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Canada Goose, Photo by Lowell Washburn

Areas Closed to Canada Goose Hunting
The links below provide maps of areas closed to the hunting of Canada geese. Additional refuge areas exist on some state wildlife management areas that are closed to ALL hunting. These maps are provided as a convenience to hunters to increase awareness of areas closed to the taking of Canada geese. Every effort has been made to insure the accuracy of these maps; however, the boundaries shown on these maps are approximate representations, and hunters should consult the Code of Iowa for exact written descriptions of refuge areas.

Emmet County Closed Area 1 
Clay-Palo Alto Counties Closed Area 2 
Dickinson County Closed Area 3 
Worth-Winnebago County Closed Area 4 
Lucas County Closed Area 5 
Guthrie County Closed Area 7 
Adams County Closed Area 8 
Monona-Woodbury Counties Closed Area 9 
Jackson County Closed Area 11 
Davis-VanBuren Counties Closed Area 13 
Bremer County Closed Area 14 
Bulter County Closed Area 15 
Union County Closed Area 16

Special September Canada Goose Seasons
Special September Canada Goose Seasons are open on specified dates during the first two weeks of September in the Des Moines, Cedar Rapids-Iowa City and Waterloo-Cedar Falls zones.

Status of Canada Goose Populations in Iowa
2014 Status of the Canada geese

Are Canada geese native to Iowa?
Giant Canada geese (Branta canadensis maxima) nested throughout Iowa before the 1800's. Wetland drainage and unregulated subsistence hunting and egg collecting caused these geese to disappear from the state by 1900. A program to restore a self-sustaining population of giant Canada geese was initiated by the Iowa Conservation Commission (forerunner to the Iowa Dept. of Natural Resources) in 1964.

Where did the Canada geese that nest in Iowa come from?
The geese used for the restoration program initiated in 1964 were descendants of wild giant Canada geese that had been captured in Iowa and southern Minnesota during the latter half of the 1800s. Early settlers frequently captured geese during mid-summer when the adults were molting and the young could not yet fly. (Biologists still capture geese this way to band them.) Flocks of these large geese were raised on many pioneer farms for food and feathers, particularly for their soft insulating down.

How big are the Canada geese that nest in Iowa?
Adult female giant Canada geese average about 11 pounds. Adult males average about 12 pounds. Giant Canada geese weighing up to 16 pounds have been shot by hunters in several Midwest states, but geese this large are uncommon.

What other Canada geese visit Iowa?
The giant Canada geese (Branta canadensis maxima) that nest in Iowa are the largest of the 7 subspecies of Canada geese native to North America. Interior Canada geese (B. c. interior) from two populations that nest on the coast of Hudson Bay, the Eastern Prairie Population and the Mississippi Valley Population, also migrate through Iowa during the spring and fall. Adult interior Canada geese are about the same size as immature giant Canada geese. It is nearly impossible to distinguish the giant Canada geese from interior Canada geese without measuring their skulls, bills, wing bones and leg bones. A much smaller “Canada goose” also migrates through Iowa each spring and fall. These Cackling geese (B. hutchinsii. hutchinsii) are often referred to as “hutchies” or Richard’s geese. They are much smaller (<6 pounds) and have much higher pitched calls than giant or interior Canada geese. These small geese nest on Baffin and Southampton Islands in the Arctic, on the north side of Hudson Bay.

At what age do Canada geese begin to nest?
Most giant Canada geese do not nest until they are 3-years old. About 20-30% of giant Canada geese may nest when they are 2-years old. Most of the interior Canada geese and Cackling geese that nest on the coast of Hudson Bay and in the Arctic do not nest until they are 4 years old.

What do Canada geese that are not nesting do during the spring and summer?
One and two year-old giant Canada geese, often referred to as nonbreeding geese, return to the general area where they first learned to fly for a few weeks each spring. Most eventually wander north, some as far north as the shore of Hudson Bay in northern Manitoba, where they join other nonbreeding geese to molt. As fall approaches, many of these molt-migrant geese fly back to their natal areas. Here they join other geese and eventually migrate south, assuming the winter weather becomes harsh enough to encourage them to leave. After following this pattern for 2 years, the female geese return to their natal areas when they reach breeding age, bringing their mates along with them.

