Canada geese form life-long pair bonds, but if a member of a pair dies, the other will mate again. Families migrate together, stay together in the winter and return to the same area for nesting each year. The annual life cycle of a goose begins in late winter, when adult pairs return to nest areas in late February or March, or as soon as ice melts. Five to 6 eggs are laid during 1 to 2 weeks and are incubated for 4 weeks in March or April. Eggs hatch in late April or early May, depending on location. Most geese begin breeding when they are 2 or 3 years old and nest every year for the rest of their lives. Resident geese may live more than 20 years in suburban areas. One female Canada goose has the potential to produce more than 50 young in her lifetime.
Young geese (goslings) weigh 3 to 4 ounces when they hatch. Geese are precocial: within 24 hours, hatchlings are able to swim. Geese hatch with their eyes open, covered in down, and are able to move about freely. In contrast, altricial birds (e.g., robins) are born helpless and need parental support. Geese aggressively defend their nests and may attack if approached. Geese that are not breeding often remain nearby in large feeding flocks during the nesting season. After hatching, families of geese may move up to 2 miles from nesting areas to brood-rearing areas, appearing suddenly at ponds bordered by lawns.
Canada geese build nests of twigs, grass, bark, leaves, and moss on the ground near water. Islands are preferred. In 1 urban pond in Nebraska, where virtually no suitable habitat was available on the bank, geese nested on mats of floating, dead cattails. Geese also nest on the tops of muskrat houses.
Canada geese undergo an annual molt, a 4- to 5-week period after nesting when they shed and re-grow their outer wing feathers. Birds cannot fly when they are molting. The flight-less period occurs from mid-June through late July, and the birds resume flight by August. Geese congregate at ponds or lakes during the molt, that provide a safe place to rest, feed, and escape from danger. Severe conflicts with people often occur during the molt because geese concentrate on lawns next to water and cannot leave. Before molting, some geese without young travel hundreds of miles to favored areas for molting and migration, accounting for the disappearance or arrival of some local flocks early in June. After the molt and through the fall, geese gradually increase the distance of their feeding flights and are more likely to be found away from water.
Resident Canada geese spend most of their lives in relatively small areas, although some travel hundreds of miles to areas for molting or to over-winter. Resident geese are distinct from the migratory populations that breed in northern Canada. Canada geese have a strong tendency to return to where they were hatched and use the same nesting and feeding sites year after year, making them difficult to eliminate once they become settled in an area. In addition, geese disperse from areas of higher concentration to lower concentration. Removal of geese from a particular pond will not guarantee that geese will not inhabit the pond during the same season or the following year.
Canada geese prefer habitats with standing water and low sloping banks (less than 50° F) with low grass for foraging.
Canada geese are herbivores. They feed during early morning and late afternoon. They eat grasses, a variety of terrestrial plants, aquatic plants, and occasionally agricultural crops such as corn, soybeans, and wheat.