Why the Migration of Canada Geese Will Blow Your Mind?

by | Oct 18, 2016 | Life Science, Photography, Traditional Science | 0 comments

Photo:  Teresa Coppens © 2016

Inside:  The migration of Canada Geese is a noisy but organized and collaborative effort. It is a thrill to see these birds take flight together in that familiar V.


I just happened to stumble upon an amazing spectacle last week while taking my dogs for their afternoon walk.  I’d been hearing the honking sound of geese for several days over the past couple of weeks.  I’d heard them in the tree line as we walked through the hay-field on our late afternoon ramble.  But that day was to be a special one.  It is now burned in my mind.  i was so stoked to have seen such a fabulous sight.

Even the dogs were curious.  My birding dog Rosco was off-leash and still stayed by my side.  Tuck, our big white Akbash, sat down and watched the show.  I think their honking was a bit disturbing to him.  But despite the sheer numbers of birds, both dogs stayed and watched from afar.

The birds entertained us for a while communicating in loud honks to their neighbors.  We three walked silently, seeing how close we could get without startling them.  Eventually, after a few began the pilgrimage, the rest like one single organisms, took off in flight honking loudly.  That familiar V-shaped pattern was formed but out of range for my phone camera.  The migration of this flock of Canada Geese to a warmer zip code had begun.  There they were…gone after entertaining us with their honking and fly byes the past week. Their exit signals colder weather to come.  I’ll miss them.  But come spring, I’ll see the same in reverse and their arrival will herald the coming of the warm weather I love.

Cool Facts about Canada Geese

  • there are 11 subspecies of this very Canadian Goose
  • in general, as you move farther north, birds become smaller and they become darker as you move westward
  • these birds are faithful, they mate for life
  • both parents participate in raising their young
  • when one of the flock is sick, one individual will stay behind until it recovers or dies;  they will do this even during migration
  • many Canada Geese are not migrating
    • changes in farm practices have made waste grain available in both fall and winter months
    • there have been changes in hunting pressures
    • milder winters have made it easier for them to survive without migrating
  • Canada Geese choose mates based on what biologists call ‘assortative mating’ which means they choose a mate similar in size to themself

The Migration of Canada Geese

  • those geese breeding in the most northern parts of their range tend to migrate the longest distances to winter in the more southern parts of their range
  • geese breeding in southern Canada and the conterminous US migrate shorter distances or not at all
  • individuals tend to return to the same migratory stopover and wintering areas year after year
  • migrating flocks of geese include mainly family groups and some individuals
  • Canada Geese tend to take off at dusk but sometimes they will leave during the day
  • they fly both day and night
  • they move in that familiar V-formation with the most experienced individuals taking turns leading the way

How Migrating Birds Know Where to Go

There are a number of theories as to how birds navigate during migration. Click To Tweet

There are a number of theories about how birds navigate during migration.

  1. Some birds have magnitite above their nostrils and they use the Earth’s magnetic field for navigation.
  2. Landscape features such as coastlines, mountains and motorways are thought to be used by some species.
  3. The position of the sun and stars may be used for navigation.
  4. For some birds, it is thought that migration routes are learned from their parents.  This theory has same backing from researchers who reared young in captivity and had to train them their migration route using a plane.  Check out this cool post from Planet Science which has a video looking at just this research.  It also has a cool migration game you might want to try!

The Daily Mail, in this article, quotes research from German scientists who have demonstrated that birds indeed use magnetic fields to migrate and in fact see them through their right eye only.  Molecules in their retina are activated through blue light.  Possibly they are molecules of magnetite?  Very interesting article and worth the read!

So…How Do Canada Geese Migrate?

The jury is out about how Canada Geese migrate.  Topography, magnetic fields, and celestial objects like the sun and stars have been suggested theories.  Perhaps someone should try the German experiment mentioned in the Daily Mail.

I believe birds, including Canada Geese use a combination of methods when migrating in the spring and fall.  I know I use my GPS when travelling but I also use familiar landmarks to confirm I’m travelling in the right direction.  National Geographic also has a great resource explaining bird migration.  You can check that out here.  Meanwhile, enjoy nature.  If you hear that familiar honking go outside and enjoy the view. It is a wonderous thing to watch the migration of Canada Geese. Click To Tweet

Have you been privileged to see a flock of migrating birds?  Describe your experience in the comments below.  What kind of bird? Where were you located.  I’d love to share in your experience with bird migration.

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