Friday, April 8, 2011

Branta canadensis

If you live in New England you're probably familiar with this bird: the Canada goose. There are several subspecies that look fairly similar and can be found across North America. These geese were introduced to Europe as well, prior to World War II, as an ornamental addition to estates and parks. Ironically they are now considered pests by many (similarly to swans). Compounding the problem is that many populations have stopped their normal migrations and maintain residence in many areas year-round. To attempt to mitigate the potential damage to agriculture, hunting seasons on these birds have been extended in the last decade.

Yesterday I caught several shots of these birds at the pond near my house. The breeding season is in full swing and I managed to see some displaying. It's a little tough to tell but this picture shows a male and a female, the male giving what I believe is a mating call:

The geese will find a mate at roughly two years old and typically they stay monogamous throughout their lives. They lay several eggs each season but mortality is high due to predation and the first migration. However, in populations that do still migrate, the travel is far less grueling than in many bird species. Canada geese take several rests along the way and arrive at the breeding grounds in relatively good shape. Many birds store enormous amounts of energy and spend nearly all of it in flight. I'm often reminded of the ruby-throated hummingbird which flies across the entire Gulf of Mexico to reach its breeding grounds, sometimes against headwinds of up to 20 miles per hour. In comparison the Canada goose experience a leisurely hop down the continent of North America.

These birds are very long lived, having anecdotally been found to live up to 80 years in captivity. They are entirely herbivorous and forage both on land and in the water, as you can see from some of these images.

Though some do consider them pests I think they're beautiful birds. Beautiful...but they do look kind of delicious. Hrmm...


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