The Origins Of Resident Canada Geese

Upstate Outdoors
November 26, 2018 - 9:05 am

Phillip Gentry

Depending on your perspective, South Carolina and much of the southeast is blessed to have an abundant Canada goose population. Some folks hate them, others love them. Despite what you see on television of big black faced birds making long migrations each fall, all but a very small percentage of geese in South Carolina are year round resident birds.

The story of how these birds came to call South Carolina home is a pretty amazing story and significant accomplishment for waterfowl managers.

Following a period of severe population decline along their annual migratory routes that stemmed from commercial overharvest during the early 1900’s, several state wildlife agencies began looking at ways to protect populations of Canada geese that remained along the Atlantic Flyway. 

In the early 1960s, small groups of "giant" Canada geese were discovered at a number of refuges in mostly northern states.  Federal and state waterfowl agencies saw an opportunity and began a concerted effort to rebuild populations of these majestic birds.

“Basically, the people of South Carolina missed seeing geese in the air and in their local waters and hunters missed the opportunity to harvest geese when the migratory population declined” said recently retired SCDNR waterfowl program coordinator Dean Harrigal. “Geese were captured from states like New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island and moved into our state with the intention of establishing a resident Canada goose population. The effort has been a tremendous success. The initial populations we originally established back in the 1980’s have morphed into what is now a statewide population of resident geese.”  

The result has created new hunting opportunities for water fowlers and a bit of a challenge for wildlife managers.

 “We do get a few calls about nuisance geese from mostly urbanized areas, golf courses, public parks, and mall parking lots,” Harrigal said. “While people enjoy seeing 3 or 4 geese in a scenic setting, they get a little upset when that population turns into 25 or even 50 large birds, eating grass and defecating everywhere. For the most part hunters have enjoyed the additional opportunity to harvest geese and state residents can again enjoy seeing geese flying over our state.”

It’s unclear exactly what occurred to convince these birds to take up year round residence rather than migrate each season as is customary of Canada geese populations. It may stem from the original stocks chosen to populate from. 

The repopulated birds were remnants of geese that originated as pen raised stocks, birds that were used for food and as live decoys. These geese are thought to have lost their migratory instincts, and several waterfowl biologists believe that cross breeding between these Giant Canada geese and other strains of birds from different flyways has led to the formation of a sub-species of Canada goose. Resident Canada geese retain the larger body mass of Giant Canada geese, once thought to be extinct, and the Atlantic, interior, and western races of geese.

These birds are not only reluctant to migrate except when extreme weather events dictate, banding studies have shown resident geese have developed the salmon-esque tendency of returning to where they were born and use the same nesting and feeding sites year after year. This makes it hard to eliminate geese once they become settled in a local area.

Their strong survival rates have led to currently larger Canada geese numbers in North America than at any other time in history.

Accordingly state waterfowl managers have made more than ample hunting opportunities available with generous bag limits for Canada geese.


Canada Goose Hunting Season Dates*

September 1, 2018 - September 30, 2018

November 17, 2018 - November 24, 2018

December 8, 2018 - January 27, 2019

February 13, 2019 - February 28, 2019

1/2 Hour before Sunrise until Sunset

September 1—September 30
15 total 

5 total (Remainder of Season)

*During November – February seasons, hunting in certain areas of Clarendon County is prohibited to protect populations of migratory geese.


Phillip Gentry is the host of “Upstate Outdoors,” broadcast from noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays on WORD 106.3 FM. The show can be streamed live online at or via podcast anytime. This Saturday, the show will be on location from C & C Indoor Shooting Range in Spartanburg.


Photo Caption – The establishment of resident Canada goose flocks across the lower 48 states is considered one of North America's greatest wildlife management success stories. (Photo by Phillip Gentry)

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