. Late dates of departure: Florida, Marion County, May 22; Texas, Grapevine, April 15; southern Mississippi, April 20; Kentucky, Bowling Green, May 7; central Maryland, April 22; central New Jersey, May 9; Massachusetts, Cape Cod, May 26; California, Gridley, April 11.

Fall migration: Early dates of arrival: Central Massachusetts, September 4; Long Island, Montauk Point, September 30; Virginia, Alexandria, October 5; South Carolina, Anderson, October 10; Florida, Wakulla County, October 9; northern Nebraska, September 7: central Iowa, September 16; central Missouri, September 23; Kentucky, Bowling Green. September 22; California, Gridley. November 5. Average dates of arrival: Central Massachusetts, October 11; Long Island, Montauk Point, October 20; central New Jersey, October 18; Virginia, Alexandria, October 20; northern Nebraska, October 7; central Wisconsin, October 12; central Indiana, October 19; southern Mississippi, November 12. Late dates of departure: Quebec, Hatley, November 25; Prince Edward Island, December 22; southern Ontario, November 10; southern Michigan, November 25; central Minnesota, December 1; Manitoba, Aweme, December 2; Montana, Columbia Falls, November 24.

Casual records: Accidental in Bermuda (fall, 1874, and January and February, 1875) and the West Indies (Jamaica).

Egg dates: Northern Canada: Eighteen records, May 18 to July 14; nine records, June 19 to July 9. Utah and Nevada: Sixteen records, March 29 to May 19; eight records, April 18 to 27. North Dakota and Saskatchewan: Thirteen records, April 29 to July 19; seven records, May 9 to June 3. Labrador and Newfoundland: Eleven records, May 24 to July 7; six records, June 4 to 13.




After writing such a full life history of the Canada goose, it seems unnecessary to go over the same ground again in writing about this small northern subspecies, which, though it differs somewhat in habits from its larger relative, has many characteristics in common with it. There seems to be little doubt that hutchinsi is a true subspecies of the canadensis. for it seems to be exactly like it except in size, and perhaps in the number of tail feathers, which is variable in both forms. The other two, so called, subspecies can not be so satisfactorily placed.

Spring: The Hutchins goose is a later migrant than the Canada goose, probably because it goes so much farther north to breed. It is said to pass through the Hudson Bay region at about the same time that the snow geese are migrating; probably both of these hardy northerners know enough not to migrate until their summer homes become habitable. The migration is about due northward on both sides of the Rocky Mountains, through tile interior valleys to the Arctic coast, and along the Pacific slope to northern Alaska.

Nesting: MacFarlane (1891) found this goose breeding abundantly on the Arctic coast, of which he says:

A large number (50) of nests of the smaller Canada goose was found on the Lower Anderson, as well as on the shores and islands of the Arctic Sea. All but one were placed on the earth, and, like that of the preceding species, It was composed of hay, feathers, and down, while 6 was the usual number of eggs. The exceptional case was a female parent shot while sitting on 4 eggs in a deserted crows or hawk’s nest built on the fork of a pine tree at a height of about 9 feet. At the time the ground in the vicinity thereof was covered with snow and water, and this may have had something to do with her nesting in so unusual a place.

In a letter to the Smithsonian Institution he writes:

I have no doubt about Hutchins goose being a good species, its mode of nesting alone would go far to prove it distinct from the Canada goose, which it so greatly resembles. The former, so far as I have been able to ascertain, invariably tip nests on the small islands which occur on the small lakes of the islands situated on the shores of the Arctic Sea, while the latter generally builds in the neighborhood of the lakes and rivers of the wooded country. The former also scoops a hole in the sand or turf, lining its sides with down, while the nest of the latter is composed of a large quantity of feathers and down placed on or supported by some dry twigs or willow branches.

I have had several sets of eggs of the Hutchins goose sent to me from Point Barrow, which were evidently taken from nests on the tundra, for the nesting down, which came from them, was mixed with tundra mosses, bits of grass, leaves, and other rubbish. Nests of the Canada goose generally contain pure, clean down.

Eggs: The Hutchins goose lays from 4 to 6 eggs, usually 5. These are in no way distinguishable from the eggs of the Canada goose except that they are smaller, as they should be. The measurements of 83 eggs, in various collections, average 79.2 by 53.1 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 85.4 by 57, 78.5 by 58, 72.1 by 53.1, and 76 by 50 millimeters.

