[Published in 1925: Smithsonian Institution United States National Museum Bulletin 130 (Part 2): 204-223]
Eggs.--The Canada goose lays from 4 to 10 eggs, usually 5 or 6. They vary in shape from ovate to elliptical ovate, with a tendency in some specimens toward fusiform. The shell is smooth or only slightly rough, but with no gloss. The color is creamy white or dull, dirty white at first, becoming much nest stained and sometimes variegated or nearly covered with "cream buff." The measurements of 84 eggs, in various collections average 85.7 by 58.2 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 99.5 by 56, 87.6 by 63.6, 79 by 56.5, and 86.5 by 53.5 millimeters.
Young.--The period of incubation varies from 28 to 30 days; probably the former is the usual time under favorable circumstances. The gander never sits on the nest, but while the goose is incubating he is constantly in attendance, except when obliged to leave in search of food. He is a staunch defender of the home and is no mean antagonist. Audubon (1840) relates the following:
It is during the breeding season that the gander displays his courage and strength to the greatest advantage. I knew one that appeared larger than usual, and of which all the lower parts were of a rich cream color. It returned three years in succession to a large pond a few miles from the mouth of Green River, in Kentucky, and whenever I visited the nest it seemed to look upon me with utter contempt. It would stand in a stately attitude until I reached within a few yards of the nest, when suddenly lowering its head and shaking it as if it were dislocated from the neck, it would open its wings and launch into the air, flying directly at me. So daring was this fine fellow that in two instances he struck me a blow with one of his wings on the right arm, which for an instant I thought was broken. I observed that immediately after such an effort to defend his nest and mate he would run swiftly toward them, pass his head and neck several times over and around the female, and again assume his attitude of defiance.
The same gifted author writes regarding the care of the young as follows:
The lisping sounds of their offspring are heard through the shell; their little bills have formed a breach in the enclosing walls; full of life and bedecked with beauty they come forth, with tottering steps and downy covering. Toward the water they now follow their careful parent; they reach the border of the stream; their mother already floats on the loved element; one after another launches forth and now the flock glides gently along. What a beautiful sight. Close by the grassy margin the mother slowly leads her innocent younglings; to one she shows the seed of the floating grass, to another points out the crawling slug. Her careful eye watches the cruel turtle, the garfish, and the pike that are lurking for their prey, and, with head inclined, she glances upward to the eagle or the gull that are hovering over the water in search of food. A ferocious bird dashes at her young ones; she instantly plunges beneath the surface, and in the twinkling of an eye her brood disappear after her; now they are among the thick rushes, with nothing above water but their little bills. The mother is marching toward the land, having lisped to her brood in accents so gentle that none but they and her mate can understand their import, and all are safely lodged under cover until the disappointed eagle or gull bears away.
More than six weeks have now elapsed. The down of the goslings, which at first was soft and tufty, has become coarse and hairlike. Their wings are edged with quills and their bodies bristled with feathers. They have increased in size and, living in the midst of abundance, they have become fat, so that on shore they make their way with difficulty, and as they are yet unable to fly, the greatest care is required to save them from their numerous enemies. They grow apace, and now the burning days of August are over. They are able to fly with ease from one shore to another, and as each successive night the hoarfrosts cover the country and the streams are closed over by the ice, the family joins that in their neighborhood, which is also joined by others. At length they spy the advance of a snowstorm, when the ganders with one accord sound the order for their departure.
