by Kathleen Keefe
Famous for making loud honking sounds while flying overhead in V-shaped formation, the Canada Goose (Branta Canadensis) is the most common waterfowl species in North America, native to both arctic and temperate regions, and a regular resident of High Park.
Every Season has its Goose
Just about everyone knows what a Canada goose looks like, and in High Park you can look all you want all year long. In the first warm days of February, mated pairs are already scouting out nesting sites. Canada geese tend to nest where they were born. Mated pairs will return to the very same nesting site they used the previous year if they still find it suitable. In High Park they have no trouble finding nesting sites along the shorelines of the ponds and in wetland habitats, but they are also known to nest in trees or even on roofs.
Males and females pair up in their third year and remain mates for life, usually 20 to 25 years. By mid or late March, most pairs have established a territory for breeding. The females are sitting on two to eight eggs by mid April, and most of the goslings hatch in May. Throughout May and June, many High Park visitors love to watch the Canada goose families with their little parade of goslings swimming between the parents or learning to graze on grass.
A few weeks after the goslings hatch, the adults lose their flight feathers and then grow new ones. During this four- to six-week flightless molting stage, they are vulnerable to predators since they cannot easily flee from danger. This is when you can see families of geese bobbing along in flotillas on High Park’s ponds or grazing near the shore with a clear escape route to water. By mid to late July, all the geese are able to fly. However, as long as lush green grass grows all around High Park, they have little reason to leave.
Come fall, High Park’s nesting population will linger or move to other sites depending on weather and availability of food. During this period the migratory population of Canada geese that have nested in the far north can also be seen overhead in V formation on their long trip south - a clear sign of winter’s approach. Some may also stopover at Grenadier Pond.
There’s a good reason the company renowned for its high quality winter-busting jackets named itself after the Canada Goose!
Throughout the winter, you can find Canada geese flocking together in High Park on snow-covered turf, all facing the same direction into the wind. Food can become scarce intermittently in the wintertime, but the geese merely fly from one food source to another within our area. Over the winter, it’s all about the food, not the cold. Goose down keeps the birds thoroughly insulated against cold temperatures even as low as -30C. There’s a good reason the company renowned for its high quality winter-busting jackets named itself after the Canada Goose!
More about Canada Geese
by Barbi Lazarus
Canada Geese are devoted family members, mating for life (which can be as long as 30 years) and often nesting in the same area where their parents nested before them.
As they feed on vegetation, and are especially fond of short grass, they prefer habitat in areas of low vegetation, adjacent to open water, and areas that are simple, lacking in vertical elements. While they’re known for their migration, changes in habitat and food sources have meant that some populations have become non-migratory because they have an adequate winter food supply in the area, and are lacking former predators. In fact, even in the middle of winter you can often find them in High Park, hanging out on the snowed in or melting patches of grass.
In the summer time, you’ll find them in both Grenadier Pond and the Duck Ponds at the south end of the park. Believe it or not, Canada Geese spend about equal time on land and water.
Canada Geese Population Management
No matter where you go, it’s almost certain that the numbers of Canada Geese have continued to increase steadily due to the increased availability of their preferred habitat in urban areas (un-natural, short turf grass), and High Park, with its manicured gardens surrounding the pond, is no exception.
Some people have expressed concern about geese feces accumulating near the water’s edge and the potential impact that can have on water quality, including large algae blooms. As a result, egg oiling has been used in the park to reduce numbers of Canada Geese. This method aims to reduce the overall bird population, and consists of an application of mineral oil that suffocates the embryo of the waterfowl. Adult birds are fooled into thinking the egg is alive, and therefore continue to sit on the egg, waiting for it to hatch.
Other methods of population control are also used, such as habitat modification. Habitat modification consists of changing or altering the habitat currently used by the animals, essentially making the site unattractive to the species. You may notice for example, that the geese do not congregate in large numbers along the densely vegetated naturalized portion of the pond, but do congregate further south near the wooden lookout point, where plenty of short turf grass is available.