Canada geese may form male-female pairs when they are one or two years old, but most females do not nest until they are three to five years old. This pair bond lasts for life. If one member of the pair dies, the surviving bird seeks a new mate. Breeding occurs in the spring. A pair of geese tends to return to the same place to nest year after year, but if it is not available, they will nest nearby.
Nesting can start as early as late February in Illinois. The nest is placed near water, often along the bank of a lake or stream. They have also been seen nesting in marshes, on cliffs, on islands, on platforms in trees, on the banks of water bodies, on building roofs, on muskrat houses, on median islands in parking lots, in abandoned bird nests and in other places, some of which may not be ideal for raising young. They will nest in humanmade structures intended for goose nesting, too.
The female leads the male to a possible nest site. If it is suitable, she either starts from the base of a previous nest or makes a new depression in the soil or whatever substance the nest is to be built upon. If she is within reach of plants, she will grab and pluck them with her beak, then add them to the nest. She continues to add materials to the nest as she lays eggs. Starting with about the third or fourth egg, she pulls down feathers from her breast and adds them to the nest. The number of eggs laid varies but is usually from four to seven. The female incubates the eggs while the male guards the nest from a short distance away. She usually leaves the nest once in the early morning and once in the late afternoon each day to eat, drink and clean her feathers. When away from the nest, she covers the eggs with down feathers to keep them warm and protected. The eggs hatch in about four weeks, and all of the eggs in a nest usually hatch within a few hours.
The young birds leave the nest soon after hatching from the eggs. They can walk, swim and feed as they follow their parents. The young geese grow quickly and are able to fly in about two months.
A pair of geese has a territory around the nest that they defend by making sounds, by making threatening postures and, sometimes, by physical contact (biting, charging, beating their wings). They have a tendency to be aggressive to humans, other geese or other animals when they feel that their nest or goslings are threatened.