Food: The food and feeding habits of this goose are similar to those of its well-known relative. Nuttall (1834), however, calls attention to the fact that their habits “are dissimilar, the Canada geese frequenting the fresh-water lakes and rivers of the interior, and feeding chiefly on herbage; while the present species are always found on the seacoast, feeding on marine plants, and the mollusca which adhere to them, whence their flesh acquires a strong fishy taste.” Dr. J. G. Cooper (1860) says: They feed principally on the mud fiats at low tide, eating vegetable and animal food which they find there,” during their annual visits to the coasts of Oregon and Washington.

Dr. Joseph Grinnell (1909) was informed by the natives of Alaska that some years these geese stop in large numbers for a short time to feed upon the herring spawn which is to be seen all along the beach at low title, where it sticks to the rocks.”

While sojourning in California these geese associate with the white-fronted and snow geese and feed largely in the grain fields and grassy plains. In spring they do considerable damage by pulling up freshly sprouting grain; formerly, when they were much more abundant, it was customary for farmers to hire men and furnish them with guns and ammunition to keep the geese away from the grain; but the geese have decreased in numbers so decidedly in recent years that this is no longer necessary.

Game: The importance of this bird as a game bird in California is well illustrated by the following statement made by Grinnell, Bryant. and Storer (1918)

The Hutchins goose, although not quite so desirable a bird for the table as are some other species, is the goose which has afforded the greatest amount of sport for the hunter because of its abundance. It has usually been a common goose on the market, where it is known as the ”brant.” In 1909-10 one transfer company in San Francisco sold the following numbers of brant: October, 1,442; November, 2.190; December, 1,592; January, 1,479 February, 1,226; March, 251. Cackling as well as Hutchins geese are probably included in these numbers. This makes a total of over 8,000 geese of only two varieties sold by the one transfer company. That season the same company sold more than 20,000 geese of all kinds. In 1906-7, it sold only 7,431. In 1895-96 there were sold on the markets of San Francisco and Los Angeles 48,400 geese, of which 16,319 were brant. There is little wonder that geese have decreased in numbers more than most other game birds. The markets of San Francisco during 1910-11 paid from $2.50 to $8 a dozen for geese other than the snow geese. On the Los Angeles markets during 1912-13 the seine geese sold at from 65 cents to $1 a pair.

Winter: A very good account of the winter home and habits of this goose is given by Coues (1874), as follows:

We must, however, visit the regions west of the Rocky Mountains to find the Hutchins goose plentiful in its favorite winter residences, and observe it under the most favorable circumstances. On river, lake, and marsh, and particularly along the seacoast, it is found in vast numbers, being probably the most abundant representative of its family. It enters the United States early In October, or sometimes a little earlier, according to the weather, and in the course of that month becomes dispersed over all its winter feeding grounds. It is generally in poor condition on its arrival, after the severe journey, perhaps extending from the uttermost Arctic land; but it finds abundance of food and is soon in high flesh again. During the rainy season in California the plains and valleys, before brown and dry, become clothed in rich verdure, and the nourishing grasses afford sustenance to incredible numbers of these and other geese. Three kinds, tile snow, the white-fronted, and the present species, have almost precisely the same habits and the same food during their stay with us, and associate so intimately together that many, if not most, of the flocks contain representatives of all three. At least, after considerable study of the geese in Arizona and southern California, I have been unable to recognize any notable differences in choice of feeding grounds.

