The Canada Goose Problem

Young Canada geese, Vancouver BC

Why are Canada geese nesting and pooping all over our cities?

‘Tis the season for goslings again: adorable, fluffy, peeping, traffic-stopping broods of wee Canada geese, following their parents through all sorts of inappropriate and dangerous areas. As a result, many of us who work or volunteer in parks, sanctuaries, animal hospitals, etc. find ourselves responding to panicked calls for help or for information regarding said wayward geese. Here are a few of the more common questions I’ve had:

Q: Why do geese nest up high on balconies and ledges?

A: This seems to be pretty common on the prairies, and the balconies probably simulate the cliffs and terraces of riverbanks in a more natural habitat. They’re looking for somewhere isolated from terrestrial predators like skunks or coyotes. Normally, baby geese can survive quite a tumble out of these lofty nests.

Canada Goose
Hangin’ out at the water’s edge

Q: There’s a pair of geese nesting on my balcony! It’s adorable!

A: If you’re like most people, it’s adorable for the first three days. A hissing, territorial pair of geese on your balcony tend to wear out their welcome fairly quickly. They’ll be there for at least three weeks. I strongly encourage you to chase her off the balcony before she starts laying eggs. After that, it’ll be difficult and possibly illegal to kick her off.

Q: There’s a family of geese leading their babies through traffic! Are they crazy?

A: No, they’re just birds. Waterfowl often have a nesting territory that is some distance from the brood-rearing areas, up to 2 km with geese. So they need to walk them from the nesting area to the brood-reading areas, normally a wetland of some kind.

Young Canada goose, Vancouver BC

Q: I found a gosling all by itself! What should I do?

A: Leave it if it’s not in immediate danger. It may not, in fact, be abandoned; the rest of its family might be just around the corner. But if it is well and truly lost, you could pick it up and take it to a wildlife shelter. Do not take it home and try to raise it yourself. This is difficult, illegal, and a complete pain in the ass for all parties concerned.

Lastly, you could drop it off at a local wetland where you see other families of Canada geese. They may very well adopt it. This doesn’t work with most birds! Canada geese are one of the very few species that will readily adopt strange chicks. In fact…

Q: There’s a pair of geese nearby with thirty goslings! Some are clearly bigger than others, IE from other broods. What gives?

A: Where goose populations are dense, we often see “gang brooding”. This may be cooperative: a form of goosey day care, to make foraging easier and safer for the parents. However, there is some evidence that it’s actually a hostile takeover by a dominant pair of geese. They may be actively stealing other parents’ babies, in an effort to “pad” their own brood. Their natural babies stay closer to the parents, and when a predator comes along, they’re more likely to take the foster goslings. Ain’t nature grand?

relaxing goose

Q: I hear they mate for life, and if the mate dies they never mate again.

A: That’s half true. They do mate for life (unlike most ducks, that mate for a couple weeks), but if something happens to one of them, the other will likely find a new mate the following year.

Q: Why are there so many Canada geese in my town?

A: They’re native to much of Canada and the northern US, and they haven’t always been this plentiful. In the mid-twentieth century, there were many efforts to increase their numbers, which had slipped due to overhunting and loss of habitat. These efforts were, uh, very successful. So much so that extra geese were relocated to more southerly US cities (encouraged in part, I believe, by hunting associations).

canada goose profile

Q: Why are they everywhere in city parks?

A: Geese congregate where there is open water and abundant food. In our cities, we have eliminated their predators and laid out endless expanses of tasty green grass. Thermal pollution from our industries keeps our waterways open through the coldest winters. In these areas, Canada geese have established non-migratory populations: they know a good thing when they see it.

Q: How can we reduce their numbers? They’re out of control!

A: We can stop feeding them, for starters. Next, one of the more humane and effective methods of population control is egg-addling, where licensed individuals (IE not just anyone, as these birds have legal protection as migratory birds) addle or shake the newly-laid eggs. This kills the embryo inside at an early stage. Parents continue to brood the eggs, which simply don’t hatch. It’s more effective than destroying the nest; the parents would simply re-lay. As waterfowl only have one brood per season, addling eggs once per season is an effective population control.

Q: Shouldn’t we  shoot all these excess geese in our parks? We could feed the poor!

A: Perhaps. But they are protected as migratory birds, and a culling program would probably involve introducing legislation, which would be politically challenging. There would be protests, unpleasant images in the media, etc. and so far nobody has taken it on, as far as I know. Efforts to control mute swans in Chesapeake Bay, for example, have been highly controversial.

canada goose profile
Nice profile

Q: I live in Great Britain and I’m outraged at the spread of your geese which some boob introduced to our country. Kindly come and get them. (Yes, I got this comment while working on a cruise ship.)

A: We’ll get right on that, as soon as you come and get your starlings, pigeons and house sparrows. Oh, you can take back your dandelions, too.


  1. I loved your response to the last question. Thanks for a nice column.

  2. Leslianne Lamonte

    I live on a small lake in Missouri. I have a sociopath of a neighbor who has shot nesting geese in the heads and oiled their eggs and busted up their nests. Quite frankly, there is not an overpopulation problem. This guy is just an asshole. The most recent problem occurred tonight. I have attempted to stop his behavior. What can I do to protect these geese and their gosling?? The fish and wildlife and conservation societies here in Cass county are lame. They are redneck and themselves uneducated about the migratory birds in the area. Help!!!

