Animals -> Birds -> Waterfowl -> Geese


Geese General

Geese General

For many Indigenous Peoples, goose was a common delicacy and important supplement to the diet. Goose continues to be important to many cultures. In addition to being used as food, goose was also caught for its feathers and bones. Some cultures relied greatly on geese for food. For the Cree, goose was a particularly important food source; it was the main meal at wedding ceremonies of Northern Quebec Cree where cooking of the goose over an open fire and the feast itself were held in wigwams or michuaps [4, 13-21]. Goose hunting was extensive among Northern Cree. The community had a “hunting steward” who designated hunting territories based on relations with the animal spirit and observations of the geese. The James Bay Cree also had a “goose boss” who conserved geese through rules and restrictions placed on local hunters [20, 21]. Other cultures relied less on goose, using it to supplement their diets. These cultures include the Haisla (who subsisted primarily on fish), Inuvialuit of the Mackenzie Delta (who subsisted primarily on beluga) and Nuxalk (who subsisted on fish and seafood), among others [9, 23-25].


Goose hunting seasons varied from culture to culture. Those reported to have hunted geese in spring include the Southern Okanagan, Chalkyitsik Kutchin (Gwich’in), Koyukon and Naskapi (Innu) [4, 36, 49, 50]. Upper Kutenai (Kootenai) are reported to have hunted in summer [30]. Haida and Micmac (Mi'kmaq) hunted in fall [9, 51]. Mistissini Cree hunted in early spring and fall; if a hunter was not returning home in spring, he would bury the goose in the snow to preserve it for when he returned [41].

Geese are readily hunted in fall and spring when they are migrating southward and northward, respectively. Cultures reported to have hunted during the migratory season include the Southern Okanagan, Coast Salish, Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka'wakw), Tahltan (in the Stikine Plateau), Tanana, coastal Inuit and Beothuk, [4, 28, 36, 43-46].

Geese molt (shed old feathers) in July to August. During this time, geese are unable to fly and seek sanctuary in lakes and ponds, making them easy to hunt. Geese were stalked and taken in great numbers using numerous methods such as shooting with bows and arrows or bird darts or catching with nets. Simply running down or out-paddling birds and wringing the neck is also possible during the molting season. Northern British Columbia cultures, Yukon Kaska, Alaskan cultures (including Eyak) and coastal Inuit are reported to have caught geese in this fashion [47, 48]. It was customary for Eyak to assist in chasing the geese from small pools of marshy rainwater surrounded by trees (sloughs) onto shore where they could easily wring the necks or club them to death [9, 47].

Hunting weapons used were bows and arrows, bird darts and more recently, firearms. Bow and arrow was used by many cultures including Central Coast Salish, Kalispel, Upper Kutenai, Shuswap, people of Port Simpson (Tsimshian), Bella Coola (Nuxalk), Tlingit, Tagish, Tutchone, Kutchin, Copper Inuit, Cree (Mistissini and Eastmain), Huron and Anishnabeg (Anishinabek) [4, 7-9, 26, 27, 30-33]. Central Coast Salish often hid behind blinds on a canoe to get closer to the geese [9]. Geese were commonly hunted using bird darts (three-pronged spears made of spruce with a head made of walrus ivory) and a throwing board [54]. Inuit, including Iglulik, often harpooned geese this way [8, 46]. In later years, many cultures replaced traditional methods of hunting with shotguns. These cultures were reported to include Southern Okanagan, people of Port Simpson, Hare (Sahtu), Chipewyan, Cree (from Hudson Bay, James Bay, Mistissini and Eastmain) and Montagnais (Innu) of Lake Melville, Labrador [4, 14, 16, 17, 26, 34-37].

Decoys and sounds were used to attract flocks of geese to the ground. Yukon Kaska, Mistissini Cree and Michigan Anishnabeg were among the cultures that used decoys [33, 41] [38]. Mistissini Cree used alder branches and willow trees to make decoys; more elaborate ones were made of actual goose heads and necks that had been stuffed. In later years, stuffed goose heads were considered wasteful and not used as extensively [41]. Some cultures imitated goose sounds using their voices or instruments. Interior Salish, Mistissini Cree and Anishnabeg are reported to have imitated the goose cry in order to lure them closer [14, 33, 41, 57]. The Shuswap used hallowed out bones to call geese [56, 57]. The Montagnais would camouflage themselves to look like floating ice while they canoed along the lake, making goose calls as they sat waiting [34].