The following extract on Hutchins goose, from Doctor Heermann’s report, will be found interesting: While hunting during a space of two months in the Suisun Valley I observed them, with other species of geese, at dawn, high in the air, winging their way toward the prairies and hilly slopes, where the tender young wild oats and grapes offer a tempting pasturage. Their early flight lasted about two hours, and as far as the eye could reach the sky was spotted with flock after flock, closely following in each other’s wake, till it seemed as though all the geese of California had given rendezvous at this particular point. Between 10 and 11 o’clock they would leave the prairies, first in small squads, then in large masses, settling in the marshes and collecting around the ponds and sloughs, thickly edged with heavy reeds. Here, swimming in the water, bathing and pluming themselves, they keep up a continual but not unmusical clatter. This proves the most propitious time of the day for the hunter, who, under cover of the tall reeds and guided by their continual cackling, approaches closely enough to deal havoc among them. Discharging one load as they sit on the water and another as they rise, I have seen 23 geese gathered from two shots, while many more, wounded and maimed, fluttered away and were lost About 1 o’clock they leave the marshes and return to feed on the prairies, flying low, and affording the sportsman again an opportunity to stop their career. In the afternoon, about 5 o’clock, they finally leave the prairies, and, rising high up in the air, wend their way to the roosting places whence they came in the morning. These were often at a great distance, as I have followed them in their evening flight until they were lost to view. Many, however, roost in the marshes. Our boat, sailing one night down the sloughs leading to Suisun Bay, having come among them, the noise they made as they rose in advance of us, emitting their cry of alarm (their disordered masses being so serried that we could hear their pinions strike each other as they flew), impressed us with the idea that we must have disturbed thousands. Such are the habits of the geese during the winter. Toward spring they separate into small flocks and gradually disappear from the country, some few only remaining, probably crippled and unable to follow the more vigorous in their northern migration.”


Breeding range: Barren grounds of North America. East to southern Baffin Land. South to Southampton Island, west coast of Hudson Bay (Cape Fullerton and Churchill), northern Mackenzie (Fort Anderson and Fort Good Hope) and northern Alaska (northern coast and south to Kowak River). Said to breed on the Bering Sea coast of Alaska and on the Aleutian Islands, but such reports need confirmation; it may, however, breed on the extreme western Aleutians (Agattu Island) as it is reported as breeding on the Commander and Kurile Islands. North to Victoria Land (Cambridge Bay) and Boothia Peninsula (Felix Harbor). Intergrades with minima in Alaska and with canadensis in northern Canada.

Winter range: Mainly western United States. East regularly to the Mississippi Valley, rare in the Eastern States, and only casual on the Atlantic coast. South regularly to the Gulf coasts of Louisiana and Texas and probably Mexico and Lower California (San Rafael Valley). West nearly or quite to the Pacific coast. North to southern British Columbia (mouth of Fraser River), northern Colorado (Barr Lake), Nebraska, southern Illinois, and rarely to southern Wisconsin. On the Asiatic coast south to Japan.

Spring migration: Early dates of arrival: Manitoba, Aweme, April 2 (average April 12); Saskatchewan, Indian Head, April 29; British Columbia, Sumas, April 10; Alaska, Admiralty Island, April 18, Kuskokwim River, April 30, and Kowak River, May 14. Late dates of departure: Texas, Houston, April 18; California, Gridley, April 26; British Columbia, May 20.

Fall migration: Early dates of arrival: Manitoba, Aweme, September 13; Montana, Terry, September 22; British Columbia, Sumas, October 4; Wisconsin, Delavan, October 12; Utah, Bear River, October 9; California, Gridley, October 9. Late dates of departure: Hudson Straits, Wales Sound, September 6; Great Bear Lake, September 25; Mackenzie, Fort Wrigley, October 12; Manitoba, Aweme, November 20; Alaska, Kowak River, September 14; British Columbia, November 25.

Casual records: Has wandered east to Greenland (Disco and Godhaven), Maine (Cape Elizabeth, November 13, 1894), and Virginia (Cobb Island, winter of 1888: 89), and south to Florida (Wakulla County, March 12, 1918), and Mexico (Vera Cruz and probably Lake Chapala, Jalisco).

Egg dates: Arctic Canada: Eighteen records, May 17 to July 14; nine records, June 14 to July 5. Alaska: Thirteen records, May 25 to June 28; seven records June 1 to 11.




This large, dark-breasted form of the Canada goose seems to be a well-marked race of decidedly local distribution, occupying the northwest coast region from Prince William Sound, Alaska, to British Columbia. It is practically nonmigratory and does not wander far inland at any season. It is another one of the many saturated forms confined to this humid coast strip. Its specific status has been much discussed and is by no means definitely settled; this will be referred to under the next subspecies. It was formerly recorded by several observers as breeding in the lakes of the interior as far south as northern California, but these records have been shown to refer to the eastern Canada goose. The breeding range of the white-cheeked goose is now known to lie wholly north of the United States boundary.

Nesting: Although the white-checked goose is quite common throughout its restricted range, and even numerous in certain parts of it, its nest has not often been found and very little has been published about its habits. The published reports of the Alexander expeditions to southern Alaska contain the most important contributions to its life history, and even these are meager enough.

