Last August I noted the training flights of young Canada geese (Branta canadensis). The chicks which hatched about April were preparing for their first fall migration. Although Canada geese spend most of the year in large flocks, in the early spring pairs begin to break off from the flock and defend territories.
Canada geese generally do not breed until their fourth year and pair for life. Couples stay together for the entire year. They prefer to build their nests on old muskrat houses, slight rises or other positions where they can have a clear view in all directions – always near water. Locally many pairs have already staked out their territory. Those geese who are just reaching sexual maturity, have lost mates or who have “divorced” (yes, there is a very small incidence of divorce among Canada geese) are looking for partners. Unlike many birds, there does not appear to be a distinctive courting ritual among Canada geese. I often watch two or more geese appear to “fight” over a third. I assume two males are competing for the attentions of a female, however, that may simply be my bias. These scuffles generally involve much honking, wing flapping and water sprays, but serious attacks and pecks are few. Very quickly one goose usually swims off leaving a pair behind.
The yearly cycle has now come full course. The adults that were teaching their young to fly late last summer are now beginning to breed again and newly matured geese are entering the breeding pool. Very soon the geese will be incubating their eggs to start the progression again.
This pair of Canada geese at Baum Lake were swimming and did not appear to have staked out any territory yet. They were relaxed and definitely seemed a couple as they dabbled in the water for food.