Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)



Canada Geese © Ben Hall

Canada Geese © Ben Hall

The winter distribution of Canada Geese is broadly similar to that in the breeding season, although they generally gather into flocks and move to larger waters; some birds also spread out into the estuaries. Incomplete counts of the flock on the Dee, up to a maximum of 2,500 in October 2002, place it at the top of the national list of sites for wintering Canada Geese (Banks et al 2006) while the moulting flock on the Mersey, peaking in July and averaging 1,300 birds, puts the estuary in third position of the national table. Winter monitoring by WeBS shows a continuing long-term increase (Banks et al 2006), and the national population, from midwinter WeBS counts, was estimated at 56,000 birds in 2004/ 05.

Canada Geese were found in some 56 fewer occupied tetrads in winter than during the breeding season (361 winter and 417 breeding season), perhaps explicable by the species’ gathering into larger flocks for the winter. More than fifty tetrads recorded birds in flight but not on the ground or water and clearly birds move around a lot within the county. There is, thus, much double-counting of some mobile flocks, but as many as 87 tetrads recorded flocks of 100 or more geese, of which fifteen were larger than 500 and five flocks were counted at more than 1,000 birds. Canada Goose numbers have clearly increased greatly since Boyd (1951) commented on ‘good flocks’ numbering up to fifty birds! Coward & Oldham (1900) treated all introduced or escaped birds with disdain. They wrote that the Canada Goose ‘has been long naturalised and today exists in a perfectly wild state in Cheshire, breeding on many of the meres … in winter it is not unusual to see flocks, varying from half a dozen to two or three hundred birds, feeding in the fields or flying from one sheet of water to another’.

Birds mainly feed on grass. 29% of the winter habitat codes were farmland, overwhelmingly grassland, and there were only three records of Canada Geese on stubble fields. Most of the habitat codes were freshwater (61% of records), comprising 8% of the total on ponds, 20% small waterbodies, 23% meres, reservoirs and sandpits, and 9% rivers and canals. 3% of records were estuarine and 5% on grazing marsh and saltmarsh.

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