Northern Alberta Institute of Technology

A guide to living with Canada geese in the city

Get up close, but not too close, with the rarity of urban wildlife

At this time of year, parts of Kristen Vanderlinde’s job sound almost too cute to bear. Mid-spring is gosling season. Eggs laid by local Canada geese have hatched and produced a fresh, fragile batch of little, yellow-and-brown puffballs. Sadly, they can get separated from mother goose.

“We’re getting goslings in that have been orphaned,” says Vanderlinde (Animal Health Technology ’15). The lead veterinarian technologist at wildlife rehabilitation organization WildNorth responds to multiple calls a day about wayward fledglings spotted by wildlife lovers. (They have a hotline.)

The lost little birds don’t stay lonely for long. “One thing that is awesome with Canada geese is that you can foster out goslings to other families,” says Vanderlinde. She just needs to find a family with similar-sized goslings and place the orphans nearby. They’ll start to peep, Vanderlinde says, and soon that mom will take them under her wing.

We can help, too – without the need to find or give goslings forever homes. The key is to make sure we share space with with them, especially if that’s in the city, where many Canada geese take up residence for several weeks each year. Here’s what to know about doing your part to make the urban wilderness as hospitable as possible for our feathery friends.

canada goose goslingYou have to do it. The Canada goose is a protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act. “Once a nest has been built, you can’t interfere with them,” says Vanderlinde. After they show up, usually in March, “You have to leave them alone and let them do their thing until they leave with their babies.” If they’ve staked out part of your backyard, or the patio of your restaurant, it’s essentially theirs until they leave.

“Geese do love to hang out in the city."

Geese love the city. Urban populations of Canada geese are growing. “Geese do love to hang out in the city because it’s a protected area for them and there’s lots of food around,” says Vanderlinde. There are humans to look out for them, and fewer predators, such as coyotes. Also, tall buildings make for great, safe places to build nests.

They're not dangerous. No one should approach a Canada goose, says Vanderlinde; it will tell you as much by hissing. But don’t run away from one either, since it will probably chase you. “They don’t have teeth or talons, but they could give you a pretty good bruise if they make contact.” But since you’ll look silly being chased by a goose, best to keep your distance.

You’ll look silly being chased by a goose.

Geese will find their own food. Geese like grass, aquatic plants, grain and the odd bug. They also like eating what people give them, which is bad. Vanderlinde says that grain left out for birds living on buildings or at the local park can go moldy and make them sick. Geese can also end up being overfed by humans, and dependent upon them.

migrating canada geese

They’ll eventually leave. Canada geese, which mate for life and share parenting duties, need about a month to incubate eggs. Then they tend to stick around for a few more weeks to raise goslings. “They like to be in their family group,” says Vanderlinde. It’s usually mid- to late summer that those parents become empty nesters and retire to greener pastures.

“They like to be in their family group.”

Most of them are snowbirds. While some geese stay year-round, the majority head south, though generally not farther than the border between the United States and Mexico. That won’t happen until the ground and open water begin to freeze up north.

Until then, says Vanderlinde, hosting them “is a chance to see wildlife in an urban environment, which you don’t get to see that often. We tell people to respect the geese and give them their space, but feel free to enjoy watching them. Especially when they have their babies.”

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