The Canada Goose in Vancouver: Photos and Facts

I love hearing the honks of Canada geese as they fly overhead and looking up to see their V formation in the sky. The sound always reminds me of the Canadian wilderness. In reality, the birds are found in the United States and Northern Mexico as well as Canada and are seen in cities and towns and well as wild places. Canada geese can be found at any time of the year in the Vancouver area.

canadageese

Canada geese that I photographed in Stanley Park in summer

Physical Appearance and Identification Problems

The Canada goose (Branta canadensis) is an attractive bird. Its neck is long, thin, and black. Its head is black, too, except for the white patch on each side of its face. The two patches are joined by a white “chinstrap” under the head. The bird’s upper body is brown to grey. Its underside is usually paler and changes to white at the back of the body. Males and females look similar.

Most of the birds in the photo above are clearly Canada geese. It might surprise some people to know that it’s not always easy to identify the birds, at least in the Vancouver area, due to the presence of a similar bird. The cackling goose (Branta hutchinsii) was once classified as a subspecies of the Canada goose but is now considered to be a separate species. It resembles a Canada goose in appearance but is smaller and has a shorter and thicker neck, as shown in the photo below.

Unfortunately for people who want a definite identification of the bird that they are observing, the cackling goose hybridizes with the Canada Goose, producing birds with intermediate features. In addition, some subspecies of the Canada goose are smaller than others. Another confusing factor is that the apparent length of a Canada goose’s neck varies according to what it’s doing. These points can sometimes make identification of a bird difficult.

cackling_goose_two

A cackling goose photo taken by Andy Reago and Chrissy McClarren, CC BY 2.0 license

Habitat and Diet

The Canada goose is found in water of different types, wetlands, and grain fields. Some birds frequent grass in urban areas. A flock of geese on an urban playing field can be an interesting sight but can also be annoying because of the droppings that are produced. The birds eat aquatic plants, grass, grain, and small animals.

The first two Canada Geese photos in this post show the birds at Stanley Park, a large and very popular area in Vancouver. The park is located by the ocean. As can be seen, the geese in Vancouver don’t seem to mind being in and near sea water at all. I took the photo of the gosling at John Hendry Park, which contains a small lake (Trout Lake) as well as grassy and treed areas. The goslings were very confident and came close to me as they fed on grass. Their parents were watching carefully, though.

preening

A Canada goose that I photographed while he or she was preening on a Stanley Park beach

Reproduction

Canada geese stay in flocks until the mating season. They mate for life. If one of the birds dies, however, the other one will likely choose a new mate.  The nest is a mound of vegetation and is constructed near water. The female incubates the eggs and the male protects her. The clutch generally consists of four to seven eggs. Incubation takes about a month.

Once the goslings are born, they stay with their parents for some time as they grow. They don’t leave to start independent lives until the next spring. The birds are said to have a lifespan of up to twenty-four years.

gosling

A gosling at John Hendry Park

Observing the Birds

The Canada Geese in my area are used to people and don’t seem to mind our presence as long as we stay at a respectful distance. They usually move away if humans get too close, however. Some birds are more confident than others or more confident in certain places.

I would have thought that a pair of geese with goslings would be especially cautious. They probably are in many places, but in certain spots in my part of the world this is a good time to observe the birds closely.

Lost Lagoon in Stanley Park is a popular spot for bird watchers and for people who like to feed birds (hopefully with healthy food). The Canada Geese that choose to appear here with their goslings seem quite content to have people approach them to take photographs. They continue to graze by the lagoon as the photos are taken, but even here a parent stops grazing occasionally and lifts a watchful eye.

Canada geese and cackling geese are two of my favourite birds to observe. I don’t mind if a flock is composed entirely of Canada geese, entirely of cackling geese, or a mixture of species and hybrids. They are interesting animals.

Creek Life: A Pair of Mallards and Facts About the Ducks

twomallards

A male and female mallard

I live near several creeks that drain off a nearby mountain. I often see one or two mallards in a particular part of the creek system. I sometimes discover that when I see only one (generally the male), the other is hiding on the bank. In March a few years ago, I found the handsome pair shown in my first two photos.

The mallard has the scientific name Anas platyrhynchos. It’s a common duck in southwestern British Columbia. The bird is found in water and wetlands and is classified as a dabbling duck. It tips its head into the water and its tail into the air to reach the aquatic plants and small animals that it eats. It gets some of its food on land, however. In park ponds, it’s happy to accept food offerings from humans. The bird usually gathers in flocks but may be seen in pairs during the breeding season.

mallardswim

The male’s curly black “tail” can be seen in this photo.

Many people would probably consider the male to be the most attractive member of the pair. He has a glossy green head, a yellow bill, a narrow white “necklace”, and a dark brown chest. He also has a curly black feathers at the end of his body above his tail.

The female has mottled brown plumage and a duller bill than the male. Both genders have orange legs and a patch of blue feathers on their wings called a speculum. The speculum is often outlined with white and black and is sometimes visible when the wings are folded, as in the female in the photos above.

duckling

My sister took this photo of a mallard duckling in a botanical garden in Vancouver.

The breeding season for the ducks starts in late March where I live. The two adults in my photos were almost certainly a breeding pair. Researchers say that a bird choses its partner in the fall while the ducks are still in a flock, long before the breeding season begins.

The male stays with the female as the pair search for a nesting site. The female constructs the nest on the ground in a hidden area near the water. The male remains with her for a short while after the eggs are laid, but at some point during the incubation he leaves. The clutch size varies considerably. The eggs hatch in around thirty days and the youngsters grow quickly. They fledge and become independent around fifty to sixty days after hatching.

At the end of the breeding season, the adults lose their flight feathers. During this stage they are said to be in their eclipse plumage and the male looks much like a female. The period lasts for three or four weeks. Some species of ducks are secretive during this potentially dangerous stage in their lives because they can’t fly away from predators. I often see mallards in eclipse in flocks, though.

After the breeding season and when the ducklings have matured, the birds stay in a flock at least until the following March. Courtship displays begin in the fall. The birds become very active and perform a wide variety of ritualistic behaviours, which are often easily observed. They are always interesting to watch.

I photographed the flock below in February at a lake fed by one of my local creeks. People often sit on the benches to feed the birds seeds. The animals are quite confident  and frequently come close to the people who are feeding them.

moremallards

The bench where people often sit to admire or feed the ducks.

Many other interesting facts about the birds have been discovered. For example:

  • The mallard gave rise to many breeds of domestic ducks.
  • Mallards easily hybridize with some other duck species.
  • The females quack but the males don’t. Instead, they produce a sound that resembles a rasp.
  • The female is known for her “decrescendo call.” She gives a series of quacks, started with the highest pitched and loudest one and ending with the lowest pitched and softest one.
  • According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, researchers have discovered that mallards can fly up to an estimated fifty-five miles an hour.

Mallards have been the most common ducks in my environment everywhere that I’ve lived on two different continents. Despite this fact, scientists are still learning more about them. As I often say, nature is always fascinating.