A pair of Canada geese with fledglings in a coastal estuary.
A pair of Canada geese with fledglings in a coastal estuary.
Courtesy: E. Marks, Audubon Society of Rhode Island

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)

Field markings: 25 to 45 inches long. Black head and long neck with a distinguishing white, chin strap, patch from ear to ear. Heavy-bodied with dark wings, pale breast, and white under the tail. Males are slightly larger than females.
Habitat: Lakes, ponds, bays, marshes, and fields.
Seasonal appearance: All year, with additional overwintering flocks.


The Canada goose is one of the most common and well-recognized species of geese, sometimes incorrectly called the Canadian goose. They are heavy-bodied birds with dark wings, a pale breast, and white under the tail. Recognized in flight by their extended necks, they also have a white "U"-shaped band on their rumps. When migrating, the geese flock together in a "V" or sometimes in a "W" formation, calling almost continuously while flying. The distinct "honk-a-lonk" call enables the birds to stay in contact with other flock members.

Life History and Behavior

Canada geese mature by age three, forming long-term pair bonds. They nest near bodies of water or just up from the tidewater. The female lays five to six eggs, which she incubates for 30 days. In areas where several pairs of geese have been nesting, all of the fledglings are grouped together to form a protective nursery, guarded from predation by several parent birds. In mid-summer, the geese go through a complete molt, shedding all of their flight feathers. During this time, they cannot fly and are vulnerable to predators, often staying close to the water for quick escape.

Canada geese feed by dipping from the water's surface, dabbling below the surface, and grazing. They forage in wetlands, grasslands, and cultivated fields. The feed on grasses, bulbs, grains, berries, seeds of grasses and sedges, and aquatic invertebrates.

Special Notes

Adapted from The Uncommon Guide to Common Life on Narragansett Bay. Save The Bay, 1998.