Samuel N. Rhoads (1895) published the following interesting note, based on the observations of H. B. Young in Tennessee:
At Reelfoot Lake the goose nearly always builds in the top of a blasted tree over the water, sometimes nesting as high as 50 feet or even higher. When the young are hatched the gander soon gets notice of it and swims around the foot of the tree uttering loud cries. On a signal from mother goose he redoubles his outcries and, describing a large circle immediately beneath the nest, beats the water with his wings, dives, paddles, and splashes about with the greatest fury, making such a terrible noise and commotion that he can be heard for several miles. This effectually drives away from that spot every catfish, spoonbill, loggerhead, hellbender, moccasin, water snake, eagle, mink, and otter that might take a fancy to young goslings, and into the midst of the commotion mother goose, by a few deft thrusts of her bill, spills the whole nestful. But a few seconds elapse ere the reunited family are noiselessly paddling for the shores of some secluded cove with nothing to mark the scene of their exploits but a few feathers and upturned water plants and above them the huge white cypress with its deserted nest.
While the family party is moving about on the water the gander usually leads the procession, the goslings following, and the goose acting as rear guard. The old birds sometimes lead their young for long distances over large bodies of water. While cruising on Lake Winnipegosis on June 18, 1913, we came upon a family party fully 5 miles from shore and evidently swimming across the lake. The two old birds when hard pressed finally took wing and flew away, leaving the three half-grown young to their fate. The young were still completely covered with down, and their wings were not at all developed, although their bodies were as large as mallards. They could swim quite fast on the surface, could dive well, and could swim for a long distance under water. They were surprisingly active in eluding capture, and when hard pressed they swam partly submerged, with their necks below the surface and their heads barely above it, in a sort of hiding pose.
P. A. Taverner (1922) describes an interesting pose assumed by a family party on Cypress Lake, Saskatchewan. When pursued by a motor boat--
they put on more speed and arranged themselves in a long single file, one parent leading, the other bringing up the rear, swimming low, and both with their long necks outstretched and laid down flat on the water, making themselves as inconspicuous as possible. The young, coaxed from ahead and urged from behind, paddled along vigorously between, one close behind the other. From our low and distant point of view the effect was interesting. They looked like a floating stick. Certainly they would not impress the casual eye as a family of Canadian geese, and if we had not first seen them in a more characteristic pose they would undoubtedly have been passed without recognition.
Dr. Alexander Wetmore tells me that, in the Bear River marshes in Utah where these geese breed, both old and young birds resort during the summer to the seclusion of the lower marshes. Here he found numerous places where the thick growth of bullrushes had been beaten down to form roosting places for family parties, well littered with cast-off feathers and other signs of regular occupancy. Here they live in peace and safety while the young are attaining their growth and their parents are molting. Before the shooting season begins they gather into larger flocks, now strong of wing and ready for their fall wanderings.
James P. Howley (1884) gives the following account of the behavior of these geese in Newfoundland:
During the breeding season they molt the primary wing and tail feathers, and are consequently unable to fly in the months of June, July, and the early part of August. They keep very close during this molting season and are rarely seen by day; yet I have frequently come across them at such times in the far interior and on many occasions have caught them alive. When surprised on some lonely lake or river side they betake themselves at once to the land and run very swiftly into the bush or tall grass to hide. But they appear somewhat stupid, and if they can succeed in getting their heads out of sight under a stone or stump imagine they are quite safe from observation. When overtaken in the water and hard pressed they will dive readily, remaining a considerable time beneath, swimming or running on the bottom very fast. About the 15th of August the old birds and most of the young ones are capable of flight, and from thence to the 1st of September they rapidly gain strength of wing. Soon after this they betake themselves to the seaside, congregating in large flocks in the shallow estuaries or deep fiords, to feed during the nighttime, but are off again to the barrens at earliest dawn, where they are generally to be found in daytime. Here they feed on the wild berries, of which the common blueberry, partridge berry, marsh berry, and a small blackberry (Empetrum nigrum) afford them an abundant supply. They are exceedingly wary at this season, and there is no approaching them at all on the barrens.
Mr. Henderson has given the following observation regarding the young:
On June 4, while walking up the river bank looking for bear, we met a pair of geese and four goslings on shore and got within 20 yards before they moved. The old birds made a great fuss and flew down to the foot of a rapid and waited on the still water about 60 yards below. The goslings took to the water, which was tumbling and boiling over the stones; swimming and diving, they went down the rapid, under water most of the time, and joined their fond parents below.
