Wierd Canada Geese behavior and a Red-tailed Hawk building a nest

Canada Geese and odd behaviorCanada Geese and odd behavior

I went camping & photographing in northern Utah this week and came across something that made me scratch my head. Ron and I were traveling down a road when I saw some birds high up on a cliff face and at first I couldn’t figure out what the birds were. My mind raced and it took a few seconds to figure out that the birds I was seeing were Canada Geese!

Squawking & flying Canada Geese on top of a cliffSquawking & flying Canada Geese on top of a cliff

It was very odd to see Canada Geese perching on the cliff face, I’d certainly never seen them perched on a cliff before. They would take off squawking, circle and land again and repeated that behavior several times.

Canada Geese landing on top of a cliffCanada Geese landing on top of a cliff

We traveled on down the road and I was puzzled by their behavior and, when we passed back that way on our way out I kept my eye on the cliff face. The Canada Geese were making a racket, flying in circles and landing on rocks at the top of the cliff. The cliff was several hundred feet high so these images are not my best quality. The light was a little better from our position than it had been earlier so we took more images.  When I am looking through my viewfinder with my right eye I often have my left eye open to catch movement outside of the viewfinder and this time it paid off nicely because I did detect movement and trained my lens on the area where I saw it.

Red-tailed Hawk with nesting materialRed-tailed Hawk with nesting material

It was a Red-tailed Hawk hopping & walking around on the ground. I wondered if the hawk was ground hunting but as it moved towards a bush it picked up a stick and I knew it had nesting material.

Red-tailed Hawk carrying the nesting materialRed-tailed Hawk carrying the nesting material

As soon as the Red-tailed had a firm grasp on the stick it took off flying towards the cliff face. You can see how long the stick was in this shot.

Red-tailed Hawk on the nestRed-tailed Hawk on the nest

The Red-tailed Hawk landed on a area of the cliff about a third of the way down from the top and I could clearly see it moving the stick around in the nest. After the hawk got the stick situated it came to the edge of the nest and looked around all the while the Canada Geese were high on the cliff top squawking and flying in and out. From their vantage point they could not see the nest but I’m sure they were aware of the hawk’s presence. I don’t know if their odd behavior was caused by the hawk but it sure was interesting.

The strange behavior of the Canada Geese on the top of the cliff led me to finding a Red-tailed Hawks nest though and I am tickled about that. You never know what fascinating things you will see in nature.

Has anyone else seen Canada Geese high on cliffs? I’d be interested in hearing if you have.



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About Mia McPherson

I am a nature lover, wildlife watcher and a bird photographer. I first become serious about bird photography when I moved to Florida in 2004 and it wasn’t long before I was hooked (addicted is more like it). My move to the Salt Lake area of Utah was a great opportunity to continue observing their behavior and photographing birds. My approach is to photograph the birds without disturbing their natural behavior. I don't bait, use set ups or call them in. I use Nikon gear and has multiple camera bodies and lenses.


  1. We have a pond in our back yard and I have been observing some Canadian geese behavior for the past couple of years. I was just wondering if you might know the answer to my question. We have a pair of geese that have raised three babies this summer. They are extremely protective of their babies and usually stay on the side of the pond near the corn field. We returned from a trip and noticed there were 18-20 geese on the pond. I, jokingly told my husband they invited their friends to a party while we were gone and maybe they were having a wedding or a funeral. The large group of geese left shortly after we got home and only the small family of geese remained. Sure enough, there were only two babies. Today, I noticed there were only two adult geese and two babies. My question is: Do you think they were mourning the loss of one of the babies?

    • Carol,

      I know that there is evidence that supports the idea that Black-billed Magpies hold funerals for their dead but I have never heard of it with Canada Geese. I suppose it is possible.

  2. I’ve never seen this. I was enamored enough with geese nesting on huge pilings in Elliott Bay, I can’t imagine what it would be like to come upon this scene. Beautiful documentation of an unusual situation!

    • Thanks Ingrid, this was an amazing sighting for me and I’ve learned a lot from the people who have commented on this post. I guess I’ll keep an eye on cliffs for more than Golden Eagles, hawks, falcon and mountain sheep from now on!

  3. Mia,
    I should say, I stumbled on your website last summer and have kept an eye on your blog. I really enjoy your photography.

    In reference to your unusual goose behavior: I have seen geese on cliffs before. I live in western Wyoming and visit an area of the Green River in which there are a number of cliffs. Last spring I noticed a hawk? nest in the cliffs in which a Canada Goose pair had set up housekeeping. One of the pair was on the nest while the other stood watch from above. With all of the flat sage brush land we have here in Wyoming, it is not uncommon for the geese to take over abandoned osprey and hawk nests. Would it be possible that the geese had thought about using the hawk nest for their own?


    • Elizabeth, thank you for visiting my blog and for your kind words on my photography.

      I appreciate you sharing your experiences with geese on cliffs. I had no idea that they would nest in an old hawk nest. I am learning something new everyday!

      I’m not sure these geese would have been able to fly into this hawks nest safely, it appeared to be a narrow ledge so landing might have been very difficult for them.

  4. I have never seen Geese do what you show here, but I have seen Geese attempt to fly to the top of a new high rise here in the city, that was strange too. Wonderful post Mia, as usual:)

  5. Merrill Ann Gonzales

    I’m wondering if they had already built nests themselves in another part of the cliff… The fact that they kept coming back and acting like they were trying to chase something away makes me think they may have been protecting their own nests. From what we’ve seen about Canadian Geese around here… they nest pretty much wherever they want to.

  6. Jane Chesebrough

    Never seen Canada Geese that high, but usually observe them around ponds. Great pictures of the Red-tailed hawk nesting. I would be really excited about spring but we have had two days of snow.

  7. I have never seen Canadian Geese perch on cliffs or fly around like that. They must have been agitated? How was their call?

    • Mavourneen, the geese sounded agitated, but they seemed more agitated at each other and they didn’t seem to focus much at all on the Red-tailed Hawk.

      It was neat to see this.

  8. Great and confusing things in Utah, lovely to see.

  9. The geese may have been prospecting for nest sites; they’re fond of cliffs in parts of their range, probably for the safety from potential predators.

    • Thanks for your thoughts on this Rick, I had never seen Canada Geese on a cliff like this. There is a marshy area across the road and down the hill to the east of this cliff and there were other geese in the marsh. It was fascinating behavior for me.

  10. 30 years.in the field and I have never seen anything like that.


  11. Cool shots of the Geese and the Hawk. Great sightings, Mia!

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