James Masek, Wildlife Biologist
Flocks of Canada geese (Branta canadensis) are readily identified by their irregular “V” formation and can often be heard, since there is usually a steady chorus of honking during flight. Canada geese are highly valued and widely recognized by most people as the harbinger of the changing seasons each spring and fall. The association of Canada geese with the changing seasons is in jeopardy as resident (or non migratory) Canada geese have become common throughout Alabama. Resident Canada geese do not migrate but reside permanently in Alabama.
There are 11 recognized subspecies of Canada geese. Migrant Canada geese that winter in Alabama are of the subspecies Branta canadensis interior. These migrant geese range in weight from 7.5 to 9 pounds, while resident Canada geese (Branta canadensis maxima) weigh between 15 and 20 pounds. Considering the size difference, it is of little surprise that resident Canada geese are quite popular with hunters.
Approximately 1,900 pairs of giant Canada geese have been released into 47 counties of Alabama since 1981. The resident Canada goose is used in stocking programs because they are essentially non-migratory, readily propagate under confinement, utilize artificial nesting structures, and exhibit high nest and brood success in areas of high human disturbance.
As desirable as a resident flock of Canada geese may sound, there are potential nuisance problems. Resident Canada geese are very aggressive around their nest and goslings and may attack or threaten pets, children, and adults. They forage on lawns, parks, golf courses, country clubs, and backyards causing extensive damage and littering with their defecation. In several Northeastern states, parks and beaches have been temporarily closed due to perceived health risks caused by Canada geese feces. Droppings from large flocks of Canada geese can also contribute to over-fertilization of small lakes and reservoirs.
Efficient non-lethal removal techniques of resident Canada geese currently do not exist. In most nuisance cases, such as golf courses, parks, and backyards, hunting is not a practical alternative. Effective techniques are very time consuming and costly.
While migrant Canada geese still make their seasonal journeys to and from Alabama, the abundance of resident Canada geese allow for year round enjoyment. Fortunately, for the avid birder and outdoorsman, resident Canada geese are highly visible and readily utilize urban environments. Conversely, the utilization of this same habitat greatly limits the opportunities for the hunter. So which are better - resident or migrant Canada geese? Maybe neither. That is something for each individual to decide.