How does a Canada goose choose a nest site?
When a female goose reaches nesting age, she returns to the area where she first learned to fly. It is there that she makes her first nesting attempt. This behavior is called homing. Her mate goes wherever she leads him. Adult geese almost always return, i.e., home, to the place they nested the previous year, especially if they successfully hatched a clutch. Geese generally look for a pond that offers a "safe" nesting site, a nearby feeding site, and good brood-rearing areas within walking distance, which can be several miles.

When do Canada geese usually begin nesting in the spring?

Geese usually begin nesting in Iowa between mid-March and mid-April, depending upon how old the geese are and the latitude at which they are nesting. Geese that have nested before usually begin nesting earlier than first-time nesters. Geese nesting in southern Iowa usually begin nesting two weeks earlier than geese nesting in northern Iowa.

How many eggs do Canada geese usually lay?
The number of eggs laid by one goose in a nest can range from 1 to 10, but the average for giant Canada geese is 5 or 6. The goose lays one egg per day. If more than one goose is laying eggs in a nest, as sometimes occurs when geese are nesting close to one another, such as on an island, occasionally 15 or more eggs will be found in a nest. These nests are referred to as “dump nests” because 2 or more geese are laying or “dumping” eggs in them. Dump nests are often not incubated by the geese that laid eggs in them.

How long does it take the eggs to hatch?
The process of sitting on the eggs and keeping them warm so they develop properly and eventually hatch is called incubation. The female goose begins incubating the eggs the day the final egg is laid. The goose normally incubates the eggs for 28-30 days before they hatch.

Do all nests hatch?
Geese are very tenacious nesters and actively defend their nests from predators. Despite this behavior many goose nests fail to hatch for several reasons, the most common being predation, flooding, and abandonment. Many predators such as mink, skunks, raccoons, fox, and coyotes will eat goose eggs. Predation is most common when geese are laying their eggs, but large predators like raccoons, fox, and coyotes can drive the adults off the nest and steal their eggs. In some instances, the female goose may be killed by a predator. Geese, however, usually choose predator-safe nesting sites, such as islands, muskrat houses, and nesting structures, when they are available, which improves their chances of hatching a clutch. Nests on islands and muskrat houses, however, may be only a few inches above the water, which can make them susceptible to flooding during heavy rain storms. Nests may be abandoned or deserted because the goose is disturbed too often by other geese, by people, or by predators, including dogs. If a nest is lost during laying or the first few days of incubation, many experienced geese will attempt to renest. A goose is less likely to renest if she is more than half way through the incubation period.

How many goslings survive to flight stage?
It normally takes goslings 9 to 10 weeks to fully develop flight feathers. During those weeks, they are exposed to a multitude of hazards including inclement weather, disease, accidents, and predation. Predators, including mink, raccoons, fox, coyotes, snapping turtles, owls, hawks, and even large fish will eat goslings given the chance. On average, 3-4 goslings in a brood will reach flight stage.

What do Canada geese eat?
During the spring and summer, adult geese and their goslings primarily feed on short grasses and herbaceous plants such as clover and alfalfa, which are typically found in pastures, mowed hayfields, and manicured lawns. They also like young corn and soybean seedlings. Crop fields are popular feeding sites because the adults can easily see approaching predators. Feeding areas close to water are preferred so goslings can escape if a predator approaches. In the fall and winter, geese primarily eat grains such as corn, soybeans, milo, barley, and wheat, but they will also graze on any available green plants. Harvested crop fields provide ample waste grain to feed geese during the fall and winter. Throughout the year, geese will readily feed on any aquatic plants, including the roots that are available in the wetlands they frequent.

How can I attract Canada geese to my pond?
Like all wildlife, geese seek out areas with good habitat. For Canada geese, good habitat includes a safe nesting site (e.g., an island, a nesting structure, a muskrat house), a loafing area near the nest site for the gander to wait (e.g., a log, muskrat house, open shoreline), and some short grass near the water’s edge to graze and loaf on. 

How can I keep Canada geese off my property?
There is no single tactic that can be used in every situation to effectively discourage Canada geese from using an area. Strategies for discouraging goose use must be tailored to the season and the site where geese are causing problems. For advice on the most effective practices to use in your particular situation, contact your local DNR Wildlife Management Biologist or Wildlife Depredation Biologist.

More information on controlling Canada goose populations and nuisance activities can be found via a Nuisance Wildlife Control Operator (NWCO).

Iowa Canada Goose Management Plan