For Salish Sea sailors, Canada geese are commonly-seen birds around marinas, quiet bays and anchorages. No, they’re not Canadian geese. They’ve learned how to keep their space, herd their kids away from dangerous motors and royally mess up marina lawns where there is good grass to eat – but there is much more to the Canada goose story. There are at least 11 different subspecies, but generally they get darker in the West, smaller to the north – all the way to the Alaskan arctic. While they used to move south in winter, north in summer, changes in food sources, weather and climate have changed these patterns. Now you’ll see Canada geese in Lake Union all year. They also can live a very long time for a feathered creature. One tagged female was over 33 – talk about a tough old bird.
Canada geese are ‘assortative’ when finding a mate, meaning both sexes tend to choose birds their own size (but the male is generally somewhat larger). Once picked, they usually mate for life, and in flocks, many of the birds may be related to each other. While they once fed on aquatic vegetation, lush marina lawns and grain fields have altered their food sources and allowed them a much less dangerous life-style. The black brant, a smaller version of our locals has an opposite story. These guys come through here during migration and are the longest migrant of any Canada goose. Nesting in the Alaskan arctic, in fall they all congregate in the Aleutian islands before flying off across stormy winter seas to spend winters in Baja.
Larry Eifert paints and blogs about wild places at larryeifert.com. His art can be seen in many national parks across America.