Several trapping methods are also documented. The process of catching geese with a canoe while wading in lakes and rivers is referred to as night netting. Firelight blinds the geese, forcing them to a shaded area where they are easy to access. A fire is lit on a sand-covered board lying across a canoe. As the hunter paddles he holds a mat attached to a rod, and as the geese attempt to escape the flame they swim into the shadow of the mat. When enough geese have accumulated under the mat, the hunter places the net over them and wrings their necks as the heads poke through [39]. The Stalo, Nootka (Nuu-chah-nulth) of Vancouver Island and Yukon cultures are reported to have used this method [39, 40, 42]. Nets and snares were also commonly used in goose hunting. In spring and late fall, Coast Salish trapped geese when they landed in snare nets placed in strategic locationsalong migration and stopover routes. Hunters typically killed captured geese by wringing their necks [28, 52]. The people of Port Simpson, Yukon cultures, Eastmain Cree and Huron are reported to have also used snares [4, 26, 32, 39]. Ahtna are reported to have used pole snares [4]. Mistissini Cree used nets with bait to trap geese [41]. Bering Strait cultures and Caribou Inuit are reported to have trapped geese using bolas (sinew strings entwined with weights of bone pieces tied to the ends). The heavy weights of bone are thought to have been used to knock out the goose or form a secure net around it so that it could not escape [8]. Central Inuit used whalebone nooses attached to a whalebone line placed along a lake, where geese would usually nest [55].

Location was an important consideration when hunting geese. For example, Inuit of Keewatin took geese from “fly away resting areas” and feeding grounds which were previously surveyed [58] and Southern Okanagan organized large hunting groups to stone or shoot geese known to have gathered in swampy areas [36].


Goose was often boiled. The people of Port Simpson plucked most of the feathers, singed the rest over an open fire, scraped the “fuzz” left on the skin and placed the bird in hot water [15, 26]. The Attawapiskat (Cree) soaked the legs, wings and head in water, plucked the bird and then boiled the meat [63]. Hot stones were used by some cultures to heat the water to boil goose. Shuswap used birch bark vessels with hot stones [56].The Chandalar Kutchin filled the cavity of large birds with hot stones [60]. The Thompson (N'laka'pamux) and Kitimat (Haisla) placed hot stones in wooden boxes or baskets [23, 61]. Nootka boiled and steamed the goose with hot stones [62].

Open fires were also used to cook goose. Shuswap used birch bark vessels over an open fire [56]. Cultures of Southern Alaska and Northern British Columbia are reported to have cooked goose over an open fire after skinning it [48]. The Micmac plucked the feathers and roasted the bird over an open fire. When traveling, they would debone the goose and wrap the flesh over branches to roast it over an open fire. When a portion of meat was cooked, it was immediately cut off with a sharpened bone and eaten. The raw portion was placed back onto the spit for further roasting [59]. Beothuk are also thought to have cooked meat over an open fire [45].

Goose was also often prepared in a stew or soup. The people of Port Simpson added potatoes; Chalkyitsik Kutchin added rice, vegetables or macaroni [26, 49]. Chandalar Kutchin boiled goose in blood soup [60].

Goose organs were also eaten. Southern Alaskan cultures, Attawapiskat and Micmac are reported to have consumed the intestines [59, 63]. The Southern Alaskan cultures believed the entrails gave goose its delicious flavor [48]. The Attawapiskat usually boiled or fried the intestines [63]. Canadian Inuit consumed goose lung; the hunter always had first choice of organ meats before distribution to others [64].

Many cultures are reported to have preserved goose for later consumption. The Shuswap sun-dried or smoked the flesh [56]. Tlingit, Tagish and Tutchone sometimes dried the meat [27]. The Hudson Bay Cree smoked or dried every part of the goose, including feet, to preserve for winter [16]. The Mistissini and Eastmain Cree also dried the flesh. They would preserve many geese and when enough was stored, they would hold a feast inside of a wigwam to celebrate with songs about the goose. As trading began, the Hudson Bay Company would purchase geese and preserve them in salt barrels [4]. Northern Quebec Cree smoked, dried or froze goose flesh [19]. Micmac preserved goose by cleaning and freezing it [51]. Beothuk were thought to have preserved goose by drying and smoking it in smoke houses [45]. In recent times, Cree (including those from Manitoba and James Bay) have replaced smoking and drying with freezing [17, 18].

Some cultures rendered the goose fat. The Coast Salish and Gitksan (Gitxsan) considered rendered goose grease a delicacy; cultures from Wood Buffalo National Park also enjoyed goose grease [67-69]. Mistissini and Eastmain Cree saved goose grease to be eaten with meals [4]. Grease was rendered from goose intestines for later use by the Attawapiskat [63].

