Geese Gotta Get Going

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.

Geese at the Falls during a light snow. This group is not resident geese. They were gone on Friday.

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.

Geese on the Niagara Falls Golf Course taken on Friday. It was sunny.

Geese at Niagara Falls State Park taken on Thursday. It was cloudy and snowing.

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.

Thousands Geese on the Niagara Falls golf course. An image you have to enlarge to see to ones in the distance.

See the helicopter?

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.

Nonchalant goose or a very suave fellow with a beak full of grass.

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.

My, you are a fat goose, a good sixteen-pounder. Sorry if I offend you, but you could end up in a stew pot somewhere.

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?

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About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
This entry was posted in Animals, Birds, Canada Geese, conservation, environment, Niagara Falls State Parks, photos and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Geese Gotta Get Going

  1. Autumn Belle says:

    I haven’t seen a migratory geese and didn’t know they do. I thought they are like the domesticated ducks and chickens that do not fly much but walk about more. Wishing you Happy New Year 2012!

  2. We have huge populations of Canada geese overwintering here in south central Kansas, as well as reasonable numbers of year-round residents. The skies and fields are full at this time of year and, at times, their calls can be deafening. I still love seeing the large flocks flying out to feed in the morning or in to roost in the evening.

    I really appreciated learning about the use of “tame” flocks as decoys, followed by their subsequent release back into the regular population. Food for thought…but NOT for New Year’s dinner! (That said, about a decade ago I read that overly large geese populations were decimating the habitat in their breeding grounds up north. I haven’t read anything about this recently, but if it’s still a major problem, it may be that it’s time to harvest some and donate the meat to homeless shelters or to other worthwhile venues.)

  3. Victor Ho says:

    No goose on the menu. Happy New Year.

  4. elaine says:

    Beeautiful shots – I was given wild goose meat to eat once – very very strong flavour – not to my taste. They seem to be endemic everywhere now they may be a nuisance but I am of the ‘live and let live’ brigade.

  5. Cat says:

    No goose on the menu here! Donna, I hope you have a wonderful New Year! Thanks so much for all your thoughtful comments throughout 2011. Always a pleasure to visit GWGT and I look forward to seeing what’s on the slate for 2012!

  6. lula says:

    The images in the post are beautiful, but the real truth about climate changes and damaged ecosystems, etc., are so terrible that one can only feel really bad. Nevertheless, today I want send my best wishes for a very green, ecological and happy new year 2012!! Best, Lula

  7. Such stunning creatures. Thank you for your wonderful photos of them. No goose in the pot this year but the ones around here can be cranky little so and so’s and often get threatened with it!
    Happy New Year!

  8. I love geese – definately no goose on our holiday menu!
    I wish you a wonderful 2012 Donna!!

  9. Donna I have watched hundreds upon hundreds of geese returning North recently…very strange…they are returning in drove using the flyways I watch….this mild winter has brought them back…I also see few duck due to so many geese…we do have resident geese here but few and far between…I understand keeping them away from airports but other than that, we have to share the land…here’s to a wonderful New Year and hopefully one that is less strange nature wise!

  10. Shyrlene says:

    Great topic, excellent photos! On travels (via road trip) in the winter, there is nothing like seeing throngs of migratory birds as the miles roll by – Nebraska is amazing for bird watching. My favorite are the Sandhill Cranes, especially with their hypnotic trill calls to each other. On the other hand – there is nothing to get your attention faster than nesting Canadian Geese in the Spring. Always know where those nests are (even if they are right next to the entrance at the office!)! I was once ‘tag-teamed’ by a nesting pair, when I innocently started walking toward their hidden nest. It would have made an entertaining video on YouTube … I’m just grateful no one had a camera. (I am now MUCH more aware of my surroundings in spring!) 😉

  11. One says:

    Really love your photos especially the close-ups. The world is changing and that is interesting. Wonder if the geese will migrate over here. Then I’ll go ‘shoot’ them too.

    Happy New Year! Thank you for the support.

  12. Les says:

    Unfortunately, we humans have made it a very difficult world for many species to live in. I imagine it will be the species that adapt to our world, that will be the ones to thrive, like the Canada goose. They are a serious problem here as well, mainly for what their droppings contribute to the local waterways, but that is just a drop in the bucket compared to the river’s worst offenders – fertilizer spreading humans in search of the perfect lawn. Thanks for another thoughtful post.

