“Honka Honk”

Canadian Geese are really, really cool birds!

The sights and sounds of fall are all around us.  Just the other day I was out for my morning run, and I enjoyed one of my favorites – the “honk honks” (click here) of the big, black-necked Canada Geese, with their signature white chinstrap, migrating south, filling the sky with an enormous long V formation, just as the sun was coming up over the beautiful Cleveland skyline.  I’m kinda fascinated by the birds, their innate migration patterns, and just the fun of watching the big formations fill the sky. (Yes,  I love order!) I just don’t like them flying directly over head, it may not end well for me! So, I decided to investigate a bit and share the information with my ornithologist (looked up the spelling!) pals out there.  Enjoy, and special thanks to allaboutbirds.org from Cornell University for science and detailed information.


>> Get in the spirit with 20 seconds of geese honking!  🙂
>> Canadian geese fly-over in V formation :15
>> This is funny: Canadian Goose flying alongside a car at 40 mph :48


  1. Canada Geese are big water birds with a long neck, large body, large webbed feet, and wide, flat bill. They have a black head with white cheeks and chinstrap, black neck, tan breast, and brown back.  Canada Geese feed by dabbling in the water or grazing in fields and large lawns and are often seen in flight moving in pairs or flocks; flocks often assume a V formation.
  2. Birds measure, on average, 30-43 inches in length, with a wingspan of 50-67 inches and weight of between 106 and 317 oz. In comparison, they are larger than a mallard and smaller than a mute swan.  In general, the geese get smaller as you move northward, and darker as you go westward. (sun tan?)
  3. Some migratory populations of the Canada Goose are not going as far south in the winter as they used to. This northward range shift has been attributed to changes in farm practices that makes waste grain more available in fall and winter, as well as changes in hunting pressure and changes in weather.
  4. Canada Geese live in a great many habitats near water, grassy fields, and grain fields. They are particularly drawn to big, open lawns for two reasons: one, they can digest lots of grass when they are feeding with their young and two, manicured lawns give them a wide, unobstructed view of any approaching predators. That is why they are especially abundant in parks, airports, golf courses, and other areas with expansive lawns. At least 11 subspecies of Canada Goose have been recognized, although only a couple are distinctive.
  5. Individual Canada Geese from most populations make annual northward migrations after breeding. Nonbreeding geese, or those that lost nests early in the breeding season, may move anywhere from several kilometers to more than 1500 km northward. There they take advantage of vegetation in an earlier state of growth to fuel their molt (feather replacement). Even members of “resident” populations, which do not migrate southward in winter, will move north in late summer to molt.
  6. The “giant” Canada Goose, Branta canadensis maxima, bred from central Manitoba to Kentucky but was nearly driven extinct in the early 1900s. Programs to reestablish the subspecies to its original range were in many places so successful that the geese have become a nuisance in many urban and suburban areas. – Canada Geese are common and increased between 1966 and 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. The total North American population in 2015 was between 4.2 million to over 5.6 million. The species rates a 6 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. It is not on the 2016 State of North America’s Birds Watch List. – Some 2.6 million Canada Geese are harvested by hunters in North America, but this does not seem to affect its numbers.
  7. The oldest known wild Canada Goose was a female, and at least 33 years, 3 months old when she was shot in Ontario in 2001. She had been banded in Ohio in 1969.
  8. In spring and summer, geese concentrate their feeding on grasses and sedges, including skunk cabbage leaves and eelgrass. During fall and winter, they rely more on berries and seeds, including agricultural grains, and seem especially fond of blueberries. They’re very efficient at removing kernels from dry corn cobs.
  9. Nests consist of a large open cup on the ground, made of dry grasses, lichens, mosses, and other plant material, and lined with down and some body feathers. Usually on a muskrat mound or other slightly elevated site, near water, they prefer a spot from which they can have a fairly unobstructed view in many directions. Females select the site and does much of nest construction. She adds down feathers and some body feathers beginning after the second egg is laid. She does all the incubation while her mate guards her and the nest.
  10. Geese have 1 brood per year, usually 2-8 eggs. The incubation period is 25–28 days, with a nestling period of 42–50 days.  At hatchling, the chicks are covered with yellowish down and their eyes are open. They leave the nest when they are 1-2 days old, depending on weather, and can walk, swim, feed, and even dive. They have enough energy remaining in their yolk sac to survive 2 days before feeding.
  11. Soon after they hatch, goslings begin pecking at small objects, and spend most of their time sleeping and feeding. They remain with their parents constantly, though sometimes “gang broods” form, especially in more southern latitudes. These can include at least two broods, and sometimes five or more, that travel, feed, and loaf together, accompanied by at least one adult. Just like when our kids were young!
  12. Geese mate “assortatively,” larger birds choosing larger mates and smaller ones choosing smaller mates; in a given pair, the male is usually larger than the female.
  13. During spring, pairs break out from flocks and begin defending territories. Spacing of these pairs is variable and depends on availability of nest sites and population density; where population is large, even after a great many fights birds may end up nesting in view of one another, and some populations are semi-colonial.
  14. When threatened, displays may involve head pumping, bill opened with tongue raised, hissing, honking, and vibrating neck feathers. When an intruding goose doesn’t retreat, geese may grab each other by breast or throat and hit each other with their wings. Fighting may result in injuries.
  15. In winter, geese can remain in northern areas with some open water and food resources even where temperatures are extremely cold. Geese breeding in the northernmost reaches of their range tend to migrate long distances to winter in the more southerly parts of the range, whereas geese breeding in southern Canada and the conterminous United States migrate shorter distances or not at all. Individuals tend to return to the same migratory stopover and wintering areas year after year.