On the 28th, while walking up the gravel banks of the Third Battle, hunting bear, I came on a pair of geese with six goslings, also three other geese about 100 yards upstream from them. The three geese flew on my approach, and the female took her brood across the stream to about 30 yards distant. Her mate went upstream, flopping along the water pretending to be crippled. He would allow me to approach to about 40 yards and then flap along the water again for a few yards and wait for me again. He repeated this performance several times, until he thought he had enticed me far enough around the next bend, when he had a marvelous recovery, flying away and giving me the merry honk! honk! for being so easy. I am sure he enjoyed the ease with which he fooled me, and I enjoyed watching him and letting him think so.
Plumages.--The downy young when recently hatched is brightly colored and very pretty. The entire back, rump, wings, and flanks are "yellowish olive," with a bright, greenish-yellow sheen; a large central crown patch is lustrous "olive"; the remainder of the head and neck is bright yellowish, deepening to "olive ocher" on the cheeks and sides of the neck and paling to "primrose yellow" on the throat; the under parts shade from "deep colonial buff" on the breast to "primrose yellow" on the belly; the bill is entirely black. Older birds are paler and duller colored, "drab" above and grayish white below.
When about 4 weeks old the plumage begins to appear, the body plumage first and the wings last; they are fully grown when about 6 weeks old, and they closely resemble their parents in their first plumage. There is, however, during the first summer and fall at least a decided difference. The plumage of young birds looks softer and the colors are duller and more blended. The head and neck are duller, browner black; the cheeks are more brownish white, and the edges of the black areas are not so clearly cut; the light edgings above are not so distinct; and the sides of the chest and flanks are indistinctly mottled, rather than clearly barred. During the fall and winter these differences disappear by means of wear and molt, so that by spring the young birds are practically indistinguishable from adults.
Food.--Canada geese live on a variety of different foods in various parts of their habitat and at different seasons, but they seem to show a decided preference for vegetable foods where these can be obtained. They usually feed in flocks in certain favored localities where suitable food can be found in abundance, feeding during the daytime if not too much disturbed, or at night, if necessary, in localities where it would be unsafe to feed in daylight. The feeding flocks are guarded by one or more sentinels, which are ever on the alert until they are relieved by some of their companions and allowed to take their turns at feeding. Their eyesight is very keen and their sense of hearing very acute. They are very wary at such times and among the most difficult of birds to approach; at a warning note from the watchful sentry every head is raised and with eyes fixed on the approaching enemy they await the proper time for taking their departure. Geese are very regular in their feeding habits, resorting day after day to the same feeding grounds if they are not too much disturbed; they prefer to feed for a few hours in the early morning, flying in to their feeding grounds before sunrise and again for an hour or two before sunset, spending the middle of the day resting on some sandbar or on some large body of water.
While on their spring migration overland wild geese often do considerable damage to sprouting grain, such as wheat, corn, barley, and oats; nipping off the tender shoots does no great harm, but they are not always content with such careful pruning and frequently pull up the kernel as well. They also nibble at the fresh shoots of growing grasses and other tender herbage, nipping them off sideways, cleanly and quickly.
Aububon (1840) says that "after rainy weather, they are frequently seen rapidly patting the earth with both feet, as if to force the earthworms from their burrows." Farther north, where they meet winter just retreating, they find the last year's crop of berries uncovered by the melting snow in a fair state of preservation and various buds are swelling fresh and green. Later on some animal food becomes available, insects and their larvae, crustaceans, small clams and snails, and probably some small fishes. In the marshes they feed on wild rice, arrowhead, sedges, marsh grasses, and various aquatic plants, eating the roots as well as the leaves and shoots. On the fall migration they again frequent the grain fields to pick up the fallen grain, pull up the stubble, and nibble at what green herbage they can find. They resort to the shallow ponds and borders of lakes to feed after the manner of the surface-feeding ducks, reaching down to the bottom with their long necks and even tipping up with their feet in the air, in their attempts to reach the succulent roots and the tender water plants. On the coast in winter they prefer to feed in fresh or brackish water on the leaves, blades, and fruits of marine plants, such as Zostera marina, the sea lettuce (Ulva lactuca) and various Algae. Probably some small mollusks, crustaceans, and other small marine animals are taken at the same time.