  13. Donna, Canada geese are fascinating if you delve into their group behavior. When they are on the ground they always post a sentry to watch over the flock. He will be the one with his head extended, the one that alerted the other geese to your presence. Your photos are beautiful. It has been fun spending the year blogging with you. Here’s to 2012. Carolyn

  14. Canada geese are a product of their own success and human interference in the balance of their environment intermixed with erroneous legislation that over protects them. Your images capture their characterisitcs so well Donna and would look good framed on a wall. I wish you and the whole world a happy and saner 2012

  15. Indie says:

    I learned so many new things about geese. I do always wonder about geese and airports. Growing up more in the north, they were a sign of spring and summer. Now in the south, we see them throughout the winter. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten goose, though!

    The sad thing is that this is not nearly as bad as what humans have done to other wildlife, since we have managed to eliminate many species entirely.

  16. “Bird whisperer” — that is a great nickname. I think you deserve it! These are incredible shots of a most regal, if underappreciated, bird. Canada geese are thick here, too. They come and go with the weather, but it seems most winters now they’re here more than they used to be. Wonderful post, Donna!

  17. KL says:

    Habitat destruction and destruction of animals/nature is everywhere. Recently I read an article that rhinoceros are being killed in large number for their supposedly medicinal properties in Asian countries!!! I hope we human will soon wake up and realize that we are an an integral part of nature and nature is an integral part of us. Habitat destruction can be easily stopped in the US. Instead of all of us having those lawns with only evergreen plants, we should each plants lots of native plants/trees/shrubs and in that way each of the lawn will become a mini natural habitat. So many mini habitats side by side will create a large natural corridor.

  18. Bom says:

    Happy New Year, Donna! May 2012 bring you more blessing of love, joy, happiness, health, prosperity and plants. More power to your blogs!

  19. Ah global warming…been watching the geese myself and thinking they are hanging out here way to long but why wouldn’t they when most of our December has been in the mid to upper 40s. As for animals widening their territories I had a coyote jumping to get up in to my tree a couple of months ago. Would love to hear more on your take of climate change….a scary topic but one that we all need to face head on. Thanks for the great post and Happy New Year Donna! You help put great information out there for us all to ponder and learn from. Nicole

  20. Joy says:

    Donna girl .. I had no idea about the clipping of wings and luring geese in .. I wish I could not be shocked by what things I hear of how creatures are “used” and harmed by humans.
    I am a coward and try not to think about it too much or I would never get to sleep at night.
    I loved hearing about how gentle they were with you .. it amazes me how even the most abused animal can be so forgiving , gentle and affectionate still.
    I wanted to drop by and say Happy New Year girl : ) .. maybe some miracles will happen .. we can always dream right ? thanks so much for dropping by my blog so often too ! I appreciate it : )
    Joy

  21. Great post. Everything is connected and pulling one little tread in the the great skein of life can leave a large hole. And often fixing that hole is very hard to impossible.
    One way we can learn more about bird trends is to use e-bird, the huge data base Cornell University maintains on birds. You can see the distribution of each species and follow trends in bird populations over years. And the Audubon Christmas counts give great information on trends of species that winter in the U.S. And each of us can help add to the data base by turning in bird sightings. Be sure you use a time and/or distance sighting to make the information more important. Cornell also runs a feeder watch program that people can participate in to build information on feeder birds. Here is the link: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/

    Snow geese have, for reasons not totally clear, also fallen out of balance with the rest of the animals that share their habitat and are destroying it. And the little Canada geese, now several subspecies called Cackling Geese are in trouble due to hunting pressures on them both in the summer by the Native Peoples, and in the winter by hunters while their habitat continues to be destroyed. I’m currently volunteering in the western flyway but too many snow geese are a problem in all the flyways, I believe.

    But the Canada goose problem is probably not due to global warming but to the actions of man. But migratory birds are getting impacted. Global warming gets them back and raising babies before the bugs that are their food sources are raising their own babies. So many more baby birds are starving to death.

  22. linniew says:

    I truly appreciate your thoughtful, beautifully illustrated posts about environmental issues.

    Happy 2012!

  23. Catherine says:

    Canada Geese are a big problem out here too. As long as I can remember they have been around during the winter. People have talked about all sorts of ways of trying to get rid of them, they really do make a mess in public and private places and contaminate the lake beaches too. I had no idea about how they originally ended up here. Personally they don’t really bother me. Where are the wildlife supposed to go as people keep clearing land to build more houses?
    I enjoyed this post and your pictures!

  24. Marguerite says:

    I love seeing the geese flying and honking in fall but I’ve often wondered if they actually went anywhere as when I lived on the west coast there were geese there all year round. Interesting to hear that their migratory patterns have changed. My mother used to get very mad at the people who went and shook the goose eggs. She thought it was such a waste, farmgirl that she is, she thought the eggs and geese should be given to poor people as food. There was a time when goose was quite the delicacy.

  25. Beautiful birds, and great photos!

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