Goose flesh was considered a delicacy by some cultures including Athapaskan (Tahltan and Kaska) and Upper Kutenai [30, 38, 43, 66]. The fatty flesh of the returning spring goose was particularly desired by the Tahltan and Hare [37, 43]. Geese were featured in celebrations for some cultures. For example, the Rappahannock feasted on goose, turkey and apple brandy for special occasions [22].


The large eggs of geese are reported to have been eaten and considered delicious throughout the North [65, 71, 72]. Tlingit, Tagish and Tutchone consumed the eggs; however in later years they stopped this tradition, considering them “baby like” [27]. Caribou Inuit and Chipewyan consumed goose eggs, however, in the 1980s conservation measures limited this activity [8]. Micmac and Inuit of Keewatin were known to eat goose eggs, as were the Kaska, particularly in summer and fall [38, 58, 73, 74]. The Micmac would use a canoe to search the shores for goose eggs [59]. At Eskimo Point and Lake Melville, Labrador, goose eggs were commonly eaten in late spring and summer [34, 75].
Goose eggs were boiled, pit-cooked or eaten raw. The Shuswap always ensured that some eggs were left in order to keep the mother goose satisfied. Back at camp, the eggs were pit-cooked. The Kalispel ate goose eggs in abundance, both raw and cooked. The eggs and meat of geese were cooked together by the Attawapiskat during minooskamin [7, 76-78].

Uses other than food

Goose feathers, quills and bones were used for household and decorative purposes. The people of Port Simpson, Tlingit, Tagish, Tutchone and Mistissini Cree are reported to have made pillows and/or mattresses from the feathers [14, 26, 27]. The Coast Salish used the feathers for decoration [28]. The Lillooet used goose quills and feathers to decorate their bows and arrows [29]. Greenland Inuit made small sewing needles from goose bones [8]. Some cultures, such as the Chinookans of Lower Columbia River, traded goose for other goods and resources [9].

Beliefs and taboos

Upper Kutenai goose hunters ventured out in the morning on an empty stomach; spirits were said to have warned them not to eat breakfast and it was thought that a full stomach would make them less aware of danger [30]. In coastal British Columbia areas, spells were cast on a hunter’s feet to make him lighter [70].

Canada Goose

Canada Goose is reported to have been consumed by many cultures including Salish, Nuxalk, Han, Tlingit, Sahtu/Dene/Metis (from Fort Good Hope and Colville Lake), Yupik (from Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta), Inuvialuit, Inuit (from Qikiqtarjuaq, Belcher Island and Labrador), Cree (Red Earth, Omushkego and Attawapiskat and those from Northern Manitoba, James Bay and Eastmain), Micmac (Mi'kmaq) (from Richibucto and Newfoundland), Montagnais (Innu) of St. Lawrence River and Naskapi (Innu) [17, 24, 25, 50, 71, 73, 76, 79-99]. Mackenzie Delta Inuvialuit are reported to have consumed a small subspecies of Canada Goose once referred to as Hutchin’s goose [100].


Canada Goose was hunted spring and fall. Yupik from Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta hunted during molting season [71]; however in the early 1960s, they were reported to have hunted during spring and fall migrations. The primary Canada Goose hunting season for Han and Omushkego Cree was spring [80, 99]. The Attawapiskat and Micmac gathered the eggs in early spring [76, 92]. James Bay Cree hunted mostly in early spring as well, but also in fall [17]. Red Earth Cree and Newfoundland Micmac hunted in fall [89, 93].

The Northern Coast Salish used clubs, nets, bows and arrows or bare hands to capture and kill Canada Geese [96]. The Nuvorugmiut (Inuvialuit) of Kugaluk hunted Canada Goose with bow and arrow [88]. The arrow tips were made from a caribou metatarsal bone or antler. The Micmac from Richibucto hunted Canada Geese at night using a canoe and torch [73].


Canada Goose was cooked, smoked and/or dried. The Dene (Sahtu/Hareskin) reportedly cooked Canada Goose, but also smoked or dried it. [98]. The Han poached Canada Goose in a large basket heated with a hot stone [99]. The Belcher Island Inuit cooked Canada Goose meat; the gizzard was boiled but also eaten raw [82]. Western James Bay Cree smoked or roasted Canada Goose [81] and Eastern James Bay Cree are reported to have poached the entrails to recover fat [87]. The Attawapiskat cooked Canada Goose flesh with the eggs, when they were available [76].

