The Loyalty of the Canada Goose

Loyalty of Canada Goose Parents

Canada geese traditionally build their nests and lay eggs in April. The female lays eggs over several days at the rate of one egg per day. Once five or so eggs have been laid, the mother goose begins incubating them. Because the eggs must be kept between 100.4°F and 101.3°F, she keeps them well-insulated and leaves the nest only for brief periods of time during the 28-day incubation.

One unfortunate spring in Alaska, an unseasonably late snowstorm struck. As the cold, fluffy flakes began to fall, dozens of geese snuggled their eggs tightly beneath their warm bodies. The snow continued to fall. Soon, the wind whipped up a terrible blizzard. Three feet of snow fell that day, completely burying the surrounding area. Yet the mother geese did not abandon their eggs.

Within a few days, the spring sunshine reappeared and began to melt the snow. But it was too late. Scores of dead Canada geese were discovered once the snow melted. They had suffocated under the snow rather than abandoning their eggs.

Loyalty of Canada Goose Families

The loyalty in Canada goose families is unusually strong. “Sagacity, wariness, strength, and fidelity,” commented one waterfowl expert (F. H. Kortright), “are characteristics of the Canada goose, which, collectively, are possessed in the same degree by no other bird. The Canada [goose] in many respects may serve as a model for man.” After the winter flock begins to disperse, single male Canada geese select one of the females and offer her protection. The female responds by following the male closely—if she is agreeable.

Once it is clear that the commitment is mutual, a “greeting ceremony” occurs. During this ceremony, the two geese sing together antiphonally with such unity of timing that their separate calls back and forth sound like one continuous call. Thus, the bond of loyalty is established, and the geese mate for life.

A nesting site is selected and eggs are laid. During the vulnerable incubation period, the mother goose will loyally defend the nest with her life. The father goose is equally loyal, defending a much broader territory to keep danger from approaching the nest site. Racoons and foxes are among the most dangerous predators of goose eggs and hatchlings.

Once the young are hatched, they quickly adapt to the water. They always follow their parents in a straight line—whether swimming across the lake or waddling along the shore. The parents watch out for large fish and snapping turtles, splashing violently to scare them away and protect their fledglings.

Canada Geese Celebrate Loyalty

If the father goose spots an intruder during the nesting period, he attacks fearlessly. A lengthy fight may follow, potentially involving both parents. It may be with broken wings and battle scars that the geese finally drive the attacker away, but they stand together at any cost.

Once peace is restored, the two geese meet together for what ornithologists call a “triumph ceremony.” Singing together as in their “greeting ceremony,” geese use the weathering of battle as a basis for renewing their bond of mutual loyalty.