Joseph Dixon (1908), a member of this expedition, writes:

The country about Canoe Passage on Hawkins Island was low and rolling, with large open parks bordered by wooded creeks. There were a number of lagoons almost shut off from the bay by long grassy gravel bars. One mountain in the interior of the island was 1,900 feet above the sea, according to the aneroid. Hutchins geese were nesting about these lagoons, and about the 20th of June goslings were everywhere. It was strange how they all hatched out so near the same time. I was wandering home one evening about 10 o’clock. It was just after sundown, but the deeper woods were beginning to darken slowly. It was high tide, so that I had to make a cut clear around the head of a slough. Just as I came out of the thick huckleberry underbrush in the strip of timber I stumbled over a log and almost fell on top of an old goose that was sitting on a nestful of eggs. She made a terrible racket as she went flopping and squawking off the nest, and I do not know which of us was the worst scared for a minute. The nest was placed in the open close to the trunk of a large tree just at the edge of the wood. It was lined with moss and down and held 0 eggs, which I afterwards regretted were almost ready to hatch.

Although he called them Hutchins geese at that time, the geese of that region all proved to be of the present form.

Eggs: A set of five eggs of this subspecies in the United States National Museum was collected by Dr. Wilfred H. Osgood on Prince of Wales Island, Alaska, on May 22, 1903. These eggs are practically indistinguishable from average eggs of the eastern Canada goose. They measure 86 by 59, 87.4 by 59.4, 86 by 55.8, 87.2 by 57.8, and 87 by 58.2 millimeters.

Young: Dr. Joseph Grinnell (1910) refers to two broods of young as follows:

On June 21, also on Hawkins Island, Miss Kellogg flushed an old goose from a nest in the tall grass near the beach. There were five newly hatched young. One of these, taken as a specimen (No. 1131), is identical in coloration with a downy young one from tile Sitkan district. On June 22, Dixon records as follows: “In crossing some marshy flats we came upon six geese, five of which flew noisily away; but the sixth came gabbling toward us. We soon saw that her unusual tameness was due to her anxiety in regard to six or eight newly hatched goslings that scrambled from under our feet and disappeared with a splash into a near-by pond. I walked up to within 25 feet of the mother as she came with her head down in the usual manner of an irate goose. She followed us for some distance when we left.”

Plumages: Doctor Grinnell has kindly loaned me two specimens of the downy young of this subspecies. These and a specimen of downy young cackling goose in the resemble each other very closely, but are quite unlike the downy young of the Canada goose. The young of the eastern birds when first hatched are bright greenish olive above and bright yellow below, with no dark markings on the sides of the head. On the other hand. the young of the two western forms, at the same age, are much browner above and much duller and more buffy below, with more or less distinct head markings. The central crown patch and the upper parts of the body are lustrous “brownish olive,” darkest on the head and rump; the lores are washed or striped with the same dark color. which surrounds the eye and extends in a postocular stripe down the neck; the under parts, including the forehead and the sides of the head and the neck, are dull yellowish or “colonial buff, “washed on the sides of the head and neck with “honey yellow ” or ” yellow ocher,” paling on the belly and flanks to “ivory yellow” and deepening on the breast to “deep colonial buff.”

Judging from what little material there is available for study, I should say that the molts and plumages are similar to those of the Canada goose.

Behavior: Very little has been published about the habits of this goose and practically nothing about its food. Doctor Grinnell (1909) gives the following general account of it. taken from Mr. Littlejohn’s notes:

When Mole Harbor, Admiralty Island, was reached, on April 16, large flocks were seen about the creek mouth at the head of the bay. On the 18th many were found at Windfall Harbor, and by the 27th nearly all had paired and could be seen passing back and forth to the inland waters every day, remaining a good share of the time in the open water, where their loud notes could he beard at all times, but when night came on I think most, if not all, came to land to roost. They seemed to feed about the shores, especially where small streams and springs were flowing across the gravel. One large creek near our camp was a favorite place to assemble, and each evening they could be seen coming in from all directions to pass the night. At low tide they would remain on the gravel flats at the creek mouth, but when the tide came in they would retreat to the acres of ice inland, which had been formed during the winter; here they remained until morning if not disturbed, and then would break up in pairs, as a rule, and go off again for the day. Several pairs had chosen the lakes back of Mole Harbor for a nesting ground and were seen together when we first went there; but a few days later some old gander was apt to be seen in a secluded cove, or as happened several times, flushed from the thick timber at some distance from the water. At such times he would fly about, scolding away at a great rate, as if he were alarmed at our presence so near his mate, who was undoubtedly near by, but in the almost impenetrable forest and underbrush was not to be found.

