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geese migration

The most common goose in North America is the Canada goose. Canada geese don’t always migrate, but when they do, they fly south from Canada in fall to overwinter throughout the continental US. In spring or early summer, they’ll fly back north to Canada in order to breed and have goslings.

Whether or not the geese near you migrate, the migration pattern defines their family life and life cycle. In spring, geese breed and have goslings. In fall, they migrate or otherwise prepare for the cold by hunkering down. Even if they don’t actually fly anyway, geese behavior changes based on the season and their migration habits. Here are the who, what, where, when, and hows of geese migration, including how it could effect you: 

What are the geese near me?

The Canada goose (Branta canadensis) is the largest and most widely distributed goose species in North America. Canada geese have grey or brown crest, back, and wing feathers with a white or grey underbelly. Their bills, feet, and neck, tail, and head feathers are black. Canada geese have a distinctive, large patch of white feathering just past their eyes. 

Canada goose with her goslings

Why do geese migrate?

Only some of the Canada geese in North America actually migrate. Migrating Canada geese have designated “breeding” and “nonbreeding” sites that they return to every year during migration. Like most birds, geese migrate in order to access as many of the resources they need as possible. They breed up north because it’s the best place for their offspring and fly south to avoid the cold.

When do they go?

The Canada geese that migrate do so twice a year. In September or October, Canada geese fly south to their “nonbreeding” sites to avoid the cold. They’ll stay in their nonbreeding sites all winter. Many of the Canada geese you see this fall and winter actually migrated to get here! 

Geese remain in their nonbreeding sites until late spring (April, May, or occasionally even early June), when they migrate north to their breeding sites. Migration flights usually begin at dusk, but you could see migrating geese at any time of day. Look for the Canada goose’s distinctive “V” flying formation!

Where do they go?

Many Canada geese don’t actually go anywhere. It’s very common for Canada geese to breed and overwinter in the same broad area of the northern or eastern US. If they do migrate, however, geese tend to breed in Canada (go figure). In fact, sometimes geese fly even further north to breed--including to northern Alaska or the low arctic! 

When geese fly south to overwinter, they usually settle somewhere in the middle or southern continental US. Canada geese are extremely widely distributed. The only reliable way to tell where a particular goose family came from is to look for goslings! If the geese near you are breeding in spring, then they probably live near you all year. If it’s spring but you don’t see any goslings near your geese, then they’re probably inhabiting their “nonbreeding” territory.

Geese flying in a "V" formation

How do they choose where to go?

The canada geese that migrate actually return to the exact nesting and overwintering locations every year. In fact, migrating geese use various stop-off resting points as they travel, and these remain largely the same, too. The geese that you see every spring or fall are probably the same geese that were around your home the year before. 

Believe it or not, no one fully understands how bird’s migratory navigation works! There are currently several competing theories. Some theorists believe birds have a kind of olfactory “map” that helps them literally smell their way home. Others believe that birds orient themselves using the earth’s magnetic field! Canada geese mate for life and typically migrate with flocks of other family groups in a “V” formation. These groups could help each other determine where to go and stay on course. 

How could geese migration affect me? 

You should be aware if geese breed and rear goslings near you. Contrary to popular belief, Canada geese aren’t aggressive, but they will defend their children. Canada geese families will walk lines of goslings between water and food sources. If you encounter geese with their goslings, do not approach them or make sudden movements. Geese tend to defend their nesting territory particularly aggressively in early spring when their offspring are at their most defenseless.

Geese build nests and breed near sources of water. They feed primarily on wetland grasses and weeds. During fall and winter, they’ll look for berries, seeds, and grains. Manicured lawn grass is particularly easy for goslings to eat, which is why Canada geese may approach your lawn. You may also encounter geese families if you live near bodies of water, especially in spring and fall. Unless geese are worried about their children, they’re mostly uninterested or timid around people. As long as you leave them alone, Canada geese should leave you alone. 


Canada geese aren’t as horrible as their reputation may suggest. Mostly, they’re just trying to stay warm and take care of their kids--it’s pretty relatable, actually. Even if you empathize with the plight of the goose, however, that doesn’t mean you have let them hang out around your lawn. That’s not good for either you or the geese.

If you’re playing host to a family of Canada geese, give Varment Guard a call right away. We can safely, humanely, and effectively remove Canada geese and keep them from coming back. The goose family will be on its merry way, and you won’t have to deal with angry honks or disgruntled goose moms divebombing you anymore. Everyone wins.