Few of nature’s early spring events are more thrilling to behold than a V formation of Canada geese, flying north at speeds of up to 45 miles per hour and in honking communication with each other. The geese are returning from states to the south.

Waterways start to open up when the average temperature reaches 35 degrees for several days running, and Canada geese follow that 35-degree isotherm. In southern Minnesota, we look for V formations about March 10. The first migrants were back last year by Feb. 28 in the Twin Cities.

Migrants join with the goose clan that wintered over. The latter members then become more active. Within a day or so we can expect to see goose pairs standing on pond and marsh ice claiming nesting territories.

Canada geese are easy to identify with their 5-foot 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 Twin Cities and area geese are a population of the giant race. Male giants weigh about 14 to 16 pounds and females 10 to 12 pounds. Canada geese mate for life, and pairs stay close to each other. They start to breed in their third year.

Nesting sites are usually chosen in March. Eggs are laid in late March or early April. Egg-laying is triggered by open water. The female chooses the nest’s location near where she was hatched herself. She will incubate the eggs. Normally the young hatch 28 days after the last egg.


Jim Gilbert was a naturalist for 50 years.