Behavior.--In flight, Canada geese impress one as heavy, yet powerful birds, as indeed they are. In rising from the water or from the land they run along for a few steps before rising, but Audubon (1840) says that "when suddenly surprised and in full plumage, a single spring on their broad webbed feet is sufficient to enable them to get on the wing." When flying about their feeding grounds or elsewhere on short flights, they fly in compact or irregular bunches. Their flight then seems heavy and labored, but it is really much stronger and swifter than it seems, and for such heavy birds they are really quite agile. It is only when traveling long distances that they fly high in the air in the well-known V-shaped flocks, which experience has taught them is the easiest and most convenient for rapid and protracted flight. In this formation the leader, cleaving the air in advance, has the hardest work to perform; the lead is taken by the strongest adult birds, probably the ganders, which change places occasionally for relief; the others follow along in the diverging lines at regular intervals, so spaced that each has room enough to work his wings freely, to see clearly ahead, and to save resistance in the wake of the bird ahead of him. As the wing beats are not always in perfect unison, the line seems to have an undulatory motion, especially noticeable when near at hand; but often the flock seems to move along in perfect step. Flight is not always maintained in the stereotyped wedge formation; sometimes a single, long, sloping line is formed or more rarely they progress in Indian file. The speed at which geese fly is faster than it seems, but it has often been overestimated; the following statement by J. W. Preston (1892) is of interest in this connection:
The Canada goose presses onward, borne up by strong and steady pinions. For forceful, solid business he has few rivals. I remember once, while traveling by rail at a rate of 30 miles an hour, our way lay for a time along the course of a swollen creek. A flock of geese, among them one little teal, came alongside the train and kept almost within gunshot for fully 10 miles, seemingly at an ordinary rate; and the teal was at no loss to keep his place among his larger companions.
There are exceptions to the orderly method of procedure outlined above. Audubon (1840) says that:
When they are slowly advancing from south to north at an early period of the season, they fly much lower, alight more frequently, and are more likely to be bewildered by suddenly formed banks of fog or by passing over cities or arms of the sea, where much shipping may be in sight. On such occasions great consternation prevails among them, they crowd together in a confused manner, wheel irregularly, and utter a constant cackling resembling the sounds from a disconcerted mob. Sometimes the flock separates, some individuals leave the rest, proceed in a direction contrary to that in which they came, and after awhile, as if quite confused, sail toward the ground, once alighted on which they appear to become almost stupefied, so as to suffer themselves to be shot with ease or even knocked down with sticks. Heavy snow storms also cause them great distress, and in the midst of them some have been known to fly against beacons and lighthouses, dashing their heads against the walls in the middle of the day. In the night they are attracted by the lights of these buildings, and now and then a whole flock is caught on such occasions.
When preparing to alight the whole flock set their wings and drift gradually down a long incline until close to the surface, then scaling or flying along they drop into the water with a splash. They swim gracefully on the water after the manner of swans and can make rapid progress if necessary. That they can dive and swim under water, if need be, is well illustrated by the following incident, related by Audubon (1840):
I was much surprised one day, while on the coast of Labrador, to see how cunningly one of these birds, which, in consequence of the molt, was quite unable to fly, managed for awhile to elude our pursuit. It was first perceived at some distance from the shore, when the boat was swiftly rowed toward it, and it swam before us with great speed, making directly toward the land; but when we came within a few yards of it, it dived, and nothing could be seen of it for a long time. Every one of the party stood on tiptoe to mark the spot at which it should rise, but all in vain, when the man at the rudder accidentally looked down over the stern and there saw the goose, its body immersed, the point of its bill alone above water, and its feet busily engaged in propelling it so as to keep pace with the movements of the boat. The sailor attempted to catch it while within a foot or two of him, but with the swiftness of thought it shifted from side to side, fore and aft, until delighted at having witnessed so much sagacity in a goose, I begged the party to suffer the poor bird to escape.
