Monday, May 3, 2010

Canada Goose Population Explosion

By Laurie Sheppard

When spring arrived last month, it signaled the end of a southern vacation for most of the geese on the refuge. All but a handful of Snow and Ross’ Geese, Greater White Fronted Geese, Canada and Cackling Geese answered nature’s call to return north to their traditional breeding grounds. We watched them go, flying in their huge V formations to cooler climates.

The Canada goose (Branta Canadensis) can be found throughout most of North America at any time during the year, although many do migrate with the seasons. Canada Geese frequent lakes, rivers, ponds, or other large and small bodies of water, as well as yards, park lawns and farm fields. In short, the refuge provides the ideal habitat and some choose to stick around in Texas year-round. A few have been spotted each week by the Tuesday bird counters.

On land, the Canada goose eats a wide variety of grasses and leaves. Its black bill, which it uses to yank grass out of the ground, has lamellae, or teeth, around the outside edges. The lamellae are used as a cutting tool. In the water, the Canada goose sticks its head and upper body under the water, stretches its neck out and uses its bill to scoop up food from the mud and silt.

Breeding typically takes place in the northern states and Canada, but that is not a hard and fast rule. The female goose selects a site for the nest and does much of the construction, creating a large open cup on the ground using dry grasses, lichens, mosses and other plant material. She lays between 2 and 10 eggs and adds down feathers and body feathers to the nest as the eggs are laid. The female does all of the incubation but the male is usually not far off, guarding and protecting his mate. Careful observers identified at least one nest at the refuge, located on the edge of a pad near the water.

The mother goose incubates the eggs, turning them to ensure even warmth, for 25-28 days. This week the first new crop of hatchlings were sighted in the sheltered water along the auto road. The tiny goslings are covered with yellowish down and have their eyes open when they hatch. They leave the nest when one to two days old, and can walk, swim, feed and even dive, although they cannot fly until they are between 40-70 days old.

Both parents teach and care for the young. For the next few weeks it will be a common sight to see two adult geese with a gaggle of smaller ones lined up in between. One parent frequently leads the group, dipping its head almost as if to say, “Follow me” while the other parent makes sure none of the offspring stray. Come visit the refuge soon to catch the babies at their cutest!

For more information on Hagerman NWR, please see
and for information about activities and programs at the Refuge, see

Photos by Laurie Sheppard

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