Home Smithsonian: National Museum of Natural History Home
Lewis & Clark as Naturalists
The Collection: Species Details Lewis and Clark as Naturalists
Bird    Species Name:
Branta canadensis

Common Name:
Canada Goose


Poplar River, Montana
Above Mouth of Poplar River
  May 5, 1805

I have no hesitation now in declaring them a distinct species

The Canada goose, the most common and widespread goose on the continent, surprised and perplexed Lewis and Clark.  The surprise came when the men found these geese nesting in cottonwood trees.  Canada geese nesting in trees?  The men were one and a half weeks out of Fort Mandan in North Dakota when they came across this phenomenon at a lake adjacent to the Missouri River, which they named Goosegg lake.  That lake is now covered by man-made Sakakawea Lake.  What perplexed Lewis and Clark was the difference between a larger and a smaller form of the Canada goose.  The smaller form had the same markings, but had a distinctly different call as well as different body proportions.  Both men concluded the smaller form was a species distinct from the larger one.  Today we understand the lesser form to be one variant or race of a single species, the Canada goose, rather than a separate species.

Journal Entries:

Capt. Lewis, April 13, 1805--This lake and it’s discharge we call goos Egg from the circumstance of Capt. Clark shooting a goose ...  more>>

Sound    Canada goose (group) (0:00, 240 kb)
Credit: Tall Grass Prairie National Preserve
Sound    Canada goose (individual) (0:00, 66 kb)
Credit: Wind Cave National Park
References Linné, Carl von, Systema Naturae per Regna Tria Naturae, Secundum Classes, Ordines, Genera, Species, Cum Characteribus, Differentiis, Synonymis, Locis, ed. 10, 2 vols, Holmiae: impensis direct. Laurentii Salvii, 1758

See following caption
Canada goose

See following caption
Canada goose

See following caption
Canada goose

Smithsonian Institution
Copyright Notice
Privacy Notice