Mr. Henderson describes in his notes an interesting habit or pose assumed by this species, as follows:
I rode down the river a short distance to where I had noticed a pair of geese alight and soon saw one standing on a gravelly island. Making a short detour and riding closer, I saw both birds lying flat on the gravel, head and neck outstretched along the ground, precisely as they do on the nest. They were hiding right in the open without the slightest cover. Though I have what is called the hunter's eye pretty well developed, it is doubtful if I would have noticed them if I had not previously known they were there. They remained perfectly motionless and resembled pieces of water-worn driftwood so perfectly that I now understand how it was that in descending rivers in a canoe I had so often failed to observe them until they took wing. It was the most beautiful example of protective coloring I have ever seen. As I rode up to the river bank in plain sight and making a good deal of noise, one bird remained perfectly still and the other moved its head slightly to watch me. I then rode out into the river to within 35 yards before they broke the pose and took to flight.
M. P. Skinner has noticed similar habits in Yellowstone Park. He says in his notes:
Geese have a curious habit of playing possum. Instead of flying away, they squat flat with head and neck stretched out straight before them in a most ungooselike attitude. After one has passed by three or four hundred yards they raise their heads slowly an inch or two at a time and finally get to their feet again. They do this on the ice, on stony banks of streams, on boulders, on sandbars, in the grass, and I have even seen a sitting bird do it on her nest. On the ice it makes them inconspicuous, on stony shores or boulders the deception is perfect, for the rounded gray back looks just like a stone; as sand beaches may have stones, the method is good hiding there; but on the grass "playing possum" fails because of the contrast. In the water's edge the deception is good, as the inert, idly rocking body looks very little like a live bird. And this method is carried even further, for I have seen geese swim the Yellowstone River with heads and necks at the surface and have had them sneak off through the grass in the same way. This subterfuge is used more in spring than in summer, but is practiced sometimes in September and October.
Geese are social and like to be together, although the flocks are usually small unless there is strong reason for their gathering temporarily. Pages can be written of the sagacity and wisdom of these birds. Wary as they are, they are one of the first to realize the protection given them and are quick to lose their suspicions of man and his ways. But it is interesting to observe that although they pay no attention to autos passing along a road near them, they are at once on the alert and suspicious if a car stops near. Often we find the geese tamer than the pintail and mallard they are associating with. And their sagacity extends to wild animals as well; they know just how near it is safe to let a coyote approach, and one September day I watched a flock on a meadow seemingly indifferent to a black bear near by, although they never let him get within 20 feet, first walking away, then flying, if he came too near.
The well-known resonant honking notes of a flock of geese flying overhead on the migration are familiar sounds to every observant person; they are characteristic and distinctive of such migrating flocks and are sometimes almost constant. The Canada goose is also a noisy bird at other times, indulging freely in softer, lower-toned, conversational honking or gabbling notes while feeding or in other activities. Ora W. Knight (1908) gives a very good description of the notes of this species, as follows:
The cry uttered when on the wing is a clear trumpetlike "honk," seemingly uttered by various individuals in the flock. When the weather is foggy their "honk" seems uttered more frequently and in a querulous tone. When a flock has alighted and is sporting in the water without apprehension of trouble they swim gracefully about, plunging their heads and necks under the water to feed. Now and then some lusty or exuberant individual (probably a gander) will stretch itself up in the water, flap its wings over its back, and utter a series of resonant honks, the first loudest, longest drawn out, and highest pitched, and gradually lessening in loudness and length and decreasing in pitch, about as follows: "h---o---n---k, h---o---n---k, h--o--n--k, h-o-n-k, honk, onk, uf," the last note being a mere expelling of the breath. This proceeding I have only observed with one flock, never having been able to observe others while they were unconscious of my whereabouts and feeding, but judge that it is a characteristic habit.
