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Giant Canada geese (Branta canadensis maxima) were common birds in the upper Midwest before the arrival of the white man. Unregulated hunting and wetland drainage reduced the number of giant Canadas to the point where they were thought to be extinct. In 1962, Dr. Harold Hanson of the Illinois Natural History Survey concluded that the geese that wintered at Rochester, Minnesota, were definitely giant Canada geese. Several other small remnant flocks were identified following the discovery in Minnesota. Many conservation agencies have worked to re-establish giant Canadas in their original breeding range. Success has been good and flocks are now well-established throughout the Midwest. Indiana has thriving concentrations of resident geese in several areas and the birds may nest in every county of the state. Major populations occur in the Indianapolis and Fort Wayne metropolitan areas, on coal company lands in southwestern Indiana and on many state Fish and Wildlife areas.
Giant Canada geese are the largest of the 11 subspecies of Canada geese. Some males reach weights exceeding 20 pounds, but the average weights are 12 lbs., 8 oz. for adult males and 12 lbs., 2 oz. for adult females. Giant Canada geese tend to be large, have light-colored breast feathers, a white check patch, white flecks on their heads, a longer bill and greater leg length than other races of Canada geese.
Canada geese usually mate for life. When a pair is broken apart, a new mate is chosen. Mates are normally selected when the birds are two years old, but nesting generally does not occur until they are three years old. Canada geese lay an average of five eggs per clutch; if the nest is destroyed before incubation has begun, the goose may renest. The eggs hatch after the female has incubated them for 25-30 days. Once the eggs hatch, both parents care for the young. Adults take good care of the young and are extremely defensive when danger threatens. In areas where several pairs and their broods are located close together, pairs and broods may join forming “gang broods.” The goslings are capable of flight about 71 days after hatching. The family groups stay together well into the winter.
Geese are grazers. They eat large quantities of grasses and forbs in the spring and summer. As the weather turns cooler in the fall, grain, especially corn, becomes a major part of their diet.
Giant Canada geese were common nesters in the Grand Kankakee River marsh before it was drained for agricultural purposes. Remnants of live decoy flocks which were preserved by a few individuals were the source of most of the geese released throughout Indiana. The reestablishment began in 1935. Today, Canada geese are common in Indiana, providing many viewing and hunting opportunities.
Canada goose hunting is a traditional sport. Blinds, pits, decoys, retrieving dogs, marshes, corn stubble fields, goose calls, magnum shotguns, frosty dawns, sleet, snow and good friends are all a part of it. Hunters take from 15,000 to 20,000 geese annually in Indiana.
If Canada geese are present in an area, they can often be attracted to nest on a particular pond, lake or marsh, if the owner is willing to put forth some effort. The preferred nesting site is an island. Islands which are not disturbed during nesting season frequently attract nesting pairs. When building earthen islands is impractical, floating platforms can be anchored in the pond to serve as artificial islands. Other types of nesting structure can be used. Hay-filled, elevated tubs, are excellent goose nesting sites which have the advantage of being nearly predator-proof. With all types of nesting sites, it is important that the birds are not disturbed during the nesting period. When considering attracting geese to a pond or lake, it is important to realize that sometimes these birds can cause problems. Problems are especially prevalent on developed lakes. In doing so, they can inflict considerable pain. As the population of geese increases so does the potential for problems. Canada geese can ruin meticulously manicured lawns with their grazing activities and swimming areas can sometimes be seriously degraded when geese leave their droppings scattered about. In addition, giant Canadas are aggressive during the nesting season and will forcefully defend their territory against all intruders. Because of such potential problems, efforts to attract geese should be made in only nonresidential areas. For ideas about problem Canada geese, see Controlling Nuisance Geese.