In addition to the flesh, many cultures consumed other parts of the Canada Goose. The Dene (Sahtu/Hareskin) from Fort Good Hope and Colville Lake and Inuit of Qikiqtarjuaq (formerly Broughton Island) and Belcher Island are reported to have consumed the gizzard [82, 85, 98]. Belcher Island Inuit also consumed the feet and wings [82].


Tlingit, Yukon Delta Yupik, Inuit (Hudson Bay and Qikiqtarjuaq), Attawapiskat Cree and Micmac of Richibucto are reported to have consumed the eggs of Canada Goose [71, 73, 76, 85, 92, 94, 100].

Uses other than food

The Northern Coast Salish are reported to have used Canada Goose droppings for medicinal purposes [96]. For Western James Bay Cree, the skills for preparing Canada Goose were transmitted from mother to daughter [81]. 

Population changes

The 1970s and 80s brought changes to bird populations resulting in changes in diet and habit. In the early 1970s, eating habits of Northern Manitoba Cree changed consequent to the Churchill-Nelson River Hydro project and Canada Goose was partially replaced by chicken [97]. In the early 1980s, the number of Canada geese in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta area was declining; Yupik and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to reduce hunting to safeguard against extinction (Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Goose Management Plan) [71]. In the 1980s Canada goose was reportedly no longer available for the Red Earth Cree [89].

Snow Goose

Snow Goose was reported to have been consumed by many cultures including Inupiat (from Wainwright, Cape Halkett), Yupik (from Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta), Inuvialuit (from Mackenzie Delta), Inuit (from Clyde, Grise Fiord, Belcher Island and Greenland), Cree (Attawapiskat, Omushkego and those from James Bay and Mistissini) and Montagnais (Innu) [15, 17, 24, 71, 76, 80, 82, 87, 88, 91, 95, 100-104]. The blue color phase of the Snow Goose was reported to have been hunted by the Cree including Plains, Attawapiskat, Omushkego and James Bay from Fort George [15, 17, 76, 80, 105]. Plains and Attawapiskat Cree consumed blue goose eggs as well [76, 105].


In Alaska, Yupik of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta and Inupiat of Cape Halkett hunted Snow Goose during molting season [71, 100]. However, in the early 1900s, Inupiat hunted in spring rather than during molting season [100] and by the 1960s, Yupik are reported to have hunted during spring and fall [71]. Spring and fall were the hunting seasons for cultures from the Yukon and Northwest Territories, Inupiat from Wainwright and Cree (Attawapiskat, Omushkego, James Bay) [15, 17, 80, 102, 103]. During the spring ice break up, the Attawapiskat sometimes caught Snow Geese containing eggs [76]. Clyde Inuit are reported to have hunted Snow Goose in summer only [101]. Plains Cree men hunted on the lakes while women hunted on the shore [105].

Cape Halkett Inupiat lured the Snow Goose by mimicking its call [100]. Nuvorugmiut (Inuvialuit) of Kugaluk hunted Snow Geese with bow and arrows. The arrows had thin and dull tips made out of caribou metatarsals or antlers [88]. Clyde Inuit hunted Snow Goose from boats [101] and Mistissini Cree are reported to have used gill nets [15].

Snow geese, referred to locally as wavie, were hunted primarily during spring and fall migrations by Attawapiskat and James Bay Cree [4, 13, 15, 17, 63, 76, 87, 103, 106]. Peoples of the interior would hunt the flocks from May to June and from August to September. While flocks were passing, whole communities would stop all other hunting in order to catch the prized bird. [4, 76, 103, 106]. Attawapiskat, Omushkego and James Bay Cree are reported to have also harvested the blue color phase of Snow Geese in spring and fall [15, 17, 80]. The Attawapiskat caught blue geese holding eggs during spring break up [76]. Plains Cree also hunted blue geese during molting season [105].


Wainwright Inupiat stocked Snow Goose in subterranean rooms, and later goose was often prepared in soup [102]. Cape Halkett Inupiat dried Snow Goose breast for later consumption [100]. Attawapiskat boiled these birds to make a thick broth that was drunk with the meal. The heart, lungs and kidneys were also boiled. The fat was either rendered from the viscera, or given to dogs. A small percentage of Snow Geese were hung up to dry for winter storage. The birds were plucked and gutted and the flesh was slowly dried over a fire. The geese were also hung in their feathers to dry in a cool place. The viscera were removed for this, but the heart, lungs and kidneys remained. Snow Geese were also salted in barrels, producing tastier meat. It is reported that the birds were more easily spoiled in hot weather if they were salted rather than dried [15, 63, 76]. The Eastmain Cree also dried Snow Geese for winter consumption and some birds were brought back to Hudson’s Bay for salting in barrels. The grease was also saved for later use [4].