Harry S. Swartli (1922) found these geese abundant at the mouth of the Stickine River in southeastern Alaska; he writes:

In our descent of the river, the first white-cheeked geese were seen at the boundary, August 10. From there on down an occasional small flock was noted, but not until the mouth of the river was reached were they seen in any numbers. At Sergief Island they were abundant Flocks of large size frequented the marshes at that point, changing their feeding ground as the tides advanced and receded. These local movements covered but a few miles at most, and, of course, were gone through with daily as regularly as the tides. Aside from this hourly shifting, which kept some flocks on the wing practically throughout the day, there was no appearance of migration. Flocks of white-cheeked geese were never seen to depart in a manner suggestive of the beginning of along flight, nor were any seen arriving as though from a distance.

During the last two weeks in August the geese were still molting extensively. In some the breast and belly were almost entirely devoid of feathers, only the down remaining, and nearly all were renewing the tail feathers. Flight feathers were fully grown, or at any rate sufficiently so for flying. Presumably the birds would not gather upon these open and exposed marshes until they could fly; nesting and the beginning of the molt, including loss of the remiges, probably takes place In more sheltered localities.

Winter: Of their winter habits he (1913) says:

Since so many of the water birds of the coast of southern Alaska and British Columbia are resident the year through in that general region, it is very probable that the white-cheeked goose belongs in the same category. In a letter recently received from Mr. Allen B. Hasselborg, a resident of Juneau, Alaska, and familiar with the native birds and mammals, he confirms this view, saying that the geese are about as abundant in the Sitkan district in winter as in summer. During the winter they frequent the more sheltered south and west facing bays and inlets, avoiding localities exposed to the cold land winds, while in summer they are of more general distribution. That this subspecies does not perform as extensive migrations as other members of the group is evident from its nonoccurrence in California. If it occurs in this State at all it should be found along the extreme northern coast


Breeding range: Pacific coast region of southeastern Alaska, from the vicinity of Prince William Sound southward, to British Columbia (Queen Charlotte Islands). Intergrades on the north with minima and on the east and south with canadensis.

Winter range: Apparently the same as the breeding range. This seems to be a local form of very restricted habitat and non-migratory.

Egg dates: Southern Alaska: Three records, May 22 to June 18.




The characters which warrant the separation of the Canada goose group into four subspecies have been so generally misunderstood and so poorly designated in most of the manuals, and the nomenclature of the grout) has been so variable and puzzling, that much confusion has existed as to the true relationships of the various forms and their distribution. Various theories have been advanced, none of which seem to fit the known facts exactly. Rather than attempt to discuss this complicated systematic question, which would require more space than is warranted in a work on life histories, I would refer the reader to the interesting papers on the subject published by Harry S. Swarth (1913) and J. D. Figgins (1920 and 1922). It seems best, under the circumstances, to follow the classification and nomenclature of the American Ornithologists’ Union Check List until some better arrangement is suggested and proven to be correct by the collection of large enough series of breeding birds to demonstrate the relationships and to outline the breeding ranges of the four forms. It is, however, difficult to explain, under this generally accepted theory, why the breeding ranges of hutchinsi and minima should overlap so extensively in Alaska and the Aleutian Islands, as they are said to do. which is contrary to the rule with subspecies. It lS also of interest to note that the downy young of occidentalis and minima resemble each other very closely and are quite different from the downy young of canadensis; this suggests the possibility of a distinct, dark-breasted, western species. But perhaps both of these matters will be cleared up when more material is collected.

Spring: Dr. F. W. Nelson (1887) gives the following interesting account of the arrival of these geese at St. Michael, Alaska:

As May advances and one by one the ponds open, and the earth looks out here and there from under its winter covering, the loud notes of the various wild fowl are heard, becoming daily more numerous. Their harsh and varied cries make sweet music to the ears of all who have just passed the winter’s silence and dull monotony, and in spite of tile lowering skies and occasional snow squalls everyone makes ready and is off to the marshes.

