Understanding Migratory Habits of the Canada Goose


The vee of birds, high in the sky
Are honking loud and long.
We linger there, as they fly by
About a hundred strong.

The leader tires and falls behind;
Another takes his place;
He travels on their borrowed wind
Upon their wild goose chase.

Canadian geese (branta canadensis) make most of North America their natural habitat. With their long, arching black necks and heads and their light undersides, they can easily be spotted nearly anywhere a pond, river, or lake may be found.

These black, white, and grey waterfowl may grow up to 50 inches long and live up to 30 years. Their adult wingspan stretches nearly 70 inches across.

Canadian geese generally mate for life, from age two on. The goslings are born in the spring. At first, they resemble fuzzy little ducklings, but within a couple of months, their adult feathers begin to appear. By nine weeks, the babies may learn to fly.

Oddly, after her goslings hatch, the mother goose molts, losing her flight feathers. (The male undergoes the same process immediately after mating.) However, by the time the goslings are ready to fly, their parents have regained their wings as well.


In the fall, the geese begin to migrate to the southern United States (from Georgia to southern California) and Mexico. They follow the exact same routes their parents and grandparents used.

As they fly, in their V-shaped formation, the Canadian geese may travel at an altitude up to 8,000 feet. They fly swiftly, up to 60 mph.

Certain locations are traditional stopovers for the geese. For example, Horicon Marsh in central Wisconsin has become a prime viewing spot for birdwatchers. Millions of Canadian geese congregate there each fall, preparing for the long flight south.

The geese may fly for up to 16 hours at a time without stopping, although they do take turns serving as the lead bird in the formation. The lead bird absorbs most of the wind resistance for the entire V-formation. When he begins to tire, he drops back into the line, and another resumes his spot. This allows all of the birds to capitalize on the wind currents generated by the formation.

If a bird should somehow become injured or require a resting stop, several of his family members will land and wait with him. When he is strong enough to resume flight, the family group will continue on together, or they will hook up with another flock.

A flying formation of Canadian geese may contain from 100 to 1,000 birds.

When spring returns, the flock will repeat the process, returning northward to settle and reproduce.