Inuit (Caribou, Hudson Bay and Qikiqtarjuaq) and Attawapiskat are reported to have consumed snow goose eggs [71, 76, 85, 100]. In fact, the Attawapiskat cooked Snow Goose flesh with the eggs when they were available [76]. Inuvialuit of the Mackenzie Delta did not consume the eggs due to a strong taboo against eggs in general [71]. Plains Cree cooked blue goose eggs in a shallow ditch, under a layer of coal [105]. The Attawapiskat cooked blue goose flesh with the eggs, when available [76].


Brant was reported to have been consumed by the Coast Salish, Alaskan cultures, Micmac (Mi'kmaq),Montagnais (Innu), Wainwright Inupiat, Mackenzie Delta Inuit, and Inuit from Avaersuaq (Greenland) are reported to have consumed Brant [53, 59, 73, 95, 107, 108]. Nuvorugmiut (Inuvialuit), Omushkego Cree, Yupik from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, and James Bay Cree also occassionally consumed Brant [17, 21, 80, 88, 91].

The Coast Salish hunted Brant in winter; Eastern James Bay Cree hunted May and September to mid-October [17, 108]. The Coast Salish, Alaskan cultures and Micmac are reported to have hunted at night, often using the night netting technique, which uses a hand net, a canoe and a fire [53, 73, 108]. The Coast Salish also used a raised duck net that was supported by two long poles up to 30 feet high [108]. Alaskan cultures reportedly killed Brants with bare hands, breaking the bird’s neck; they also sometimes hunted during daytime, when the temperature was below zero [53]. The Nuvorugmiut used bow and arrow: the arrow tip was made of a caribou metatarsal bone or antler [88].

The Coast Salish prepared Brants for feasts and gave it as a gift [108]. The Micmac reportedly roasted Brants on a fire. They also consumed the eggs and intestines [59, 73]. Inupiat considered Brants a valuable food source. They reportedly hunted it with shotguns in spring and fall. They either stored it whole in a subterranean room used for special occasions or cleaned it immediately before making it into stew [102]. Yupik hunted Brant during the molting period (end of summer); however, in the early 1960s, they were reported to have changed their hunting season to the migration periods of spring and fall, with the latter being most important. Inupiat also hunted in fall. Alaskan cultures hunted Brants with a bow and arrow or more commonly a bola, which consisted of a handle made of feathers and six or seven sinews. Each sinew end had a bone or walrus ivory attached to it. As early as 1921, shotguns were being used. Brants were usually boiled; Yupik sometimes roasted it on an open fire.

In the early 1980s, Brants were in decline in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, prompting an agreement between Indigenous Peoples and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reduce Brant hunting (Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Goose Management Plan) [71].

Greater White-fronted Goose

The Greater White-fronted Goose, also known as laughing goose, is reported to have been consumed by Yupik (from Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta), Inupiat (from Wainwright) and Inuvialuit [71, 88, 91, 100, 102]. Yupik from Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta hunted white-fronted goose at the end of summer, during molting season, but by the mid 1960’s, they hunted during spring and fall [71]. Inupiat Wainwright also hunted White-fronted Geese during spring and fall [102]. Inuvialuit of the Mackenzie Delta commonly ate White-fronted Goose, referred to locally as yellow legs [91], which they hunted during spring [100]. Inuit reportedly collected White-fronted Goose eggs [100].  The Plains Cree are reported to have consumed White-fronted Geese (including flesh, entrails and eggs). The eggs were cooked under a layer of hot coals in a shallow ditch. They hunted White-fronted Geese during molting season with digging sticks. Men hunted on the lakes while women hunted on land [105].

To hunt White-fronted Goose, Inuvialuit lured it by mimicking its call [100]. Nuvorugmiut (Inuvialuit) of Kugaluk used bow and arrows; the arrows had thin and dull tips made out of metatarsal bone or caribou antler [88]. Inupiat Wainwright stored White-fronted Goose in subterranean rooms and cooked it in a stew [102]. Inuvialuit considered White-fronted Goose to be the most valuable type of goose, due to its high fat content [100].

In the early 1980s, the White-fronted Goose population, along with other goose populations, was declining in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. Yupik agreed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reduce hunting in order to prevent further reductions (Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Goose Management Plan) [71].

