Canada geese are birds of the geese family. But they are birds with features that distinguish them from other geese. These birds can be identified by their black heads, white 'chinstraps' and equally black necks. There are seven subspecies of this bird.
They are called Canada geese because they breed in Canada. During the winter, from August to the month of November, they migrate towards the south of United States and the north of Mexico. Though they sometimes feast on little fishes and insects, they mainly feed on grasses. They can also be found eating grains and legumes. When in large numbers, they can become fearless especially to humans and also disturb other animals around them.
When it's time to migrate, some of the birds have stopovers, where they settle down and rest while waiting for the others. This first set usually sleeps less and migrates faster than those who are coming behind. Interestingly, most of these birds, when migration season is over, go back to the same places they had been nesting before migrating. There, with their mates, they birth their young, year in year out. In other words, such sites become permanent homes to them, to fly back to, after migrating season.
While flying, they collectively from a V shape, with the position in front swapped at intervals, as leading the others consumes a lot of energy.
Canada geese have a lifespan of about nine to twenty-four years, although one who was caught as a gosling and monitored by researchers of the University of York, reportedly lived till it was 31 years old.
Some problems affect the Canada geese as regards their migration. They include:
1. Climate Change
It is a fact that these birds begin to migrate around the end of August. This they do after they have shed their feathers; which is called 'molting.' But recently, the changes in climate are beginning to affect the migration of these geese. Lately, they have begun to migrate rather late; from the ending of September to around December. The reason is that water does not become frozen early enough, and thus what they eat can still be found, until fall is almost ending. As a result, since they can still see food, they are not pressured to migrate. If this continues, their migrating pattern will become disorganized.
Canadian geese are very susceptible to viruses, especially bird flu. As they migrate back and forth, they can easily pick up parasites on their journey and most of these diseases that can also affect humans.
A particular virus; H5N1 has been discovered and it attacks these birds. But then, birds that have been exposed to other types of the virus would probably be able to resist this particular virus.
3. Salt Concentration in Water
The level of concentration of salt in water can affect these birds. When they migrate to other places, the water might probably not be the same as where they are coming from.
If the salt content in water is high, it can affect the development of young geese, known as goslings. They would not be able to develop properly, their growth would be stalled, and if the salinity of the water is high, the birds could die.
Goslings that are more at risk are those that are less than six days old. This is because their nasal salt glands do not function before this time.
4. Flying Accidents
Canadian geese are known to fly above thirty feet. So, it is not surprising that sometimes, they would be involved in aircraft accidents. Not only is this fatal to some of the birds, but also, the aircraft involved could be at risk too.
With turkey vultures being the highest flying bird risk to aircraft, Canada geese are the second highest.
An example of the problems they can cause to aircraft while migrating happened in the year 2009. A US aircraft with craft number 1549, collided with some flying Canada geese in the air, causing engine problems. It was so bad that the plane had to make an emergency landing on the river Hudson. Thankfully, no lives were lost.
Years before that, in 1995, an air force plane hit the migrating geese of this species, and the accident affected both of its engines. This resulted in the loss of lives as all the members of the crew; 24 of them, did not survive.
On impact, a lot of them fly directly into the aircraft engines, causing these engines to fail and forcing the planes to make a landing.
Canada geese are aggressive birds. They have been known to charge at humans, batting them with their wings and in some cases, biting their unfortunate victims.
In fact, one was documented fighting and eventually killing a brant goose that dared come near his nesting area. By repeatedly pecking the latter's head into the nearby mud, the poor bird suffocated.
But this does not deter some wild animals and hunters from going after and killing these birds. When away from their nesting homes, they could mistakenly find themselves being surrounded by carnivores and those not alert enough to fly away, become meals.
And though 'The British Trust for Ornithology,' once declared them as inedible, thousands of hunters find their meat tasty. And so, when away from areas protected by animal or bird laws, Canada geese are hunted, shot down and made into meals.
Their animal predators include wolves, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, golden eagles, great horned owls, coyotes and snowy owls.