Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
While the giant Canada is the only race of Canada geese that nests in North Dakota, several other North American subspecies migrate through the State. These races include the tiny Richardson's goose which weighs about three pounds, the lesser Canada at five to six pounds, the interior Canada at seven to nine pounds and the giant Canada which may weigh over 15 pounds.
Despite size differences, all Canada geese are similar in appearance. Body color of the subspecies varies from light to dark brown. In all races, the head, neck, bill, tail and feet are black and there are prominant white patches on the cheeks and a crescent-shaped white area on the rump. This white crescent is easily observed when the birds are in molt or in flight. Some races have a more or less complete white ring at the base of the black neck.
Canada geese are long-lived and generally mate for life. If one member of the pair is killed, the survivor will usually select a new mate. Giant Canadas can live from 20 to 30 years and have been known to successfully reproduce at 20 years of age. Females do not breed until they are least two years old and many may not nest until the age of three or four.
Family ties are very strong. Parents attend to the young for nearly a year. Families remain intact throughout the winter until they return to the breeding grounds. Once weather moderates on the breeding grounds and nesting sites become available, the birds rapidly disperse to establish their nesting territories.
Because Canada geese may initiate nesting activity as early as the first of April, it is important to have nesting structures ready by that time. Properly maintained nesting structures, being free of snow cover, are especially attractive to early nesters.
There is a tendency for the geese to return to the area of their first flight experience to breed. This tendency is known as homing. Wild geese usually home to the area where they were reared. Captivereared geese or wild transplants used in restoration programs home to the area where they are released prior to first flight (fledging).
Canada geese are highly adaptable and will nest in a variety of locations. In many areas, islands, muskrat houses and homemade nesting structures provide safe nest sites. Where these are not available, they will often nest in marsh vegetation, shoreline points or on upland sites where predators may find and destroy the eggs.
No matter where the nest is located, geese do not carry materials to the nest site. The nest is made only of materials at hand such as dead vegetation and grasses. The female will build the nest using only those materials that can be reached from the nest bowl as well as down and feathers plucked from her belly. For this reason, nesting structures must contain nesting materials such as flax straw or hay.
Canada geese usually lay five or six eggs (occasionally seven). The gander does not incubate the eggs but remains close at hand guarding the female. Incubation period is 28 days, and after the young are hatched both the gander and the goose take care of them. Canada geese will aggressively defend their nest and young, often attacking intruders by striking hard blows with their wings.
Canada geese are mainly grazers. During the fall and spring migration, they eat green shoots of grasses as well as waste grains. On the wintering areas they feed on both greens and grains. Corn is also a favorite food. The goslings eat tender grasses and other green herbage.