Emperor Goose

Emperor Goose eggs were reported to have been a main staple in the Yukon. Yupik from Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta are also reported to have consumed Emperor Goose and its eggs. They hunted during molting season, when they would force the birds into salmon nets, where they would kill them with clubs. In the early 1980s, the Emperor Goose population was decreasing considerably and therefore Yupik and the U.S. Fisheries and Wildlife Service agreed to reduce hunting and egg gathering (Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Goose Management Plan) [71].

Ross’s Goose

Inuit are reported to have hunted Ross’s goose in late spring [100].


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Geese General

Geese General

Out of the clouds I hear a faint bark, as of a faraway dog. It is strange how the world cocks its ear to that sound, wondering. Soon it is louder: the honk of geese, invisible, but coming on.

The flock emerges from the low clouds, a tattered banner of birds, dipping and rising, blown up and blown down, blown together and blown apart, but advancing, the wind wrestling lovingly with each winnowing wing. When the flock is a blur in the far sky I hear the last honk, sounding taps for summer.

It is warm behind the driftwood now, for the wind has gone with the geese. So would I--if I were the wind.

Aldo Leopold, 1966, A Sand County Almanac, pp. 70-71

Geese are large, long-necked waterfowl that migrate in large flocks, travelling northward in spring towards breeding ranges along the Arctic Ocean and southward in fall towards winter ranges along the Pacific or Atlantic coasts. Geese are a type of waterfowl, smaller than swans, but larger and longer-necked than ducks. Unlike swans that feed predominantly in water, most geese feed both in water and on land. Geese have a mostly vegetarian diet, dominated by grasses and sedges, but occasionally eat insects, mollusks, and crustaceans. Geese, like swans, are long-lived, form long-lasting breeding pairs, and have small clutch size, long pre-fledging period, and late sexual maturity. Geese present in northern North America include six species: Canada Goose (Branta Canadensis), Brant (Branta bernicla), Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens), Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons), Emperor Goose (Chen canagica), and Ross’s goose (Chen rossii) [1].

Canada Goose

The Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) is the most abundant and common goose in North America, found in every province or state sometime during the year. Canada Geese breed from Alaska, across northern Canada, eastward up to Newfoundland, and south to central United States. Different breeding populations migrate in three of the four North American flyways, the Atlantic, Central, and Pacific flyways, and occur in a great diversity of breeding habitats, including boreal forest-muskeg lowlands, high arctic tundra, tall and short grass prairies, and coastal rainforest. A small but increasing number of populations are non-migratory, remaining year round in their breeding range, while other populations migrate long distance south to reach wintering habitat, generally consisting of extensive agricultural fields adjacent to open, shallow expanses of fresh or brackish water. Over their vast range, Canada geese vary greatly in body size, from the duck-size arctic breeders weighing around 1 kg to giant-sized geese present in southern Canada weighing up to 9 kg. However, all Canada Geese have distinctive white cheeks contrasting with a black bill, head, and neck. They have brownish body and wings, paler gray-brown breast and underparts, and black tail, legs and feet. Canada Geese produce loud and varied vocalizations, ranging from Honks and Huckas in the larger forms to Cackles in the smaller forms, and for this reason, larger forms are often called honkers and smaller forms called cackling geese, with the latter sometimes recognized as a distinct species (Branta hutchinsii). The French common name is bernache du Canada. Canada Geese become sexually mature at two or three years old, when they form permanent breeding pairs, nest on territories, lay around 5 eggs, and incubate from 24 to 29 days with largest forms incubating longer. Young fledge 40 to 90 days after hatching depending on body size and length of the growing season. Adults molt and are flightless for some of this pre-fledging period. Main predators on eggs include raven, crow, magpie, and gull, while coyote, red fox, and striped skunk prey on young birds. Canada geese have strong, long-lasting family bonds, with yearlings remaining near their parents or with their siblings well into their second year, and are known to 24 years of age. North American populations of Canada geese are currently in the order of five million birds, with larger-sized forms and urban populations generally increasing, while some populations, including those in the Pacific Northwest, thought to be declining [2].

