Canada geese (Branta canadensis) are not native to the United Kingdom. They were first introduced in the late 17th century as an ornamental attraction to parks and the gardens of stately homes. Although originally restricted to a few areas, in the 1950s and 60s they spread to other habitats. The increase in sand and gravel extraction resulted in a series of disused pits and lakes which provided suitable habitat for the geese. As a result the population has increased from around 19,000 in the 1970s and now exceeds 100,000.
Appearance A large and distinctive water bird, the Canada goose can easily be recognised by its long black neck, black head and conspicuous white cheek patches, which extend under the chin. The rest of the body is largely brown, with paler underparts and a white undertail, and there is sometimes a white ring around the base of the neck. The feathers on the Canada goose’s body have pale edges, forming bar-like markings. This species’ tail is black. The male and female Canada goose are similar in appearance, although the male is generally larger than the female. Both sexes have black legs and large, black, webbed feet. The bill is also black and is relatively large and flat. Juvenile Canada geese resemble the adults, but are slightly duller in colour and have a more brownish-black head and neck. Young goslings are olive-brown above and yellowish below, with a darker crown.
Habits & Behaviour The Canada goose is a social species and often feeds and moves around in large flocks, which typically fly in a ‘V’ formation. These flocks usually consist of loose aggregations of family groups and individuals. The Canada goose is a strong flier and often undertakes long migration flights, potentially covering up to 2,400 kilometres in just 24 hours.
Diet The diet of the Canada goose consists entirely of plant matter, including the leaves, stems and roots of various grasses, sedges and aquatic plants. This species also feeds on seeds, fruits and grains, and often eats agricultural crops. Juvenile Canada geese may sometimes supplement their diet with insects and other small invertebrates attached to aquatic plants. The Canada goose usually feeds by grazing on land, but it also dabbles and upends in water, extending its long neck under the water to reach submerged vegetation.
Breeding The breeding season usually occurs between March and June. Most Canada geese do not breed until they are 2 – 4 years old. They mate for life, and pairs remain together year-round. The female chooses the nest site, builds the nest and incubates the eggs, while the male guards her and the nest. The Canada goose usually lays a single clutch of eggs each year, producing around two to eight creamy white eggs per clutch. The eggs hatch after 25 to 28 days and the chicks are able to leave the nest and feed themselves within a day or so of hatching. The young geese are not capable of flight until they are about six to nine weeks old, and they remain with the adults for their first year of life. During the breeding season the Canada goose becomes territorial, with pairs beginning to defend nest sites and sometimes fighting aggressively. Canada goose can potentially live for up to an impressive 80 years in captivity and up to 30 years in the wild, although a lifespan of less than 20 years is more usual.
Significance Increased numbers of Canada geese are causing problems. The geese not only damage growing crops, but also amenity land in urban parks, open spaces, golf courses and grassed areas around lakes and ponds. They spoil grass and flowerbeds and can cause erosion of banks. A large flock, defecating every few minutes, can deposit a great deal of excreta. The geese can be responsible for extensive fouling of lawns and other grassy areas, footpaths and lakes, causing an unpleasant nuisance. The droppings contain bacteria that may be harmful if faecal matter is inadvertently swallowed. During the nesting period they can act aggressively towards humans. They have also been in collisions with aircraft.
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