The attitude of the Canada goose toward other species seems to be one of haughty disdain; although it often frequents the same breeding grounds and the same feeding resorts with various other species of geese, ducks, and other waterfowl, it never seems to mingle with them socially or to allow them to join its flocks. Toward man and other animals it shows remarkable sagacity in discriminating between harmless friends and dangerous enemies, and the latter must be very crafty to deceive it. On this point Audubon (1840) writes:
At the sight of cattle, horses, or animals of the deer kind, they are seldom alarmed, but a bear or a cougar is instantly announced, and if on such occasions the flock is on the ground near water, the birds immediately betake themselves in silence to the latter, swim to the middle of the pond or river, and there remain until danger is over. Should their enemies pursue them in the water, the males utter loud cries, and the birds arrange themselves in close ranks, rise simultaneously in a few seconds, and fly off in a compact body, seldom at such times forming lines or angles, it being in fact only when the distance they have to travel is great that they dispose themselves in those forms. So acute is their sense of hearing that they are able to distinguish the different sounds or footsteps of their foes with astonishing accuracy. Thus the breaking of a dry stick by a deer is at once distinguished from the same accident occasioned by a man. If a dozen of large turtles drop into the water, making a great noise in their fall, or if the same effect is produced by an alligator, the wild goose pays no regard to it; but however faint and distant may be the sound of an Indian's paddle, that may by accident have struck the side of his canoe, it is at once marked, every individual raises its head and looks intently toward the place from which the noise has proceeded, and in silence all watch the movements of their enemy.
These birds are extremely cunning also, and should they conceive themselves unseen, they silently move into the tall grasses by the margin of the water, lower their heads, and lie perfectly quiet until the boat has passed by. I have seen them walk off from a large frozen pond into the woods, to elude the sight of the hunter, and return as soon as he had crossed the pond. But should there be snow on the ice or in the woods, they prefer watching the intruder, and take to wing long before he is within shooting distance, as if aware of the ease with which they could be followed by their tracks over the treacherous surface.
The birds first seen in the fall in the vicinity of Fort Chimo are those asserted to have been reared in the Georges River district and repair to this locality in search of fresh feeding grounds. They appear about August 12 to 20, but are in very lean condition. By the first of September the earlier birds hatched north of the strait begin to appear and become quite numerous by the latter week of September. By this time they are in tolerable condition and rapidly become fat by the first of October, feeding on vegetable matter growing in the ponds, in the swamps and flats along the river banks. They remain until the latter part (24th) of October and follow up the rivers which flow from the south. In the year 1882 immense numbers of these geese flew southward on the 19th of October. Hundreds of flocks of various sizes, from 15 to 80 birds, passed over. A cold snap immediately succeeded, although a flock of 6 settled in the river a few yards from the houses on October 24.
