The resident Canada geese nesting and molting  in your community are the descendents of captured migratory Canada geese.

Geese must nest in the area where they were born.  Migrating geese nest in Northern Canada.
During the first half of the 20th century, migratory geese were captured for use as live decoys. The resident Canada geese in are the descendents of these captive migratory geese. The captured geese, flight feathers clipped, sometimes with light weights on their legs, lured other migratory Canada geese into lakes, wetlands and rivers during the great Canada geese migrations in the spring and fall. These captive geese were also bred in captivity. As a consequence, their descendents do not have biological need to migrate to Canada since geese nest in the area where they were born.

The near extinction of Canada geese populations - Creating the current conflict

By the early 1960’s, because of the increased hunting efficiency resulting from the use of these live decoys, the migratory Canada geese population was threatened with extinction and the resident flocks were mostly gone. To counter this near extinction, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and many State wildlife agencies began a program of re-population of wild Canada geese. They did this by taking the eggs from the nests of the surviving resident Canada geese and artificially incubated these eggs while the geese laid another clutch (double clutch). Nesting enhancement technologies, such as nesting tubs which raised nests above ground, further increased the recovery by reducing predation of nests by other wildlife. By the early 1990’s this re-population effort was halted because it resulted in large resident geese populations in cities and suburban areas.

The resident Canada geese population

Unfortunately, the geese born as a result of the Canada geese repopulation effort do not have the imperative to nest in Canada since they are born here. Resident geese nest here, where their ancestors were forced to nest. And since the climate is temperate in our area and the water bodies do not freeze for long periods of time, the resident Canada geese have no need to fly south to find open water and grass in the winter. Although in harsh weather they will fly south for the short periods of time needed to find open water. Migratory geese nest in Canada because that is where they were born.

Even when it is 10 degrees Fahrenheit, as long as the geese can find open water, they stay warm. The water is 32 degrees and the geese have down on their bellies and chest which insulates them from the cold water.

Resident Canada geese nest in the early spring and have their goslings in May. They must stay in the area to protect and raise their goslings. The goslings cannot fly until mid to late August well after their parent geese molt which begins in June. Therefore, the geese with goslings and the goslings are biologically “trapped” in the area where they had nested and then subsequently molted.

Canada geese under three years of age (juveniles) do not nest, although they will pair up. These juvenile geese and adult geese with and without goslings leave their nesting areas to a safe location to molt (naturally lose flight feathers). This generally is an area which has a water body for sanctuary and nearby grass for food.   Canada geese and goslings are very vulnerable to land predators during the molt and need a water body for sanctuary. Compounding the situation other geese that may have nested in nearby areas walk their goslings to sensitive areas like parks and school grounds and molt there. Also, some juvenile geese (non-nesters) from other places in the neighboring counties who are looking for a good place to nest and molt may pick a water body in the program area.

The geese that do not “molt migrate” and goslings cannot leave until early to mid August when they are again able to fly. Until then, they are trapped because they are flightless. This is a cause of frustration with Canada geese because it seems no matter what one does they do not leave. In fact, they cannot. Unfortunately, this period coincides with the start of the spring active outdoor activities and continues into summer vacation times when people are out in parks.

Molt Migration

Fortunately, resident Canada geese without goslings (juveniles and adult geese with failed nesting) have an option to find a distant place to molt, before they are biologically trapped in the area. When geese without goslings leave their nesting area it is called a “molt migration”. Sometimes this molt migration, which begins in early June, can take the geese hundreds of miles away. This has been confirmed by studies on molt migration conducted by Cornell University and the Michigan DNR. They placed satellite tracking devices on geese without goslings. Theses geese left their local nesting areas in early June and did not return until late September. They molted in James Bay, in Canada.

Also, during the months of September through February, resident Canada geese fly from pond to pond so they are aware of many possible good areas to molt, many of which do not cause problems for communities.

Why do resident geese go on a molt migration?

Geese have a built in mechanism to fly north in the spring (iron in the beak helps them navigate – a built in compass). Canada is a much better place to molt because of the longer daylight hours in the spring and summer and abundant water and grasslands.