Wild Friends From The North

BLOG_CS_IMG_009_June2013Yes, they are everywhere, but how well do we really know them? Canada Geese have become so adapted to living among us, they display a few behaviors humans don’t care for and therefore, get a bum rap. They are known to be a little pushy or downright aggressive when we humans get too close to their goslings, but that’s just their way of being protective parents. They also have a tendency to mess up our ‘so called’ human areas with their droppings. Maybe they wouldn’t if they could help it, but they can’t. It’s that whole involuntary elimination thing that all birds (except the ostrich) have, and birds poo every 12-15 minutes. Geese are just much bigger birds and like to hang out in groups. So those reasons, of course, contribute to the number of ‘nasties’ left in a parking lot, on a sidewalk or golf course. Border Collies or Australian Shepherds could make quick work of keeping them out of a ‘No Geese Zone’ if necessary with no harm, no fowl. When Canada Geese (not “Canadian” as many people refer to them) are admitted to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport its always due to injuries incurred as a result of human interference, be it intentional or unintentional. Geese are hit by cars and when that happens, it usually means two geese will be coming to the clinic because geese mate for life and the uninjured mate will not leave the other’s side. BLOG_CS_IMG_029_Jun3013Uninjured mates wait patiently by our pond while shelter admits are treated and until eventually released. Rehabilitators at our shelter have removed fishing line that could possibly amputate a leg or prevent flight if left unattended. We have even extracted an arrow shot right through a goose that fortunately, missed all vital organs. The goose abuse stories are endless and always bring on a tear jerk reaction to those of us who care about and treat these majestic birds. Each Canada Goose has its own unique shelter story, personality, and we never forget them as they pass through our care and facility. Most people know what they look like and that the honking sound coming from the V formation overhead is a flock of geese, but did you know that they can cover 1,500 miles in just 24 hours with a good tail wind. BLOG_CS_MG_0065_Jun2013And yes, they are the tall, stately birds with the long black neck and head with white chinstrap and brownish-gray, robust body who cover ground with a sophisticated and royal gait. Canada geese are adaptable to many habitats and can thrive by grazing wherever grasses, grains or berries are available. They mate at three years of age and nest in areas surrounded by or close to water. Retention ponds in heavily populated areas have recently become popular sites to nest and raise their young. Other nest sites include planter boxes and nesting structures provided specifically for geese. They line their bowl-shaped nest with grass, leaves and goose down. A pair of geese may return to the same nest site year after year. Normally six to ten eggs are laid in the nest in the Spring and are incubated by the female goose while the gander, the male, stands guard nearby. The female leaves the nest only briefly each day to feed. Eggs hatch after 25 to 30 days of incubation. The young can walk, swim and feed within 24 hours. At the shelter we have enjoyed the return of mated pairs and some of their offspring for many years now. We feel privileged to watch the goslings grow. Adult geese are often seen leading their goslings in a line, usually with one parent in the front and the other at the back.BLOG_CS_IMG_064_Jun2013 Ever on the alert, they will attack or chase away by hissing, biting and wing slapping anything from a small bird to a human if they perceive that presence threatens their children. Although geese are known to be hostile toward unfamiliar geese, during breeding season they tend to assemble their dependent young in groups called crèches and care for them communally to provide more protection. The goslings are able to fly at about ten weeks and will remain with their family group for about one year. The average life span of a Canada goose is 10-25 years. There are reports of geese living to be 30 plus years in the wild. Predators of Canada geese and their eggs include humans, coyotes, raccoons, skunks, bobcats, and foxes, as well as gulls, eagles, crows, ravens and magpies. Canada Geese are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act which prevents anyone from intentionally killing or taking any geese or goslings without a valid permit issued by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, pursuant to Federal Regulations. There is so much more to know and learn about our wild friends from the North. Please take time to get to know them and, from a distance, say ‘Hello’ or wave to some Canada Geese and their goslings today!

Wishing everyone a wonderful summer!

Linda Bergman-Althouse
Wildlife Rehabilitator
& author of  “Save Them All