The flocks come cleaving their way from afar, and as they draw near their summer homes raise a chorus of loud notes in a high-pitched tone like the syllable “luk, rapidly repeated, and a reply rises upon all sides, until the whole marsh reechoes with the din, and the newcomers circle slowly up to the edge of a pond amid a perfect chorus raised by the geese all about, as in congratulation.

Even upon first arrival many of the birds appear to be mated, as I have frequently shot one from a flock and seen a single bird leave its companions at once and come circling about, uttering loud call notes. If the fallen bird is only wounded, its mate will almost invariably join it, and frequently allow itself to be approached and shot without attempting to escape. In some instances I have known a bird thus bereaved of its partner to remain in the vicinity for two to three days, calling and circling about. Although many are mated, others are not, and the less fortunate males fight bard and long for possession of females. I frequently amused myself while at the Yukon mouth by watching flocks of geese on the muddy banks of the river, which was a favorite resort. The females kept to one side and dozed or dabbed their bills in the mud; the males were scattered about and kept moving uneasily from side to side, making a great outcry. This would last but a few minutes, when two of the warriors would cross each other’s path, and then began the battle. They would seize one another by the bill, and then turn and twist each other about, their wings hanging loosely by their sides meanwhile. Suddenly they would close up and each would belabor his rival with the bend of the wing, until the sound could be heard two or three hundred yards. The wing strokes were always warded off by the other bird’s wing, so but little damage was done; but it usually ended in the weaker bird breaking loose and running away. Just before the males seize each other they usually utter a series of peculiar low growling or grunting notes.

Nesting: Of their breeding habits in that vicinity he writes:

The last week of May finds many of these birds already depositing their eggs. Upon the grassy borders of ponds, in the midst of a bunch of grass, or on a small knoll these birds find a spot where they make a slight depression and perhaps line it with a scanty layer of grasses, after which the eggs are laid, numbering from 5 to 8. These eggs, like the birds, average smaller than those of the other geese. As the eggs are deposited the female gradually lines the nest with feathers plucked from her breast until they rest in a bed of down. When first laid the eggs are white, but by the time incubation begins all are soiled and dingy. The female usually crouches low on her nest until an intruder comes within a hundred yards or so, when she skulks off through the grass or flies silently away, close to the ground, and only raises a note of alarm when well away from the nest. When the eggs are about hatching, or the young are out, both parents frequently become perfectly reckless in the face of danger.

Both the cackling goose and the Hutchins goose are said to breed on the Aleutian Islands, but it seems hardly likely that these two subspecies should occupy the same breeding range. It seems more likely that some of the records are based on erroneous identifications or on misunderstandings as to the characters, both puzzling and variable, which separate these two forms. Lucien M. Turner (1886) reported both forms as breeding abundantly on the western islands of this chain, mainly on Agattu and Semichi, but I can not find any specimens of hutchinsi to substantiate his claim.

Mr. Austin H. Clark (1910) reported that the Hutchins goose:

is the most abundant bird on Agattu, where it breeds by thousands. When we approached the shore we saw a number of geese flying about the cliffs and bluffs and soaring in circles high In air. On landing I walked up the beach to the left and soon came to a small stream which enters the sea through a gap in the high bluffs, when I saw 50 or more of these birds along the bank preening their feathers. From this point I walked inland over the rough pasturelike country toward a lake where this stream rises. Geese were seen on all sides in great abundance, walking about the grassy hillsides in companies of six or eight to a dozen, or flying about from one place to another. When on the ground they were comparatively shy; at about 100 yards distant they would stop feeding and watch my movements; at about 50 yards they generally took wing, but instead of flying away they would circle about and fly toward me, often not more than 10 feet over my head, as if to see what sort of a strange beast it was which thus intruded on their domains.

He shot nine of the birds, but unfortunately was unable to preserve any of them; he did, however, write down descriptions and take the measurements of four of them. Although the measurements are rather large for minima, the descriptions seem to fit this form rather than hutchinsi, and perhaps if we had the specimens before us we might decide to refer them to the former subspecies.

On our expedition to the Aleutian Islands in 1911 we saw geese of this group on Kiska, Adak, Atka, and Attu Islands, but the only specimen taken was a female minima shot by R. H. Beck as she flew from her nest on Attu Island. The nest was located on the slope of a grassy hillside; it consisted of a mass of down in a hollow in the ground and contained 4 eggs on June 23.

