Types of Vocalizations-
The Canada Goose is a waterfowl, and not a singing species of bird. However, the Canada Goose has an intricate system of vocal communication, and their repertoire includes 13 different calls for adults, although this is debated among some experts (Whitford, 1987). The types of call include Honking, Hucka, Snore, and Cackle (Whitford, 1998). They are most vocal during flight- especially in large flocks- and more socially dominant individuals have been observed to be far more vocal than more submissive members of the flock. (Hanson 1965, Williams 1967). Some of the 13 calls seem gender-specific (Whitford, 1987), for example in larger sub-species of Canada Goose the “honk” call is restricted to males, with females having a similar but shorter and higher-pitched “hrink” call (Collias and Jahn 1959). While these differences are more or less accounted for by morphological factors like neck length and lung size between sexes, there are also behavioral variations that need to be taken into consideration (Whitford, 1987).
Goose vocalizations depend very heavily on the context in which they are made, such as location, posture, age of bird, season, and social context. The “honk” call of the Canada goose is used variously to ward off intruders, advertise territory boundaries, as a long-distance call, to answer a mate, as part of a greeting ceremony after being separated from a mate, and when in flight or about to take flight. The honk call is loud and resonant (Whitford, 1998). “Hisses” are used basically when threatened, directed at short-distance intruders, which might include other geese, ducks, or humans. (Whitford, 1998). Generally, for short-distance communication with other geese (for example, mating situations, or communication with young), quiet, short grunts are used. Females have a special greeting call, which is a loud and prolonged snoring vocalization (Whitford, 1998). The Canada Goose has a fairly large vocal range, of 500-850 hz, and there is little discernible difference between the subspecies (Whitford 1998). Larger species tend to rely more heavily on honking, and small species rely more on slightly higher pitched calls, and there are generally slight differences in otherwise-similar calls between subspecies. This is likely due to physical differences, such as lung capacity and body-to-neck ratio. (Wurdinger 1970, and Sutherland and McChesney 1965). Geese of different species who come into contact on wintering grounds, and in human captivity have been observed to communicate. Calls and vocalizations in general are more frequent during the spring, when pairs of geese are nesting and defending territory.
There is little evidence that the calls of the Canada Goose are learned. Vocalizations start to develop before the young birds have even hatched (Wurdinger 1970, and Cowan 1973), and at first gosling calls are limited to strong, single peeps or warbling trills (Whitford 1987). As the bird matures, some gosling-specific calls are replaced with adult versions (Wurdinger, 1970). While calls are considered innate, call development is correlated to social contact with the parents and other family.
There hasn’t been much recent research on Canada Goose vocalizations. Research ought to go in the direction of comparing the vocalizations between the differently sized subspecies (Mowbray et al., 2002). Scientists have already documented differences in call between species in terms of frequency, duration, and interval, as well as the morphological differences that probably cause the differences, but further research seems to be needed on the exact nuances of usage. An observational experiment would be needed, where scientists collect information of a specific call type from several similar-sized flocks of different subspecies. The information would include the specific behavior associated with the call type for each given species, and then further analysis could be done marking out the differences between groups. From there, if any significant differences in usage are discovered, progress could be made to learn why these behavioral splits exist. Once further distinction is made in calls between subspecies, the path to further progress in understanding dialectic differences between the same species in different geographical regions will become more clear.
-“Honk” Call of 2 different subspecies of Canada Goose. (http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/682/articles/species/682/galleries/figures/figure-2)
Click here to listen to a call of a Canada Goose.
Mowbray, Thomas B., Craig R. Ely, James S. Sedinger and Robert E. Trost. 2002. Canada Goose (Branta canadensis), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online.
Whitford, P.C. 1987. Vocal and visual communication and other social behavior in Canada Geese. Thesis. 682:
Cowan, P.J. 1973. Parental calls and approach behavior of young Canada Geese: a laboratory study. Can. J. Zool 51: 647-650.
1998. Vocal and visual communication of Giant Canada Geese. Biology and management of Canada Geese: 375-386
1959. Social behavior and breeding success in Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) confined under semi-natural conditions. Auk 76:478-509.
1970. Production, development and function of four goose species (Anser indicus, A. caerulescens, A. albifrons, and Branta canadensis). Z. Tierpsychol. 27:257-302.
1965. Sound production in two species of geese. Living Bird 4:99-106.
I wonder how geese remember a good place to be. We have a little lake where the geese stop by every spring and fall. We sprinkle cracked corn in the yard for them. They remember from year to year because when they fly in to the lake and I call to them, the hear my voice and swim right in and come right up the bank. Obviously some of this small flock has been here before. How do they tell the rest of the flock where to go and what to do to get the corn?
I have a very low voice and I have figured out a way to mimic some of the sounds that the geese in our backyard make. I can tell them when the area is safe or if the area is not safe and they need to leave. We have a mating pair of Canada Geese on our backyard pond. I deterred attacks from Coyotes and other animals as you can distinguish their distress signals easily. Since then, I have been able to approach their nest with the female sitting and the male tolerates my closeness to her. We have named them “Gary and Bernice”. Gary’s eyebrows have turned grey over the past year. I am fascinated by these intelligent creatures and have many behavioral observations to share that go with a bond that can be established between humans and Canada geese.
I am a retired engineer who lives in a very nice apartment complex with a growing numbers of Canadian geese and their deposited remains. What is the status of your mentioned study? I realize it has been 7 years. I read an article about the geese and the distress call that does seem to work. Are you aware of that report? Is that the beat strategy? Please respond.