From the foregoing it will be seen that the fall movement from the breeding grounds begins early in the season, the flocks gradually gathering on the coasts or on the larger bodies of water in large numbers, moving about slowly and deliberately and reveling in the milder temperatures and abundant food to be found in such places. But the shortening days and the sharpening frosts of autumn accelerate their movements and they prepare for their long journey; at length the leaders summon their hosts to meet on high; and forming in two long converging lines, pointing toward the already feeble rays of the noonday sun, they start. High in the air they travel on, cheered by the clarion call of the leader, answered at frequent intervals by his followers, far above all dangers and straight along the well-known path. When bewildered by fogs or storms or when overtaken by darkness the flight is lower and full of dangers. But usually toward night a resting place is sought; perhaps some well-known lake is sighted and the weary birds are glad to answer the call of some fancied friend below them; so setting their wings the flock glides down in a long incline, circling about the lake for a place to alight, and greeting their friends with loud calls of welcome. Too often their friends prove to be domesticated traitors, trained to lure them to the gunner's blind, and it is a wary goose indeed that can detect the sham. But, if all goes well, they rest during the hours of darkness and are off again at daybreak, for now they must push along fast until they reach their winter haven. ***
Game.--Many and varied are the methods employed by gunners to bring to bag the wily wild goose. On account of its large size and generally good table qualities it has always been much in demand as a game bird; it is so wary, so sagacious, and so difficult to outwit that its pursuit has always fascinated the keen sportsman and taxed his skill and his ingenuity more than any other game bird. According to Henry Reeks (1870) the settlers of Newfoundland were formerly adepts in tolling geese with the help of a dog; he describes the method, as follows:
The sportsman secretes himself in the bushes or long grass by the sides of any water on which geese are seen, and keeps throwing a glove or stick in the direction of the geese each time making his dog retrieve the object thrown; this has to be repeated until the curiosity of the geese is aroused, and they commence swimming toward the moving object. If the geese are a considerable distance from the land the dog is sent into the water, but as the birds approach nearer and nearer the dog is allowed to show himself less and less; in this manner they are easily tolled within gunshot. When the sport man has no dog with him he has to act the part of one by crawling in and out of the long grass on his hands and knees, and sometimes this has to be repeated continuously for nearly an hour, making it rather a laborious undertaking, but I have frequently known this device to succeed when others have failed. The stuffed skin of a yellow fox (Vulpes fulvus) is sometimes used for tolling geese, and answers the purpose remarkably well, especially when the geese are near the shore, by tying it to a long stick and imitating the motions of a dog retrieving the glove or stick.
On the coast of New England in winter geese have been successfully pursued by sculling upon them among the drift ice in a duck float. The float sits low in the water, with pieces of ice on her bow and along her sides; the gunner, clad in white clothing, crouches out of sight, and if properly handled the whole outfit can scarcely be distinguished from a floating ice cake. ***
Farther south on the Atlantic coast, in Virginia and North Carolina, geese are shot from open blinds. *** A box, large enough for a man to lie down in or deep enough for a man to sit in and barely look over the top, is sunken into the ground on some sand spit or bar where the geese are wont to come for gravel or to rest, or perhaps it is placed on some marshy point on their feeding grounds where it can be concealed in the tall grass or covered with grass to match its surroundings. The decoys, either live birds or wooden imitations, are strung out in front of the blind, and the hunter crouching in the box eagerly awaits the inspiring sight of a flock of oncoming birds. At last a long line of dark, heavy birds in a wedge-shaped phalanx is seen approaching, with apparently labored flight. The well-known challenge note of the leader, repeated along the line of his followers, arouses the decoys to answering notes of invitation to alight. The flock wheels and swings in to the decoys, anxiously scanning the surroundings for any suspicious object. Seeing nothing to alarm them, they all set their wings and scale down to join their fellows. This is the sportman's opportunity for a flight shot; the pothunter would prefer to wait until they had all alighted and gathered in a dense bunch near the decoys. But in either case the birds have a better chance than in front of a concealed battery of heavy guns.
Goose shooting on the western grain fields is perhaps the most sportsmanlike method, as it is practically all wing shooting. The birds frequent the grain fields in large numbers to feed on the tender shoots of growing grain in the spring or on the stubble and fallen grain in the autumn. They are very regular in their feeding habits, flying in to the fields from their roosting grounds on the lakes and sloughs about daylight and feeding for a few hours after sunrise; they rest during the middle of the day and come in again to feed for a few hours before sunset. Gunners take advantage of these regular habits to shoot them on their lines of flight. A hole is dug in the ground deep enough to conceal the gunner entirely, and the decoys, usually wooden ones, are set out around it. Or a convenient and effective blind is made by hollowing out the center of a corn shock, with which the geese are already familiar. Concealed in such a blind before daylight, the hunter is well prepared for some excellent shooting when the flight begins, especially if he is an expert in calling the birds by imitating their notes. It must be exciting sport to shoot these large birds flying over and often within easy range.