Mr. Turner (1886) says that “the clutch of eggs varies from 7 to 13 and are laid in a carelessly arranged nest composed of dead grasses and few feathers.”

Eggs: There are 13 sets of eggs of the cackling goose in the United States National Museum, in which the numbers vary from 4 to 7; there are also four nests collected by C. H. Townsend on Agattu Island on June 5, 1894. The nests are large masses of “light drab” or “drab-gray” down, mixed with bits of white or whitish down, numerous breast feathers and bits of straw. The eggs are similar to those of the Canada goose, but smaller. The measurements of 110 eggs, in various collections, average 72.7 by 48 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 85 by 55, 78.5 by 55.5, and 60.3 by 37 millimeters.

Young: Mr. Turner (1886) says:

The young remain with the parents until the latter molt, by the 20th of August, by which time the young are able to fly. This date witnesses a few of the older young and adult males coming from the breeding grounds on the Semichi Islands to the island of Attn. The geese have exhausted, by that time, the food supply of that place and repair to Attn to feast on the berries of the Vaccineum that are rapidly ripening. Attu Island has a great many blue foxes (V. legopus) on it, hence is resorted to only by adult birds. The birds arrive poor and lean, but by the 10th of September they abound in thousands and are very fat at this time. The birds usually alight on the hillsides, and quickly strip the lower areas of the berries that have ripened earlier. Toward the evening the geese resort to the shallow peels (destitute of vegetation, with gravelly bottoms) on the sides of the mountains.

Plumages: The downy young is exactly like that of occidentalis. The molts and plumages are probably similar to those of the other subspecies of this group. Doctor Nelson (1887) says:

The first plumage of this bird is a dull grayish umber-brown; the head and neck almost uniform with the rest of the body and without any trace of the white cheek patches. As is common to the young of many waterfowl, the feathers of head, neck, and much of the rest of body are bordered with a lighter shade than the main part of the feathers. The old birds molt their quill feathers from the 20th of July until late In August, and flocks begin forming as soon as the birds are on the wing again. From that time until the last of September and first of October, when they migrate, they are found scattered over the country, feeding on various berries, which are ripe on the hillsides.

Behavior: Very little has been published about the habits of this subspecies, but they are probably similar in the main to those of its close relatives. Mr. Turner (1886) writes:

As an illustration of the parental solicitude exhibited by these birds, I will relate that several years ago a heavy fall of snow occurred in the latter part of June at the islands of Agattu and Semichi and covered the ground with more than 3 feet of snow. At that date the geese were incubating. The geese did not quit their nests and were suffocated. The natives found scores of the birds sitting dead on their nests after the snow had melted.

During the summer the geese are not molested. The natives take many of the young and domesticate them. I have seen as many as 50 young ones at a time at Attn Island owned by the natives, to whom the goslings become much attached, especially those who attend them. The goslings remain at large during the winter, but have to be fed during severe spells of weather. The housetops being covered with sod, the excessive heat within causes the grass roots to continually send out new blades of grass. The geese are constantly searching every housetop to find the tender blades. One man had a pair of adult geese which he assured me had been reared from goslings, and that they were then entering the sixth year of their captivity. These two geese did not breed the second year of their life, but that every year thereafter they had reared a brood of young and brought them home as soon as hatched. The wings and half of the tail feathers had to be clipped every season to prevent them migrating.

Messrs. Grinnell, Bryant, and Storer (1918) say: “The high pitch of its call note, which resembles the syllables luk-luk, is about the best character to use in the field after recognizing the bird to he of the Canada type.” This note is “oft repeated” and has caused the bird to be called the cackling goose. It is easily distinguished from the notes of the Canada goose and the Hutchins goose.

The same writers say further:

In habits the cackling goose so nearly resembles the Hutchins goose that no one has been able to point out differences. As with the latter species, the cackling goose feeds largely on grass and grain during its stay in California.

Along with other geese, this species used to do much damage to young wheat In Colusa, Butte, Sutter, and Uba Counties. But the ranks of the birds are so thinned at the present time that the injury they inflict now is negligible.

