Giant geese come back from the brink of extinction

Alabama Living Magazine
Canada geese fly over a lake. Nearly extinct in the 1950s, the giant subspecies of Canada goose made a dramatic comeback during the past few decades. Photo by John N. Felsher

Well before daylight, we pull into a driveway leading to a stately house. Perhaps we’re picking up another hunter to join our party, I thought. No, we didn’t stop. Instead, we drove around behind the mansion and across the well-manicured lawn to a pond bordering a golf course.

Over the years, I hunted many types of terrain from snowy mountains to deserts, prairies, swamps and marshes, but never anything like this. I half expected someone to come out with a shotgun while all of ours rested unloaded in the back of the truck with the ammunition. That didn’t happen, but we did roust quite a few ducks and geese from their slumber. Unseen in the darkness, they rose off the water with a raucous condemnation of our intrusion.

Except for a few trees around the house and between the pond and golf course, not a shred of cover higher than an inch grew along the shoreline. We erected a portable blind, placed decoys and waited for shooting hours to begin.

We bagged a few ducks at first light. Then, nothing moved in the sky for hours. From the blind, we watched bass chasing their breakfast in the placid mirror-like pond. I wished I had brought a fishing rod. As the sun rose higher, we spotted golfers playing in the distance beyond the wooded area across the pond.

Just about the time I wanted to call it a day, we heard it! From the golf course erupted a sonorous honking that grew louder and more intense with each second. Then, the largest flying birds I had ever seen, with the possible exception of a few turkeys (and that’s debatable), began heading our way. The seductive notes sounding from calls in our blind welcomed the birds to our side of the pond.

Propelled by powerful, broad wings, these massive fowl flew deceptively fast. Crouching in the blind, we tightly gripped our shotguns as the first wave of noisy feathered overcast approached ever closer and lower. Finally, our guide yelled, “Take ’em!”

By the early 20th century, overhunting and habitat loss greatly reduced the population of the giant Canada goose subspecies. Wildlife managers thought this magnificent bird became extinct by the 1950s. Fortunately, someone discovered a small flock in Minnesota.

From that remnant, wildlife managers across the nation began breeding and releasing the huge waterfowl. Raised in pens, the original offspring and their progeny did not migrate. In the past few decades, exploding populations of gigantic resident honkers have become pests at many parks and golf courses.

“We brought the giant subspecies of Canada geese here decades ago to bolster the population,” says Seth Maddox, the Alabama Division of Wildlife & Freshwater Fisheries Migratory Game Bird Coordinator. “They’re much bigger than the ones that migrate from Canada. These were never really migratory, but they do move around the state and cross into adjacent states.”

In the summer, geese molt, or shed their old feathers. At this time, they become flightless and vulnerable to predators so they seek safe havens like large waterbodies, golf courses and parks. By August, they replace their feathers. As fall approaches, they split into smaller groups to look for ripening grain to eat.

“In many areas, Canada geese become a nuisance,” says Jared Knight, a state wildlife biologist in Spanish Fort. “They eat crops. Their scat builds up in places. Farmers hate them.”

The state opens goose season during September each year to help trim the population of non-migratory giant Canada geese. The 2022-23 late goose season runs from Dec. 3. 2022, through Jan. 29, 2023.

“Giant Canada geese are here all year long,” Maddox says. “The population is growing and expanding in Alabama. We now have giant Canadas in all 67 counties. We estimate more than 60,000 birds across Alabama. People see them in parks or ponds near cities. Other than Canada geese, we don’t get many other goose species in Alabama.”

Most Alabama sportsmen seldom see geese other than giant Canadas. Some snow and blue geese, really just a darker color variant of snow geese, winter along the Tennessee River and other rivers like the lower Chattahoochee River. People might spot a few white-fronted or specklebelly geese in fields in parts of Alabama.

Many farmers welcome goose hunters to come on their properties. Someone who sees geese in a field might ask the landowner for permission to hunt. The request might be greeted enthusiastically.

John N. Felsher is a professional freelance writer who lives in Semmes, Ala. He also hosts an outdoors tips show for WAVH FM Talk 106.5 radio station in Mobile, Ala. Contact him at or through Facebook.


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