Fall Is More Than Just Blue Jays in Town


Some of our feathered friends: (Clockwise from top left) Broad-winged Hawk, Snowy owl, Red-breasted Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Golden Eagle, White-winged Crossbill, confused with canaries?: the American Goldfinch (L) and the Evening Grosbeak (R), Canvasback Duck.

While working in the yard this week (awesome weather), I noticed some new and unusual bird calls and birds in the bushes. It peaked my interest, so I looked online to learn that Fall brings with it many changes to Ohio’s bird life. According to Bill Thompson, editor of Bird Watchers, and some other birders I found, and in what has become an almost annual tradition here at KHT here’s what we can look forward to:

  • September/October brings many changes to Ohio’s bird life, as this month is the peak of fall songbird migration. Even though there are probably more birds passing through the state in fall, their passages are much more subdued than in spring. Plumages are muted and generally lacking the festive hues that many warblers and other songbirds sport in spring.
  • By October, the warbler migration is past peak, although a few species, such as Yellow-rumped Warbler, are moving strongly. Sparrow migration has picked up, and will be a major feature of the month. Many short-distance migrants such as Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Hermit Thrush, Winter Wren, American Pipit, and others appear. Shorebird migration continues strongly through the first half of the month. Waterfowl migration is picking up, and many dabbling ducks are numerous throughout most of October, although geese, swans, and diving ducks tend to peak later.
  • We can find the American goldfinch, brightly colored and abundant little finches who favor the use of thistle down and other late-to-mature plant matter in the construction of their nests.
  • Migration hotspots like Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Black Swamp or Green Lawn Cemetery in Columbus are excellent places to observe fall migrants. On a good day, these sites and others like them can be filled with blackpoll, bay-breasted, Cape May, and yellow-rumped warblers, among others. (see links below)
  • A number of species of birds, especially shorebirds, have elliptical migration routes that take them mostly west of Ohio in spring, but right through the Buckeye State in fall. If you want to add buff-breasted or Baird’s sandpiper to your bird-watching list, you’ll definitely want to go explore Ohio’s fall mudflat scene. Even some songbirds like the Connecticut warbler display similar migration routes and are best seen in this month. The elusive Connecticut warbler is the hardest of our regularly occurring warblers to find, spending much of its time furtively skulking in dense shrubbery, and more than one longtime Ohio birder has yet to add this one to the list.
  • In late September/early October, it’s wise to watch the skies, as hawk migration time arrives. The most dramatic species in terms of numbers are the broad-winged hawks. Forming flocks known as kettles, the peak passage of broad-wings is around the third week of September, and the vicinity of western Lake Erie is the best place to catch big flights. In Sept 2002, it was in this area that some 20,000 (never to be seen in those kinds of numbers) red-tailed, Cooper’s, and sharp-shinned hawks were seen high overhead.
  • If you want to see a migrating golden eagle, park yourself in the heart of the Oak Openings this month, because that’s when and where the most hugest! raptors are seen in our state. It’s a good time to look for that medium-sized falcon, or the merlin, in wide-open places like Big Island or Killdeer Plains wildlife areas, too.
  • Birders eagerly rub their hands in anticipation of winter finch invasions, such as evening grosbeak, purple finch, pine siskin, and red and white-winged crossbills. – – October and November are generally when the first invaders arrive on the scene. While these and other northern irruptives like red-breasted nuthatch and northern saw-whet owl are notoriously cyclical in numbers from year to year.
  • Waterfowl begin to stage big movements in our marshes as October fades to November, and perhaps the wild hordes of Canada geese are the most obvious of this group. While not as vociferous as the geese, Ohio marshes become packed with many species of ducks, including northern shoveler, blue-winged and green-winged teal, and northern pintail. Reliable as clockwork, mid to late November brings the flocks of tundra swans, that are best seen as they migrate along the Lake Erie shoreline. Another big, spectacular bird stages flights through western Ohio and even queues up in flocks to roost at favored mudflats, such as at Deer Creek Reservoir.
  • As November windes down, we’ve usually had our first taste of snow, and shirtsleeve birding is a thing of the past. The arctic visitors such as rough-legged hawk have returned, and snowy owls will start to be seen in favored Lake Erie haunts. Huge numbers of red-breasted mergansers form flocks so large in the offshore waters of Lake Erie that observers can’t believe their eyes and accurate estimates are nearly impossible. As many as 100,000 of these fish-eaters have been seen flying past one location in 10 minutes! Other hardy diving ducks become common on our great lake in November, too, including canvasback, ruddy duck, bufflehead, and American goldeneye. Constantly whirling overhead are the gulls, which pick up in numbers and diversity as winter sets in. Great black-backed gulls become more numerous, and giant flocks of Bonaparte’s gulls congregate in harbors and river mouths.
  • Late November/early December, is high time to have your feeders up and filled, as backyard birds will be eagerly seeking handouts by now. That perennial snowbird, the dark-eyed junco, is back in force, and American tree sparrows have begun to appear. Acclimating your yard birds to the feeders now should insure a steady supply of feathered friends throughout the coming winter.

For more info, click HERE for great birding hotspots in Ohio.
And to learn more about clubs and places to visit, use these handy links below:
Bird Cinema
Black River Audubon Society
Black Swamp Bird Observatory
Black Brook Audubon Society
Cleveland Audubon Society
Akron Audubon Society
Kirtland Bird Club
Western Cuyahoga Audubon Society