Aren’t Canada Geese Supposed to Fly South During Winter?

We were wondering: Why are so many of them sticking around these days?   

Photo by Getty Images

It’s true, a growing number of Canada geese are forgoing their southern vacations to stay in Wisconsin year-round. One big reason is that geese love grass, and we have a lot of it. Over the past century, non-migratory goose populations have exploded as lawns, farms, and parks became more plentiful.  

Think about it from the geese’s perspective: There’s simply no reason to fly south for the winter if everything you need is right here. With winters getting milder on average in Wisconsin, less cold and snow means more grass, and in turn more plentiful food for the birds. 

Experts aren’t sure exactly how many geese migrate from Wisconsin in the winter, but hunting surveys taken by the Department of Natural Resources indicate that more and more are becoming year-long residents. In the 1980s, roughly 80 percent of geese harvested by hunters were migrants from Ontario, but by 2017 that number had dropped to 40 percent.  



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The rest – 60 percent of all geese killed – were ones that live in Wisconsin all year. These geese are known as temperate breeding, or giant Canada geese. Despite the fact that they’re everywhere today, these geese almost faced extinction in the early 1900s due to lack of hunting regulations, egg collecting, and development of wetlands. 

But government programs facilitated the release of giant Canada geese back into the wild, and from there, populations began to steadily increase. Today, giant Canada geese outnumber flocks that pass through Wisconsin via Ontario, and are much less likely to migrate long distances than their peers.  

There’s still plenty of movement from non-migratory geese in the fall and winter, though. Once young geese learn how to fly, they travel with their parents to find more stable food sources away from their breeding grounds. So the geese you see overhead might not be migrating out of state, just looking for their next meal – perhaps right in your backyard.


This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s January issue.

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