Snow Goose

The Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens) is an abundant and widespread medium-sized goose that breeds in large colonies north of the tree line. In North America, Snow Geese are often subdivided into two different forms – the smaller and two colour phase Lesser Snow Goose and the larger and single colour phase Greater Snow Geese. Lesser Snow Geese occur in two fairly discrete western and midcontinent breeding and wintering populations, while Greater Snow Geese form a third discrete eastern breeding and wintering population. Thus, Lesser Snow Geese breed from Alaska east to Baffin Island and spend the winter primarily in the central valley of California, the Gulf coast, and in the Mississippi Valley north to Missouri, while Greater Snow Geese breed in northwestern Greenland and on Baffin, Devon, and probably Grinnell islands and spend the winter along the middle Atlantic coast south to North Carolina. All Snow Geese nest in low, flat, grassy tundra, generally close to salt water or to lakes, ponds, or river floodplains. In the winter, they are found mainly in coastal salt-marsh or mudflats, sometimes visiting low prairies. Lesser Snow Geese occur in two colour morphs, either all white with black wing tips (light-morph) or dusky gray-brown body with a white head, neck, and tail cover (dark- or blue-morph). Snow Geese are also called white goose, white brant, or blue goose (for the coloured morph) and the French common name is oie des neiges. Snow Geese weigh between 1.6 and 3.3 kg and can be distinguished from all other geese by having a distinctive black lip on their bill, called the grinding patch. Snow Geese are bigger and have a longer neck and bill than the similarly white and blue-phased Ross’s Goose. Snow Geese are among the most social of geese, traveling in larger flocks and vocalizing almost constantly, causing them to sound like a hound of barking dogs. Snow Geese become sexually mature after their second or third year, when they form an often permanent breeding pair, nest in breeding colonies of thousands of birds, lay 2-4 eggs, and incubate for 22-24 days. Young fledge 6-7 weeks after hatching, a period during which adults molt and become flightless. Most predation is on eggs and young, with main predators including arctic fox, gull, jaeger, and raven. Subadult Snow Geese remain with their parents during fall, winter, and spring, but will leave the breeding colony early in the nesting season. Many Snow Geese live longer than 15 years and the maximum recorded age is over 26 years. Recent North American population estimates are over one million Greater Snow Geese and almost four million Lesser Snow Geese, with both forms increasing in population size [3].


The Brant (Branta bernicla) is a small, dark goose that breeds along High Arctic coastlines and islands in lowland tundra and winters in shallow waters along the Pacific coast from British Columbia to Mexico or the Atlantic coast from Massachusetts to North Carolina. Brants, which are called bernache cravant in French, are small duck-size geese, weighing between 1.3 and 1.5 kg. Their bill, head, neck, breast, tail, legs, and feet are black and their sides and underparts are grayish to whitish. Although similar in size to the smaller forms of Canada Geese, they are distinct in having a white patch on the sides of the upper neck instead of on the cheeks as in Canada Geese. Brant feed almost exclusively on marine plants in winter and short native grasses, sedges, mosses, and forbs in summer. Sexually maturity is reached between two and three years of age, when they form permanent breeding pairs, nest in colonies, lay around 4 eggs, and incubate for 23-28 days. Young will fledge 45-50 days after hatching, with adults molting and becoming flightless sometime during pre-fledging period. Major predators include jaeger, gull, raven, and arctic fox. Brants are relatively social, nesting and travelling in large groups, but unlike most geese, family bonds are disrupted in the first winter. Brant are long-lived geese reaching over 25 years of age. North American populations of Brant were recently estimated to be around 300,000 birds [4].

Greater White-fronted Goose

The Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons) breeds in the High Arctic, from western and northern Alaska eastward across northern Canada, and spends the winter in the western and southern United States and Mexico or along the Gulf coast. They most often nest in coastal tundra or upland tundra and are associated with shrub-fringed water bodies more than other geese. In the winter, they are found in interior or coastal marshes or wet meadows, using alkaline flats and sandbars less than snow geese, but also sometimes feeding in plains, fields, and swampy lowlands. Greater White-fronted Geese are also called specklebelly or Tule goose and the French common name is oie rieuse. Like other geese, Greater White-fronted Geese are large birds, weighing between 1.8 and 3 kg, but can be distinguished from other geese by being uniformly brownish with only a white undertail and forehead, by having a pinkish bill without black marking, and by having yellow to orange legs and feet. Greater White-fronted Geese are likely the most wary of all geese, but their calls, which have been described as sounding like cruel laughter, can be heard when they fly. They do not become sexually mature before their second or third year, when they form a permanent breeding pair, nest near the coast or close to water, lay between 3-6 eggs, and incubate for 22-28 days. Young will fledge 6-7 weeks after hatching, a period during which adults are molting and flightless. Most predation is on eggs and young, with main predators including gull, red fox, eagle, and snowy owl. Greater White-fronted Geese remain in family groups during the fall, winter, and spring, and into the nesting season. The maximum recorded age of the white-fronted goose is 20 years. Populations of Greater White-fronted Geese wintering along the Pacific Coast have recently been estimated to be around 500,000 birds, while mid-continent fall population was estimated around 750,000, both well under what it was ten years ago, possibly due to increased harvest pressure [5].

