Canada Goose

 

Canada GooseBone remnants found in the trash pits of prehistoric Indian camps along the Arkansas River basin indicate that ancient hunters once sustained themselves on Branta canadensis (commonly known as the Canada goose, and sometimes incorrectly referred to as Canadian goose). Although hunting patterns have changed over the past 2,300 years, these geese remain popular among sportsmen today.

There are at least 11 recognized races of Canada geese, but some taxonomists argue that the species actually separate into many more forms. Each form is distinguished by variations in geographical range, coloration, structural size and body mass. Generally, three populations occur in Oklahoma, the Tallgrass Prairie population, Short Grass Prairie population, and the Western Prairie/Great Plains population.

Giant Canadas were first released in this state by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation in 1980. More than 15,000 have been released at lakes such as Sooner, Konawa, Fort Cobb, Sardis, Murray, Kerr, Canton, the Duncan area, El Reno, Afton and in the Wichita and Arbuckle mountains.
Despite subtle variations between the seasonal and year-round residents, the different races appear fairly uniform. All have black bills, legs and feet, with plump bodies covered with gray-brown to dark-brown feathers. They have long black necks and gray wings. A conspicuous white patch on the throat and cheeks is their most distinctive feature.

Canada geese typically court in late winter, sometimes mate for life, and begin nesting in the spring. Nests are located on the ground near water, but these birds also will use man-made, elevated nesting structures placed in or near water. Four to eight cream-white eggs are laid, usually one every other day. The female incubates the clutch for 28 to 30 days, while the male stands guard nearby. Ganders often rely on intimidation to ward off intruders. With loud hissing and threatening movements, the male will advance until the offender retreats.

After hatching, the young are cared for by both parents. Within 24 hours, the young, which weigh only three or four ounces, are led to water for their first swim. The family unit stays together in single file, with the gander leading the way and the female bringing up the rear. Depending on the sub-species, geese are capable of flight in as few as 40 days after hatching.

Young geese eat constantly. In just eight weeks, they have attained a weight 24 times greater than they weighed at hatching. Primarily vegetarians, geese prefer green plants and grains. In the water, geese feed much like ducks, tipping their tail up and plunging their heads below the surface to reach submerged foods. Their bills are quite sensitive, and are used to "feel around" underwater as the birds dabble for aquatic food. Tooth-like spikes around the edges of the bills act like strainers, allowing the birds to retain edible items while draining excess water. Canadas also frequently feed on shore, heading upland on foot or wing to graze in the early morning and late afternoon. They are especially fond of descending on fields of winter wheat. Wheat is planted at many refuges as a food source for geese, but farmland surrounding refuges often becomes an attraction when refuge food sources are depleted.

Adult giants can weigh more than 15 pounds, while the smaller adult "cacklers" may tip the scales at only three pounds. On the wing, larger geese can be recognized by their more measured and shallow wing beats, and slower flight speed. Their calls are different, too; larger geese have longer, deeper and more sonorous calls than their smaller cousins.

Though noted for their large V-formations in flight, Canada geese do not always fly in this manner. Often they travel in small flocks. When only five or six Canadas are seen flying together, they are probably a mated pair with their young of the year. Families of Canadas often remain together through the winter. Many biologists believe it is this closeness of family units that guarantees their return to traditional breeding grounds the following spring.

In July and August, while young are maturing, adult geese molt. All flight feathers are lost at once, so these now-flightless birds must remain hidden or seek refuge on open water while new feathers grow. By mid-August, both adults and young are able to fly. In September or October, they begin their fall migration.

The migration patterns of the Canada goose have changed over the centuries, but this species has traveled through Oklahoma for at least half a million years. Today, the primary migration corridor extends from north of the Arctic Circle to south of the Tropic of Cancer, slicing across the prairies of our state along the way. Thousands of Canadas winter at the Washita, Great Salt Plains, Tishomingo and Sequoyah national wildlife refuges, but these birds may also be found during the cold months at any of the state's larger impoundments. And with permanent populations of resident Canada geese becoming ever more common, modern outdoors enthusiasts certainly have many more opportunities to view and hunt these birds than did our predecessors of long ago!