Few of nature’s early spring events are more thrilling to behold than a V-formation of Canada geese, heading north, flying at speeds of up to 45 miles per hour, in honking communication with each other.
Last spring the first returning Canada geese arrived March 19. In 2018 they first returned Feb. 28 to the Twin Cities area. The geese are returning from states south of Minnesota.
Waterways start to open up when the average temperature reaches 35 degrees for several days running; the geese follow that 35-degree isotherm. We look for the first V-formations returning in early to mid-March in southern Minnesota. They join with the wintering-over goose clan, whose members then become more active.
Canada geese are easily identified by their size and 5-foot-plus wingspans. They are the only geese that have black necks, black heads and white chin straps. Males and females look alike, but there are several races that vary greatly in size. The metro area geese are a group of the giant race, with males weighing 14 to 16 pounds and females 10 to 12 pounds. Canada geese mate for life and pairs stay close to each other as much as possible.
Nesting sites are usually chosen in March. Eggs (numbering five to six in a clutch) are laid in late March or sometime in April. Egg-laying is connected to open water. The female chooses the nest’s location, sometimes close to where she herself was hatched. The nest might be on a small island, muskrat house or beaver lodge. Only the female incubates the eggs. Normally 28 days after the last egg appears, the young hatch and are ready to leave the nest. Last year, Canada goose nest-building began March 29, and the first goslings were spotted May 2.
The male is on guard during the nesting time, making sure that late-arriving geese do not enter the territory, and that potential predators like raccoons are driven off. Soon after hatching, the brood of four-ounce, downy yellow-and-brown goslings are led to a safe, grassy hillside to graze.
Jim Gilbert taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.