Canada geese have differing diets depending on where they overwinter, but it’s mostly made up of grasses and aquatic plants, arable crops like wheat or barley, wild berries, bugs and insects, and occasionally small fish or crustaceans.
In this article, we’ll look at seven of the most common foods eaten by Canada Geese, talk a little bit about where they get them and the pros and cons of each, and look at some of the economic and ecological impacts that flocks of geese can have on a local area.
What do Canadian Geese Eat?
1. Aquatic Plants
Although Canada geese can’t dive underwater, they can dip their head and necks underwater to reach aquatic plants growing on the sandy lake bed.
Canada geese can flip entirely upside down to reach further down into the water, to get at more aquatic plants.
Geese are for the most part herbivores and get most of their nutrition and energy from plants. Depending on where they are, this may come from aquatic plants like broomsedge, swamp milkweed, or muskgrass, or from land-based grasses and sedges.
Read More: Are Geese Herbivores?
2. Grains and Crops
Perhaps the most controversial dietary habit of Canada geese is their tendency to eat farmed crops, including wheat, barley, oats, and soy.
Large flocks of geese have been documented to cause major problems for farmers, often causing millions of dollars worth of damage and lost crops.
One example from Vancouver Island stems from a short-sighted hunting program in the 60s, where non-migratory geese were introduced to the area and allowed to nest year-round. Over time, with no natural predators, the geese population exploded and they are now responsible for damage to farmland on the island.
In some places where geese are a particular problem, farmers use large explosive sound cannons to scare off overwintering geese and prevent them from destroying valuable crops.
These cannons don’t shoot any projectile, but let off an explosive charge that frightens any nearby birds.
3. Grass and Sedges
You might not think it by looking at them, but geese are actually grazing animals.
Canada geese will happily eat grass, and can get all the nutrition they need solely from grass as long as there’s enough fresh grass for them.
Geese prefer new shoots of grass and other plants, because they have more nutrition and are easier for them to eat and digest. Geese will often flock to an area of new growth, eat the new shoots, and move on to the next area.
Seeds and berries make up a small part of the Canada goose’s diet, mainly because they are not as readily available as grass and aquatic plants.
In spite of this, Canada geese will happily eat wild berries they come across, including blackberries, raspberries, juniper berries, hawthorne, and ivy.
5. Bugs and Insects
Although Canada geese are usually referred to as herbivores, they do occasionally eat bugs and small insects, especially aquatic insects like water beetles.
Insects provide valuable protein for Canada geese, and there has been some research that suggests various birds specifically seek out insects before laying their eggs as opposed to their regular grass diet, to get a boost of minerals they can use to strengthen the shells of their eggs.
6. Small Fish and Crustaceans
It’s rare for Canada geese to eat fish, but they do occasionally eat very small fish that are easy to digest and that they don’t need to chew.
Geese are not equipped to eat meat, and that includes larger fish, although they may still attack fish who are threatening their goslings.
Read More: Why Geese Can’t Eat Fish
Canada geese are popular with tourists, so even though bread doesn’t make up a large part of their natural diet, birds who overwinter in parks tend to eat quite a lot of it.
As I discussed in a previous article, bread is potentially harmful for Canada geese, it’s not a good idea to feed them bread since it’s lacking in nutrients and can cause severe deformities in young geese.
Read More: Why Shouldn’t You Feed Bread to Geese?
Do Canada Geese Eat Meat?
Canada geese don’t eat meat. Although they sometimes eat very small fish, insects, and aquatic invertebrates like tadpoles and water beetles.
Geese lack the digestive enzymes required to break down the complex proteins and fats found in meat, and their bills aren’t well-suited to chewing.
Read More: Are Geese Considered Mammals?
What Should I Feed Canada Geese?
If you have Canada geese overwintering or nesting near you, it’s best just to leave them alone, especially if there are young goslings around.
Learning to feed is a key skill to learn for young geese, and sometimes geese who are given lots of food by tourists don’t learn the skills they need to survive and can become dependent on humans.
If you do decide to feed Canada geese, the best things to feed them are birdseed (pick one that doesn’t contain sunflower seeds), shredded leafy greens like spinach, kale, or lettuce, grapes (cut in half), or other berries like raspberries or blueberries.
You should never feed Canada geese bread, fish, pet food, or meat.
Read More: Can Geese Eat Fish?
Canada geese have a varied diet that changes depending on what’s available around them.
Most Canada geese get all the nutrients they need from aquatic plants and grasses, but if they are presented with an opportunity to feast on farmed crops like barley, wheat, corn, or soy, they will strip an entire field bare.
In the wild, Canada geese may also eat small insects, aquatic invertebrates, and small fish. They may be more likely to eat fish and insects right before they lay their eggs, since a boost in minerals like calcium results in a stronger shell.
Stuart is the editor of Fauna Facts. He edits our writers’ work as well as contributing his own content. Stuart is passionate about sustainable farming and animal welfare and has written extensively on cows and geese for the site.