To continue my discussion on habitat loss and climate change and third in my environmental ‘look and see’ series, I decided to change it up a bit before posting on sustainability. I am saving that post for after the new year. This post deals with habitat loss in a very general, yet important way to migratory creatures. And we have pretty pictures too, if you like fat, ornery geese that is.
I have been noticing how the Great Canada Geese remain over winter and questioned the reasons why this may be happening. I am just full of questions lately, don’t you think after the last two posts?
First, there is the obvious reason of people feeding the tame geese which are happily underfoot, but even this is not as simple as it may appear to explain why the geese are year-round residents.
Many of these birds have been born in communities and will remain there lifelong, thriving among humans, dining on turf grass and stale bread, earning the moniker of lawn carp, or couch-potato geese. Funny huh, I did not make those names up but read of them.
I am waiting for the day when they waddle into the local supermarket right up to the produce counter for the easy pickings because they have become so accustomed to people, our cars, planes, trains, sirens, and other noises of this modern life.
To answer why they stay, let’s investigate. At one time up until 1935, it was permissible to raise live decoys, where hunters raised and cared for a flock. These geese were raised to lure in flighted birds to blast with a shotgun. I can see why it was outlawed, there is not much sport in this method, but I believe another reason for the law was because the natural flocks were diminishing around this time.
The hunters clipped the wings of the decoys to keep them flightless. But after this was outlawed, the birds were released into local bays and marshes, over 20,000 of them on one flyway alone. Many towns and local parks welcomed them and people started feeding them. The flight feathers grew back, but the geese did not resume instinctive migrating, having little biological incentive to do so. Not that the behavior was lost, it was just easier for the geese to avoid a 1400 mile journey and stay put, well fed and protected.
Additionally, much of their habit was being lost to development. Marshes and waterways made way for housing starts, and the geese need these places to rest and restore. Wetlands are better protected now, but this was not always the case.
But, geese do not spend all their time in marshes and on lakes. They like to feed in open fields, and it makes no matter to them if the field is tender turf grass or not. So we ended up with many migratory birds taking refuge on golf courses and in public parks before their flight southward as their natural flyways were interrupted by large swaths of green.
Those that chose to stay, entered suburbia for the easy food and the lack of predators. This lack of predators and abundance of food allows the Giant Canada goose to lay eggs that will hatch and enable more goslings to survive. It is a distinct advantage over those that migrate and raise their young among the dangers of the wild.
Canada geese can live for more than 20 years, but many migrating Canada geese will not survive their first year. Many will fall prey to predators such as gulls, crows, raccoons, or skunks during the incubation period or to coyotes and snapping turtles as little goslings. Countless numbers may not successfully complete their first migration. Adult Canada geese have few predators besides us and coyotes, but to control goose populations, hunters take out some of the population each year.
In some local locations, resident geese compete with migratory geese and ducks for a limited supply of food and space. There are goose round-ups conducted, but I honestly do not know what really happens to them nor do I really want to know.
I have been seeing fewer ducks in the last few years, and this may be attributed to the geese being far more aggressive for the food and habitat. I am only guessing this and have no basis to my observations. The resident geese seldom fly more than two or three miles from their birthplace, but sometimes this interferes with habitat and habits of the migratory ducks and geese.
See the one with his head up in the air. He was honking up a storm to let all the geese know I had corn, sunflower seed and peanuts. Once they knew, they all looked like the guy below. Next thing that happened is just what you would expect, a whole bunch of them came waddling over. I had to toss the seed away from me or I would not have gotten any images with a 400mm lens on the camera. They came right up to me as I was sitting on the ground.
They were very polite too, no pecking. I was more worried for my camera than myself. Also, there was over one hundred of them. A seagull was sitting right at my side beside the closed bag of seed. I handed him seed and he very gently took it from my hand. I felt like a bird whisperer or something. It was a strange day.
The answer to the question of have the geese stopped migrating is a solid no. The Giant Canada goose has weak migratory instinct, but it is still intact. I read where there are estimated to be as many as one million Giant Canada geese in the Atlantic flyway, as many as all other Canada geese subspecies in the flyway combined. So they are quite plentiful and not in jeopardy in any way.
But how many of these will in the future be converted to resident birds? With habitat loss and changing land use, they may no longer have a natural home or environment to frequent. And it may look like heaven to them to inhabit our golf courses, lakes, corporate campuses, and cemeteries year-round. It is pretty easy to adapt to the ready tender lawn grasses, freshwater ponds, and no predators like the counterparts of geese already inhabiting these places.
Ah, heaven. Looks like I am blaming everything on Climate Warming at least a little bit, but…… Well, besides raising them; jailing them; clipping their wings; using them to lure their brethren to death and blasting them out of the sky; poisoning them, yes, I said it, some roundups poison them, others terrorize them with snarling dogs; poke holes in their eggs to stop development or spray them with oil so they suffocate in the egg; and destroying THEIR habitat, is it any wonder they get back at us somehow?
Next time you see thousands of them defecating on your local golf course and pecking the greens into a divots landmine, think about what we did and do to them. Yep, we are annoyed with them, but imagine how they feel. You might even see one give you a little sneer.
It may be a look of things to come with more and more wild animals being reported frequenting suburban backyards. Reports of black bear have occurred in Western New York communities. In recent years, bears have expanded their range considerably, which has led to a growing number of interactions between bears and people. A big cat was thought to be spotted in Western New York, but not located. The presence of mountain lions in the area remains an unconfirmed reality among wildlife experts, even though residents have seen what they thought to be one. Coyotes are commonplace and deer are running down streets. The world keeps getting smaller and smaller everyday.
I think the greatest threat to the resident geese is our annoyance with them. Once we marveled at them flying overhead at a distance in their V pattern, but now they have become part of our landscape. They bring damage to agriculture crops, traffic jams, and reduce water quality. They contaminate lawns and golf courses with their droppings and damage turf grass by grazing. Geese pose a safety hazard when they fly near airports, also a popular feeding area.
As much as human feeding is responsible for their staying power, climate change may just be slipping in on when they decide to move on. Every year it seems as if they leave later in our area.
I did not bring the peanuts and corn for the geese, but wanted a few pictures and found once they saw the bag, I was like a magnet. I did not think they would eat peanuts, but look at that rasp-like precision. Geese do eat nuts and seeds in their diet, but I bet peanuts here in the north are not usually on the menu. That did not stop them from taking them from me.
As much as grass takes a hit for being ‘useless’ in a landscape, I bet the geese don’t think so being grazers and all.
I hope everyone has a Happy, Healthy New Year and goose is not on your holiday menu. You can bet the two geese above are hoping that too. Notice the sneer?