There’s a large cemetery a few miles from my house that has two big ponds with a picturesque waterfall between them. The water is bordered by woods on the back side and a wide, expansive, well-manicured lawn on the the other two sides.
The lawn and ponds attract Canadian geese, who find the cemetery to be the perfect place to live (ironic, right?).
There are more ponds and lawns across the street at a neighboring funeral home and “memorial” garden. They are forever crossing the road between the two spaces and they don’t fly. They waddle…slowly.
And you know drivers these days — they are mostly distracted and impatient. Also, they are usually running late, stressed out, and quick to anger. (‘Merica…land of the free, aggravated and self-important.)
In spring, the geese are often crossing the road with a dozen or more little goslings between them. A couple of years ago, when my morning run route was to the cemetery and back, I was forever stopping traffic to play Goose Crossing Guard, trying to hurry the birds across the road all while being honked and hissed at by the biggest, bravest goose in the bunch.
I never took offense. They’re just protecting their babies.
Every year, there are a few geese who don’t make it across the road. I see them as I drive past. They are usually belly-up with their wings splayed at odd angles and blowing in breeze created by passing cars.
It always breaks my heart to see a dead goose.
You may think: “What’s one goose? There are a million of them.” And there are, literally. In fact, there are estimated to be more than 5 million Canadian Geese in the U.S. Golf courses and airports consider them a nuisance animal.
But Canadian Geese mate for life. So that goose mattered to another bird who, no doubt, mourned its death. I’ve seen the sad, honking display of the living mate circling their dead partner. It’s a scene that’s hard to get out of your head.
This time of year, you’ll often see a single pair of geese or a couple pairs of geese watching over a two dozen or more goslings. They are not especially prolific geese, but taking their turn on nursery duty. These “gang broods” are made up of several broods, that travel, feed, and lounge around together, sharing the work of raising the young.
Children can be exhausting, you know.
Some other interesting facts about Canadian geese from the Cornell Lab or Ornithology:
- Canada Geese are particularly drawn to lawns for two reasons: they can digest grass, and when they are feeding with their young, manicured lawns give them a wide, unobstructed view of any approaching predators.
- In summer, they primarily feed on grasses. In the fall and winter, they rely on berries and seeds.
- They mate for life with very low “divorce rates,” and pairs remain together throughout the year.
- Geese mate “assortatively,” larger birds choosing larger mates and smaller ones choosing smaller mates; in a given pair, the male is usually larger than the female.
- Most Canada Geese do not breed until their fourth year; less than 10 percent breed as yearlings, and most pair bonds are unstable until birds are at least two or three years old.
- They have one brood each year. Average size of a clutch is 2-8.
- Hatchlings are born with their eyes are open and leave the nest in just a day or two, depending on weather, and can walk, swim, feed, and even dive.
- Young birds remain with their parents for their entire first year.
- As summer wanes birds become more social; they may gather in large numbers at food sources; where food is limited, they may compete with displays and fights.
- In winter, Geese can remain in northern areas with some open water and food resources even where temperatures are extremely cold.
- An estimated 2.6 million Canada Geese are harvested by hunters in North America, but this does not seem to affect its numbers.
I look forward to the goslings each spring and routinely drive by the cemetery in May in hopes of catching a glimpse of the first hatchlings. When the little fuzzy ones appear, no matter where I’m going or how late I am, I pull over and watch them for a while.
They grow up fast. By July, you can’t tell the goslings from the geese.