Emperor Goose

The Emperor Goose (Chen canagica) has the most restricted range of any goose species, nesting only along the westcoast and adjacent islands of Alaska in low, wet coastal tundra. In the winter, Emperor Geese are found just slightly south of their breeding range, mainly on the Aleutian Islands and along the Alaska Peninsula in stony, rubble-covered coasts. Emperor Geese are also called beach goose and the French common name is oie empereur. Like other geese, Emperor Geese are large birds, weighing between 2 and 2.4 kg, but can be distinguished from other geese by having a multicolour pink-reddish bill, a bluish gray body, foreneck, and throat, with a barred feather pattern of gray, black, and white, a white tail, head, and hindneck, and bright orange-yellow legs and feet. Life history information for Emperor Geese is sparse, but it is thought that they become sexually mature at around three years of age, form permanent breeding pairs, nest in small family groups, lay 4-6 eggs, and incubate for around 25 days. Young fledge 45-50 days after hatching, a period during which adults are molting and flightless. Major predators on eggs and young include jaeger, gull, and snowy owl. Emperor Geese are much less social than other geese species and occur in smaller groups or flocks. The maximum known age for an Emperor Goose is 9 years. Populations of Emperor Geese in North America were recently estimated to be around 90,000 birds and showed an increasing trend [6].

Ross’s Goose

The Ross’s Goose (Chen rossii) breeds mainly in the Northwest Territories, but also eastward in Manitoba and Ontario along the western Hudson Bay and winters mostly in central California. They usually nest on remote island-studded lakes with fairly dry surroundings, being less likely than other geese to nest along rivers or on lake shores. In the winter, they often mix with snow geese in coastal salt-marsh or mudflat, or in low prairies. Ross’s Geese are the smallest of white geese and have a more duck-like shape, weighing between 1.3 and 1.5 kg. The have a short neck and stubby triangular pinkish-red bill with a rough often bluish base and some black along the lips, but without the definite grinding patch seen only in Snow Geese. Possibly because of hybridization with Snow Geese, Ross’s Geese also have a dark- or blue-morph, but it is quite rare. Ross’s Geese become sexually mature at three years, when they form a permanent breeding pair, nest in large breeding colonies, lay on average 4 eggs, and incubate for 20-25 days. Young will fledge slightly more than 40 days after hatching, a period during which adults are molting and flightless. Arctic fox is the main predator of eggs and young, but can also prey on adult birds. Ross’s Geese are even more social than Snow Geese and regroup in larger numbers on breeding grounds or during fall migration. Strong family bonds remain during fall, winter, and spring, until early in the breeding season. Ross’s Geese can live to over 21 years of age. One major colony of Ross’s Goose nesting in the tundra lowland of the Canadian Arctic was recently estimated at over 700,000 birds and has shown an increasing trend from historic levels [7].


1.         Johnsgard PA: Waterfowl of North America, Revised Edition. In. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press; 2010.

2.         Mowbray TB, Ely CR, Sedinger JS, Trost RE: Canada Goose (Branta canadensis). In: The Birds of North America Online. Edited by Poole A. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; 2002.

3.         Mowbray TB, Cooke F, Ganter B: Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens). In: The Birds of North America Online. Edited by Poole A. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; 2000.

4.         Reed A, Ward DH, Derksen DV, Sedinger JS: Brant (Branta bernicla). In: The Birds of North America Online. Edited by Poole A. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; 1998.

5.         Ely CR, Dzubin AX: Greater White-Fronted Goose (Anser albifrons). In: The Birds of North America Online. Edited by Poole A. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; 1994.

6.         Schmutz J, Petersen MR, Schmutz JA, Rockwell RF: Emperor Goose (Chen canagica). In: The Birds of North America Online. Edited by Poole A. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; 2011.

7.         Ryder JP, Alisauskas RT: Ross's Goose (Chen rossii). In: The Birds of North America Online. Edited by Poole A. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; 1995.


Distribution maps provided below, unless otherwise stated, were obtained from Birds of North America Online, maintained by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and all pictures provided below were obtained from Encyclopedia of Life
Canada Goose
Supplier: Wikimedia Commons
Photographer: DickDaniels (
Snow Goose
Photographer: Menke, Dave
© Don Loarie
Publisher: Flickr
Creator: Don Loarie
Greater White-fronted Goose
© BJ Stacey
Publisher: Flickr
Creator: BJ Stacey
Emperor Goose
Supplier: Wikimedia Commons
Photographer: Mike Boylan
Ross's Goose
© Jamie Chavez
Supplier: Flickr: EOL Images
Photographer: Jamie Chavez