See also: Canada Geese Management
Just about everyone knows what a Canada Goose looks like, and in High Park you can look all you want all year long. In the first warm days of February, mated pairs are already scouting out nesting sites. Canada Geese tend to nest where they were born. Mated pairs will return to the very same nesting site they used the previous year if they still find it suitable. In High Park they have no trouble finding nesting sites along the shorelines of the ponds and in wetland habitats, but they are also known to nest in trees or even on roofs.
Males and females pair up in their third year and remain mates for life, usually 20 to 25 years. By mid or late March, most pairs have established a territory for breeding. The females are sitting on two to eight eggs by mid April, and most of the goslings hatch in May. Throughout May and June, many High Park visitors love to watch the Canada Goose families with their little parade of goslings swimming between the parents or learning to graze on grass.
A few weeks after the goslings hatch, the adults lose their flight feathers and then grow new ones. During this four- to six-week flightless molting stage, they are vulnerable to predators since they cannot easily flee from danger. This is when you can see families of geese bobbing along in flotillas on High Parkís ponds or grazing near the shore with a clear escape route to water. By mid to late July, all the geese are able to fly. However, as long as lush green grass grows all around High Park, they have little reason to leave.
Come fall, High Parkís nesting population will linger or move to other sites depending on weather and availability of food. During this period the migratory population of Canada Geese that have nested in the far north can also be seen overhead in V formation on their long trip south - a clear sign of winterís approach. Some may also stopover at Grenadier Pond.
Throughout the winter, you can find Canada Geese flocking together in High Park on snow-covered turf, all facing the same direction into the wind. Food can become scarce intermittently in the wintertime, but the geese merely fly from one food source to another within our area. Over the winter, itís all about the food, not the cold. Goose down keeps the birds thoroughly insulated against cold temperatures even as low as -30C. Thereís a good reason the company renowned for its high quality winter-busting jackets named itself after the Canada Goose!
In the first half of the 1900s, we lost so many Canada Geese to hunting and destruction of habitat that they were close to extinction by the 1960s. Canada Geese were no longer present in many parts of Ontario. Government and wildlife agencies came to the rescue with protection programs to bring them back. Their efforts were so successful that the strategies to repopulate were discontinued in the 1990s. In fact, now they are the most common waterfowl species in North America!
This population explosion was boosted by changes we made to our environment. Agricultural expansion and new harvesting practices increase food sources and leave grain and vegetation waste on the fields. Climate change provides more open water in winter. A surge in the creation of golf courses and parks featuring ponds and big green lawns ensures safe reliable habitats. Canada Geese are now so plentiful that in some places they are a public nuisance and even a threat to human health and the environment.
High Park has been feeling the effects of the Canada goose population boom for a while. Every day, each goose eats close to a kilogram of grass. What goes in must come out and so it does about every 20 minutes, averaging almost a kilogram of droppings a day. In some places, there are so many droppings that itís impossible for park visitors to walk or to sit down anywhere without contacting goose poo! The droppings contain parasites and agents of diseases that are a potential risk to humans if ingested. In addition, the droppings add so much nitrogen to Grenadier Pond that the fertilized water becomes filled with huge unpleasant algae blooms. As the blooms decay, they use up a great deal of the pondís oxygen in the process, which can endanger many pond species.
Canada Geese are extremely protective of their territories and their young. Their aggressive behavior deters other native waterfowl species from nesting or using the same natural areas of the park. The geese protect themselves and their goslings forcefully if they feel threatened. When they sense danger, they confront the threat with an impressive display by standing up tall and erect, spreading their wings and hissing. They may even charge and bite with their powerful bills. Park visitors who encounter geese in the park should be careful and keep a safe distance.
Contributed by Kathleen Keefe