- Minnesota Breeding Bird Distribution
- Breeding Habitat
- Population Abundance
- Literature Cited
A regular breeding resident and migrant throughout the state; also regular during the winter season, particularly in southern Minnesota. The Canada Goose was an abundant species during the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (MNBBA).
The Canada Goose is widely distributed across North America, from Alaska south through Canada and the continental United States. The breeding distribution of the Giant Canada Goose, the subspecies that breeds in Minnesota, stretches across the southern regions of the eastern Canadian provinces, south through the eastern Dakotas and Central Plains states to the Gulf coast, and east to the Atlantic coast. Breeding densities are especially high in the northern Great Plains, including southern Manitoba, central North Dakota, and northwestern Minnesota (Figure 1).
A game species, the Canada Goose is assigned a High Continental Priority by the North American Waterfowl Management Plan; current population numbers exceed the plan’s objectives. It was assigned a Continental Concern Score of 6/20 by Partners in Flight.
A resident to short-distance migrant. In addition to the spring migration of breeding geese, there is a notable migration of nonbreeding (1-year-old and some 2- and 3-year-old geese) and failed breeding geese that occurs northward in late May and early June. These migrants head to northern and subarctic areas, where they then molt their flight feathers and spend the summer (Hanson 1965).
Feeds on submerged aquatic vegetation in wetlands and lakes and grazes on grasses, sedges, and grains in uplands.
A depression located on elevated sites within or adjacent to wetlands; muskrat houses and artificial platforms are frequently used.
Seven different Canada Goose subspecies have been delineated (Baldassarre 2014). The largest among them, the Giant Canada Goose (Branta canadensis maxima), was a common summer resident in Minnesota prior to the late 1800s. Yet even Hatch, in the first comprehensive account of Minnesota birds published in 1892, noted that this formerly abundant species was declining in the southern counties as the human population increased. By the time Roberts (1932) wrote his account of the Canada Goose 40 years later, even populations in the remote counties of northwestern Minnesota were decimated in the face of extensive wetland drainage, overharvest, and egg collection. The last goose documented nesting in the state was in 1920 on Swan Lake in Nicollet County.
At the same time, the Giant Canada Goose was largely absent from many of its traditional breeding grounds in North America, leading waterfowl biologists to assume that the species was extirpated throughout much of its range and perhaps even extinct. In light of its absence, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began efforts to transplant birds from captive flocks onto many national wildlife refuges, including in Minnesota (Janssen 1987). Birds from Missouri and Michigan, for example, were transplanted to the Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge in the early 1950s (Dokken 2012).
But the species’ future really changed when, in the winter of 1962, it was “rediscovered” wintering on Silver Lake in Rochester, Minnesota (Hanson 1965). For years a small flock of resident geese had resided in Rochester. The first flock, secured from a private breeder in North Dakota, was originally introduced by one of the Mayo brothers onto their private estate in 1924 (Eckberg 2010). Then, in 1936, after damming and widening a stretch of the Zumbro River that flowed through the city and created Silver Lake, city officials also introduced a small flock of geese, hoping to establish a resident breeding population on the lake.
When Dr. Mayo stopped feeding the birds on his property in 1939, his flock dispersed to other nearby sites, including Silver Lake. This small population persisted and grew further when a former patient at the Mayo Clinic purchased another 12 birds. But the real game changer was the construction of a power plant on the lakeshore in 1948. Its warm-water discharge kept the lake open throughout the winter, attracting migrants from unknown breeding grounds located far to the north in Canada to stay throughout the winter. By 1960 the winter flock had grown to 4,000 geese, and residents began to notice that some of these birds were extremely large. Banding data indicated that the geese that wintered in Rochester nested in the Interlake Region of Manitoba (Hanson 1965).
The “rediscovery” of the Giant Canada Goose in Minnesota led to a surge of new and expanded efforts to reintroduce the bird to Minnesota and surrounding states. Successful by all accounts, today, B. c. maxima is the most abundant and widely distributed subspecies of the Canada Goose in North America.
By 1975, when Green and Janssen prepared their updated account of the species’ status in Minnesota, the Giant Canada Goose was an established breeding species in all but the northeastern region of the state. Populations continued to expand throughout the latter half of the 20th century, especially in metropolitan regions where the birds were protected and found abundant nesting and foraging opportunities. From 1970 through 1998, they were confirmed nesting in 65 of Minnesota’s 87 counties (Hertzel and Janssen 1998).
Today the Giant Canada Goose remains a widely distributed and abundant breeding species throughout the state. During the MNBBA, participants reported 4,877 Canada Goose records in 53.3% (2,618/4,916) of the surveyed atlas blocks and in 59.6% (1,393/2,337) of the priority blocks. Breeding was confirmed in 1,289 (26.2%) of the surveyed blocks (Figures 2 and 3; Table 1). The birds were observed and confirmed breeding in all 87 Minnesota counties. MNBBA data were used to predict the species’ statewide abundance based on habitat suitability (Figure 4). The core of the species’ breeding range is predicted to occur in Minnesota’s central and western counties.
Today, the Giant Canada Goose has not only become well established and abundant throughout its former breeding range in the United States, but birds have also been translocated from sites where populations have become a nuisance to sites in the southern and southwestern United States beyond their traditional range (Mowbray et al. 2002). From these relocation sites, the birds have continued to expand and increase in numbers.
*Note that the definition of confirmed nesting of a species is different for Breeding Bird Atlas projects, including the definition used by the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas, compared with a more restrictive definition used by the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union. For details see the Data Methods Section.