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The Geese of Zootah!

Canada Goose

Habitat/Range: Canada geese are found throughout North America from south of Mexico to Northern Canada. They are found all over from farmlands, lakes, and rivers to urban areas with ponds, fountains, and reservoirs.

Behavior: Canada geese are dabblers, which means they feed with their head down and butt in the air. Many ducks and geese feed this way, but there are some who dive fully underwater. 

Breeding: These geese usually start breeding in their fourth year and upon finding a mate, typically mate for life. They build open, cup shaped nests on the ground with grasses, sedges, and lichens. Hatchlings are born covered in soft, fluffy down and leave their nests 1-2 days after birth. Many hatchlings remain with their parents for up to a year. 

Conservation: Listing: Least concern. These geese thrive in urban areas! Well manicured golf courses and lawns have created such suitable habitat that some populations no longer migrate. They are even considered a nuisance in some places, such as near airports where collisions with planes can be very dangerous. The roughly 2.6 million Canada geese harvested yearly by hunters doesn’t even dent their populations. 

Nene Goose

Habitat/Range: Nene Geese (or Hawaiian Geese) are endemic to the islands of Hawaii and are found on barren, volcanic slopes with sparse vegetation. 

Behavior: Nene Geese are well adapted to living on lava slopes. They have little webbing between their feet which allows them to climb well on land and forage for food around lava flows. They live in family groups during the breeding season but “flock up” with other families in the winter. In September, they break up again to breed. 

Breeding: Nene Geese have the longest breeding season of any goose (from August through April). While the female incubates the eggs, the male acts as a sentry and scares off any potential threats. They give off a unique alarm “honk” with their tongue sticking out of their beak! Nene Geese are one of two geese species that copulate on land. Females lay 1-5 eggs per clutch that are born precocial (well developed). 

Conservation: Listing: Vulnerable. Nene Geese are the rarest goose in the world with only about 2,500 in the wild. Their populations dwindled from around 25,000 in the late 1700s to only 30 by 1952 due to hunting pressure and introduced predators such as mongoose, cats, pigs and dogs. They are a captive breeding success story with first release taking place in 1960. Their populations are now stable. 

Cackling Goose

Habitat/Range: Cackling Geese are found in North America. They migrate from arctic or subarctic habitats in the breeding season to the southern United States and Mexico in the winter. 

Behavior: These geese live near freshwater and are entirely herbivorous. They forage mainly on land on a variety of grasses, sedges, grains, and berries. 

Breeding: Females select grassy, elevated areas in the tundra to build their nests. They lay 2-8 eggs per clutch and have 1 brood per season. Eggs take 25-28 days to incubate and are born precocial (well developed) and leave their nests within 24 hours. 

Conservation: Listing: Least Concern. 

Bar-headed Goose

Habitat/Range: Bar-headed geese are native to South and East Asia. They breed on high plateaus in lakes and marshes and winter in lowland fields.

Behavior: The Bar-headed goose is one of the highest flying birds in the world and reaches extreme heights when crossing the Himalayas. They have a slightly higher wing area for their weight than other birds which likely helps them to fly at high altitudes. Flying at high altitudes requires more energy due to decreased air pressure; therefore, they have to flap harder in order to gain height.  

Breeding: Bar-headed geese lay 3-8 eggs per clutch in ground nests. 

Conservation: Listing: Least Concern. However, the population size is decreasing. 

Snow Goose

Habitat/Range: Snow geese live across North America near bodies of water. They can be seen in open fields or high overhead while migrating.

Behavior: Snow geese are herbivores and eat grasses, sedges, forbs, shrubs, and willow. They consume nearly any part of plant. Goslings will sometimes eat fly larva for extra protein. Females will forage for up to 18 hours a day prior to breeding and hardly eat at all once they begin incubating eggs. 

Breeding: Snow geese mate for life. While incubating, males act as sentry to guard the eggs. Females lay 2-6 eggs per clutch; hatchlings are born precocial (well developed).   

Conservation: Listing: Least Concern. Snow geese populations have increased rapidly since the mid 1900s, possibly as a result of global warming in their breeding grounds. Their remote breeding grounds keep them relatively protected from habitat loss.   

As you walk around Zootah, you’ll see a variety of different geese!  One of the most well known geese you will find is the Canada Goose!  You’ll also find a Hawaiian native, the Nene goose!  Along with them you might be able to spot a bar headed goose or snow goose swimming around in the pounds or romping around on the grounds of the zoo.  

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