I suppose that the Canada goose has been more persistently hunted, over a wider range of country and for a longer period of years, than any other American game bird, for in the earlier days, when all game was so abundant, only the largest species were considered worth the trouble. In spite of this fact it has shown its ability to hold its own and is even increasing in numbers in many places today. Messrs. Kumlien and Hollister (1903) report it in Wisconsin as--
abundant, increasing rather than diminishing in numbers during the fall, winter, and spring. To such an extent has this species changed its habits that it is no longer looked upon as a sure harbinger of spring, as in most sections of southern and even south-central Wisconsin it remains all winter, flying back and forth from its favorite cornfields to some lake or large marsh for the night. When snow is plenty it even remains in the fields for days at a time. Twenty-five to fifty years ago the flocks which first made their appearance were noted by everyone, and spring was not far distant. Now, the flocks which return from the north in October are continually added to until they are often several hundred strong, and remain thus until the beginning of spring.
On a recent (1916) visit to the great shooting resorts on the coasts of Virginia and North Carolina, I was told by the members of some of the gun clubs that geese were more abundant than ever before and are increasing every year. I certainly saw more geese in the north end of Currituck Sound on one of the rest days than I had ever seen in my life before; great rafts of them were gathering to feed in the shallow water on the fox-tail grass and wild celery which abounds in that region; the water was black with them as far as I could see; flock after flock was constantly coming in from the sea; and sometimes it seemed as if they came in flocks of flocks. They winter here in large numbers; probably this vicinity is the greatest winter resort on the Atlantic coast, for here they find abundant food in the fresh-water bays and sounds and ample security from pursuit on the broad waters of Chesapeake Bay or even on the open sea in calm weather. They feed largely at night, as they are often driven out of the bays during the days when shooting is allowed.
M. P. Skinner says in his notes:
In winter the reduced number remain at the outlet of Yellowstone Lake and on numerous waters kept open by hot springs and geysers. A number of our meadows are underlain by springs sufficiently warm to melt the snow and even furnish a little green grass all winter. These are frequented by geese as well as mallard and green-winged teal.
On the coast they winter abundantly as far north as Massachusetts; probably the greatest winter resort on the New England coast is on Martha's Vineyard, where the large fresh-water ponds are not always frozen and where there are open salt-water ponds which never or very rarely freeze.
That the Canada goose winters abundantly in northern Florida is well illustrated by the following notes sent to me by Charles J. Pennock:
The numerous shallow bays, bayous, and broad river mouths of
the counties of Wakulla, Jefferson, and Taylor, lying south and
southeast from Tallahassee, offer attractive feeding for winter
visiting Branta canadensis, while not infrequently a short
distance inland, just back of the bordering salt marshes, numerous
sand flats and burnt-over semimarsh areas afford irresistible
attractions to a hungry goose. Fresh shoots of grass with plenty
of gravel and a clear, clean sand bed on which to take a siesta
seems to be a combination most alluring, and in February and early
March, with weather conditions favorable, numerous bands of these
sturdy birds may be found constantly on the move, flying in as the
tide rises and stops their feeding along shore or, if undisturbed
after a hearty feeding on the freshly grown grass, they betake
them to a long stretch of bare sand, where they evidently feel
secure from surprise by virtue of sentinels most alert with
keenest senses of sight and hearing, some hunters even claiming
them to have a like keen sense of smell; at any rate they are most
difficult to approach at such times and usually beat off up wind
just before an approaching hunter gets within range.
Canada Goose* Branta canadensis
*Original Source: Bent, Arthur Cleveland. 1925. Smithsonian Institution United States National Museum Bulletin 130 (Part 2): 204-223. United States Government Printing Office