On the market this species is usually classified along with the Hutchins goose as “brant.” Very large numbers of cackling geese are to be found at times in the markets of our larger cities. The cackling goose, once just as numerous, if not more so, than the Hutchins goose, is, like the Hutchins, rapidly decreasing in numbers from year to year. Old residents in some parts of the Sacramento Valley say that now there is “not more than one of these geese present where formerly there were hundreds.” To the work of the market hunter can be attributed much of this decrease, for this goose is one ~’hich is easily procured and which finds a ready sale on the market. While still rated as common-in restricted portions of the State, this goose is in a fair way to disappear completely unless enough of the birds are left each winter to guarantee the return of an adequate stock in the spring to the breeding grounds in the north.

Game: The primitive hunters of the Aleutian Islands formerly killed large numbers of these geese by catching them in long nets set on the edges of ponds where they fed. Some of the natives were also quite expert at throwing at the passing flocks a bolas made of three stones attached to leather thongs, which became entangled with the necks and wings of the birds, bringing sometimes two and even three birds down to the ground. The birds were salted away for future use during the winter and must have served as an important addition to the food supply of the natives.

Mr. Turner (1886) describes the more modern method of shooting geese on Attu Island as follows:

The manner of shooting geese at Attn Island is different from that pursued in other localities. In the evening the geese repair to the shallow pools to preen their feathers and be secure from the attacks of foxes. These resorts leave unmistakable signs of the presence of geese of preceding nights. The native wanders over the hills until he finds a lake where “signs” are abundant. A hut is generally to be found near the favorite night haunts of the geese. To this one journeys in a canoe, and on arriving the chynik (teakettle) is hung on the soon-kindled fire to boll, as the chypeet (tea drinking) is a certain concomitant of all Alaskan jaunts, either of pleasure or of profit. The chypeet over, the approach of dusk is awaited. The hunters then seek the chosen ponds and secrete themselves in a gully or on the hillside near the place to watch the geese as they come in for the evening, for during the day the geese have been feeding on the smooth, sloping hillsides.

The hunter is careful to approach these lakes lest he leave a footprint or other sign of his presence, as the goose is ever on the alert for such traces and forsakes any lake that is suspected. They will in such cases hover round and round endeavoring to discover the danger, and when satisfied that the lake has been visited by man or that he is present their loud cries give warning to all the geese within hearing as they quickly stream off and away to the head of the ravine from which they came. After such an occurrence the hunter would just as well go home or seek some other locality, for no more geese will visit that lake until the next night.

A night on which the sky is partly clouded and a light wind is blowing is the best. If the air is calm and the night bright, the still water reflects too strongly the outlines of the surrounding hills, making the water inky black, and renders it impossible to distinguish a goose sitting on the water.

At the time the geese are expected each person has selected his place and remains quiet. On the approach of the first flock for the night a low whistle from the hunter to ills companions gives signal. A low hunk hunk of the geese and a swirl of wings announce their approach. A straight dash or a few circles round the pond and they settle. Shoot just as they alight and again as they rise. Sometimes they become so confused as to enable the holder of a breechloader to get four shots at a single flock. The dead geese serve as decoys and soon many are added to those already killed. The gentle wind slowly blows them ashore while you are waiting for others. In a short time a sufficient number is obtained. At an appointed time another native comes from the hut to help bear home the geese.

Winter: Cackling geese are abundant winter residents in the interior valleys of California, where they frequent the grain fields in company with Hutchins, snow, Ross, and white-fronted geese. As their habits are evidently similar, it is unnecessary to repeat what has already been written about the others.


Breeding range: The Bering Sea coast of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. South to the north side of the Alaskan Peninsula (Bristol Bay and Nushagak River). West to the western Aleutians (Agattu and Attu Islands). North to Norton Sound (St. Michael), probably Kotzebue Sound (Kowak River) and possibly as far as Wainwright, where it has been taken in July. Intergrades with hutchinsi in northern and with occidentalis in southern Alaska.

Winter range: Western North America, west of the Rocky Mountains from southern British Columbia to southern California (San Diego County).

Spring migration: Arrives at St.. Michael. Alaska, April 25 to 30. Latest date of departure from California, Stockton, April 25. Taken on St. Paul Island, Alaska, May 14.

Fall migration: Earliest date of arrival in California, Gridley, October 1. Late dates of departure in Alaska, Yukon Delta. October 1, Aleutian Islands, November 15; British Columbia, Okanogan, November 20.

Casual records: Said to wander on migrations as far east as Wisconsin and Colorado (Loveland, April 10, 1898), but identifications are doubtful.

Egg dates: Alaska: Eighteen records. May 20 to June 30; nine records June 5 to 15.

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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