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Why Do Canadian Geese Fly At Night? 3 Reasons For This Behavior

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Flying Canadian

While most animals lead their lives during the day and rest at night, some do not abide by this law. Some feline and canine members, reptiles, and rodents follow the nocturnal habit; sleep during the day and venture at night. 

This phenomenon is also encountered in birds such as owls, nightjars, bats, and nightingales. But are there waterfowls that adhere to this lifestyle?

eagle divider Are Canadian Geese Nocturnal Birds?

Flying Canadian
Image Credit: Geese_Gordo25, Shutterstock

If you’ve ever heard of any bird flying at night, it is most likely the Canadian geese. However, since these geese are seen looking for food and playing during the day, does it mean they don’t rest? Or do they have a particular reason for the nighttime flights?

The Canadian geese live a diurnal lifestyle and only fly at night for safety during migration. These geese originated in Canada but can be found in the USA as well. They are abundant in the US than the other type of geese.

Canadian geese travel from northern Europe to the Atlantic Ocean. These birds travel to the south to escape the intolerable winter in North America.

3 Reasons Why Do Canadian Geese Fly at Night During Migration

Migrating at night disrupts the routine of these geese. So why should they embrace such inconveniences to migrate to the South? Read on!

There are three significant reasons why the Canadian geese favor nighttime migration. They are:

1. To Avoid Thermals

Thermals are atmospheric updrafts where hot air rises in lower altitudes. But how do thermals affect the Canadian geese or the other birds? Large birds use thermals to soar high in the sky without using a lot of energy.

Birds such as eagles, pelicans, vultures, or albatrosses use thermal when flying. But how do Canadian geese benefit from thermal? Since Canadian geese or the other geese do not soar, they do not benefit from thermals. They tire quickly due to the interference with their wing turbulence.

And since the Canadian geese like to conserve energy when migrating, they choose to travel at night, in thermal absence.

Canadian Geese Flly
Image Credit: TheOtherKev, Pixabay

2. To Avoid Predators

While Canadian geese have remarkable flight skills and are large, they are not untouchable. Their size makes them a target to predators such as hawks, falcons, and eagles.

In addition, the long journey leaves them exhausted and weak, thus incapable of defending themselves from predators. Therefore, to avoid these predators, they choose nighttime migration.

3. To Benefit from the Cooler Weather of Nighttime

How do the cool temperatures at night help the Canadian geese during travel? Well, in their voyage, Canadian geese flap their wings to generate heat. So, can you imagine if they flew under the scorching sunlight? They will overheat before they reach their destination.

However, at night they can fly without any worry of overheating due to the absence of sun.

eagle divider Why Do Canadian Geese Make So Much Noise At Night?

Some birds, such as nightingales, are famous for their sweet twilight serenades. On the other hand, geese cannot sing even if their life depended on it, but they honk, cackle, hiss, and huck. They can honk all night long on the ground and in the air.

Let’s look at some of the reasons why geese honk, holler and hiss at night:

1. Fighting Over Mates

During the mating season, male geese fight over the females while honking. The male geese honk to display their anger during the fight. During the fights, the winner honks and hisses to show his prowess.

Geese mate during early spring and mid-winter. So, when you hear geese honking at night during this period, know it’s their mating time. However, even with the fight, at the end of the day female chooses the male to mate with her.

2. Lost Goose Trying to Locate a Flock

During the day, geese do not move in flocks but wander in search of food. But in the evening, they always join their flock to feel more protected. So, any goose honking at night alone may be looking for its flock. The goose honks until it meets its flock.

Geese always work as a team. For instance, if one goose falls sick or gets injured, two or three geese fall out of the flock and take care of the sick geese until she’s healed. Once the goose is okay, they then try to catch up with the other birds.

3. Preparing to Take Flight or Taking Flight

Geese also honk before and when taking flight. So, if you live close to a pond, you may notice them honking before forming the V position during flight.

4. Ward Off Predators

Canadian Geese Night
Image Credit: kawasaki9r, Pixabay

Geese may honk at night when protecting their babies from predators. The male and female take turns to watch over their babies. Just like in humans, geese raise their babies together to protect them. Therefore, if you get close to their nest, they become aggressive and honk to deter you from the area.

It doesn’t matter if it’s weasels, snakes, humans, stray dogs, or raccoons; they will honk and hiss to ward off any intruder. In most cases, they become aggressive and try to chase the intruder. So, if you hear geese honking at night, it could be in danger and could be trying to protect the young ones.

5. Greeting Ceremony or Answering a Mate

The other reason geese honk at night is when answering a call from a mate or greeting one another. As they converge together in the evening after a long day of playing and looking for food, they greet and welcome each other.

Again, they also honk when they reunite with their mates after a long separation. The honk is louder than when male geese fight over a female to mate in such a case.  What’s more, both female and male geese honk, not just the male geese.

6. Mark Their Territory

Geese are very protective of their boundaries and will honk to declare their territory boundaries. So, if you hear geese honking at night, it is to ward off trespassers.

7. To Encourage Those That Are Upfront in Their Formation to Increase Their Speed

If you live close to a stream, pond, or lake, you may hear honking at night, but by now, this should not be a surprise. Geese migrate from one area to another and move as a team. They form the V formation to uplift them as they flap their wings.

As a result, they fly in range, and the geese behind honk to encourage those ahead to increase the speed. If the bird at the front gets tired, it moves at the back, and another bird leads the formation. Additionally, any goose that falls out of the formation is forced to return due to the resistance.

All in all, the geese at the back of the formation honk to motivate the ones leading. 

How Do Canadian Geese Realize That It’s Time to Migrate?

Canadian Geese
Image Credit: Elsemargriet , Pixabay

Many people wonder how birds know it’s time to migrate. The truth is, all birds have different indicators. For instance, orioles and warblers migrate due to food scarcity in winter. Therefore, they start to migrate at the first sign of food shortage in their breeding ground.

Canadian geese also follow this pattern. However, they do not leave their breeding ground immediately but wait until the water starts to freeze. In fact, they begin to migrate in autumn between September and November.

The Canadian geese that migrate in September take short breaks during migration to reach their destination on time. However, those that start their migration late take long breaks and travel at ease.

eagle divider


Canadian geese still fly during the day, but the smart ones prefer the night. Migratory birds can be classified into three categories depending on their migration habits. They are the nocturnal migrants that migrate at night, diurnal migrants that migrate during the day, and those that have preferences depending on circumstances, such as the Canadian geese.

Featured Image Credit: Geese_Gordo25, Shutterstock

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.