    • Hi Leslianne- Well, I guess my first piece of advice is not to confront assholes who have guns. Canada geese are probably protected legally from harassment in your area- they should be, under the migratory bird protection act. If that is the case, report this person to the police. You don’t need a society’s help- you need law enforcement. If the birds are not protected, and if the person is in fact acting within the law, I don’t think there’s much you can do.

  3. Great article
    see border control bird dogs – for more details to manage geese in a humane way !

  4. Dorothy Young

    Don, I got a similar comment about beaver in Chile. They were imported to deal with a problem but they wanted us to take them back to Canada because they were damming up their waterways. They had no natural predators in Chile and the beaver population had exploded! Be careful what you wish for! Forward thinking obviously wasn’t done.
    As far as geese are concerned, urban sprawl all over North America has reduced the wetlands. People have created the geese problem. There is no simple solution!

  5. If you’ve tried to launch a boat in your bare feet, for example, Elk Lake near Victoria, then you get in the boat, you soon discover you have been up to your ankles IN geese poop.
    If you’ve tried to carry a boat onto the deck of the wharf and you slip and you look down, you will notice that the geese POOP problem is way out of hand…or maybe it’s the Goose population. ?
    There is serious pollution not to mention, the danger underfoot in these two examples
    There is a way to keep the,m off the wharves but you cannot exclude them from beachfront, on the Lake .

  6. Geese are prolific at my work site and I was looking for the answer as to why some geese have 20 goslings ( some a bit larger than others) while some have only one or two. And why the nested on top of bus shelters! Thinking that egg addling would be a great idea though to limit the population … and yes can we send back the wild turkeys?!! Nadty buggers here in California!!

  7. Grandad Rufus

    OK, but if I have to round up the Starlings etc, you have to take the Grey Squirrels and American Crayfish as well as the Canada Geese 🙂 Nice Q&A page – thanks (A Brit)

  8. David Oldham PhD

    There is a family of Canada Geese at a secret location that I maintain. The same family of Geese have been coming for 20 years apart from last year when the Third generation must have been killed on migration. This year the fourth generation have come and, 4 days ago, produced twelve goslings, is this a record. Even the fourth generation recognise my voice and come when called.

  9. Warren White

    I was hiking with my family today in upstate New York. I have hiked at this conservation center for 30 years and could not even guess how many canadian geese I have seen. Today, I saw something new. It looked like a family of Canadian geese had adopted either a greylag goose, or a greater white fronted goose. I know you said that canadian geese will adopt other geese, but I assumed they would only adopt of the same species. Is this common?

  10. Lisa Peirson

    One Canada Goose pair on our property appears to have stolen the 4 chicks from another goose pair so they now have 10 goslings. The gosling-less pair yesterday attempted to get them back going so far as to try and grab the babies in their mouths. They are hanging around, watching, but it seems they are unable to retrieve their young (I am not even sure how they would know which ones are theirs!) Is there anything to be done? Are there any cases where geese have successfully retrieved their young?

  11. I am in London, UK and while in a park this week spotted what appeared to be a ‘family’ of an adult Canada goose and a greylag goose looking after 2 goslings. Not sure what’s going on there but they swam around together and wandered the pond edges together. Odd.
    Not that I would ever judge an unconventional family but it’s surprising!

  12. I live in Yorkshire, UK and I have a reservoir close to my house, owned by local water authority so is closed to the public. For years we had a lone pair of Canadas bringing up their annual brood until after the floods of 2015 which must have destroyed the local river nesting sites, so we ended up with around 15 pairs of Canadas and Greylags ever since. I noticed that the Greylags incubate around 2 weeks earlier and clear out of the area (probably to go back to the river where there are more people to feed them) when the goslings are around a month old. The Canadas stay until fledged. This year I noticed a pair of Canadas with 2 Greylag goslings and the Greylags have stayed behind with their adoptive parents rather than following their instincts and clearing out early.

  13. Beth Anne Leach

    Ok, this may be strange, but I think I’ve been adopted by a goose. One showed up in my yard this morning and has refused to leave all day. It has taken up residence on my front porch. I left the house to run errands and when I came back, it was waiting at the end of the driveway for me, and then when I got out of the jeep, it followed me back to the house to resume its station on the porch. What gives?

    • Well, first I would look for a second goose- if there is one, it may be looking for nesting territory. Try to discourage it. If no second goose, I would investigate if somebody is feeding it. If so, try to discourage them 🙂

  14. We just moved to a much more peaceful town to get away from the pandemic city hotspots. But now, we have been plagued by Canada geese and now I know that there are so many of them now due to a successful breeding program. I don’t want them harmed but I hope we could find animal control services that would help us keep them at bay.

  15. Hi Don. I live on a lake in Nova Scotia. There is a breeding and nesting ground for these Canadian Geese literally twenty minutes from us but we have two very entitled birds that keep insisting on tearing up and crapping on our very beautiful, manicured lawn on the lake. We have tried everything just shy of shooting them. Is there somewhere we can get some sort of goose repellent as we have grandchildren and a grand puppy dog and this has become personal for my husband who has to clean this up every day. It’s like they know when we are here and when we are not. We have cameras which capture them when we leave. Is there something safe yet effective that can rid us of these tormentors?

  16. Re: Canada geese poop and behavior
    The nice part about goose poop is when you step in it, it doesn’t stink line protein-eating bird poop.
    Also, geese don’t poop in flight, so your car doesn’t get bombed. The geese at our local lake don’t attack people that are nice to them even where babies are. They hiss at first and then stop when they know you aren’t going to hurt the babies.
    I stand quietly pretty close to them, and sometimes the babies eat at my feet. Love the geese.

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