My post on Red-winged blackbirds received a lot of positive feedback. However, someone did comment that the male blackbird I interviewed seemed sexist. My response was that this bird was an individual, and not representative of his entire species. He also happened to be the head of a harem.
To even things out, I promised that next I would interview a male bird that mates for life. So I chose the noble, the beautiful, the faithful- Canada Goose!
A: Thanks for taking time to talk to me today.
G: No problem, but I can’t stay long. I need to get back to the wife and kids. We had five little ones this spring, and they’re getting to the rambunctious toddler stage!
A: Five kids! Sounds like a handful!
G: They’re certainly hard to keep in line. When we walk down to the river my wife goes first, followed by the kids, and then I bring up the rear. Without fail, one of the kids will veer off the path into the bushes. My job is make sure she stays with the rest of us. There are a lot of predators out there that would like to snack on a baby goose.
A: What predators do you have to watch out for?
G: I’ve seen foxes, coyotes, gulls, ravens and even bears hanging around my nest. Pet dogs also make me nervous.
A: Yikes! What do you do in those situations?
G: My wife sits on the nest and shields the babies with her body, and I’ll try to lure the predator away from the nest. I’ll hiss, open my mouth, and open my wings to make myself look bigger. If that doesn’t work, then I’ll hit them with my wings. They may look light, but they’re strong enough to do some damage. This usually convinces the predator to look for dinner elsewhere.
A: How brave of you! Aren’t you worried about getting eaten yourself?
G: Not really. It takes a lot to kill an adult goose, and there aren’t many predators big enough to take us down. Once you survive childhood, you’re pretty much guaranteed to live for at least 10 years. With all those predators around, childhood is pretty rough. I expect only half of my kids will survive the summer.
A: Interesting. You seem like a very proud father. Are there more babies on the way?
G: Not this year. My wife lays eggs once a year in the early spring. We start early so our babies have time to grow strong enough for the fall migration. We only want what’s best for them.
A: How do you choose where to put the nest?
G: My wife is the one in charge of that. She’s very nostalgic, and every spring we come back to the same place where she was born. If we can successfully raise children there, we’ll keep coming back to that spot. If none of our chicks survive we’ll try a different spot.
A: And who makes the nest?
G: My wife does. She chooses a flat spot so she can see predators coming from a long ways away. She’ll make the nest out of grasses and line it with her own down.
A: Who is in charge of sitting on the eggs?
G: That’s my wife’s job. She sits on them for 25-28 days before they hatch. She’s a wonderful mother. She will only leave them to drink, feed or bathe, and then she’s right back on the nest. I’ll take over for her when she’s away. I love keeping them warm and hearing their soft peeps through the shells.
A: Wait, your babies communicate while they’re still in the egg?
G: Yep, pretty amazing right? It happens close to the time they’re ready to hatch.
A: It seems to me like your wife is doing most of the work! What’s your job in this partnership?
G: How dare you! I’m on guard duty. I stand by faithfully as she sits on the nest, protecting her and our eggs from predators. It’s a very noble calling.
A: Okay. What happens when the eggs hatch?
G: Goslings are ready to take on the world! They are born with their eyes open, and in two days they are swimming, foraging and diving right beside us! They grow up so fast. Even though they like to think they’re independent, they still run back to the nest and under mom’s feathers whenever it is cold, rainy or windy out. It’s quite adorable. They spend a lot of time eating and sleeping, and don’t leave the nest until they are 42-50 days old. Even then they’ll stick to us like glue for the rest of the year, even during migration.
A: Tell me more about migration. Canada Geese are famous for flying in a V shape. Why do you do that?
G: Well, we often migrate in family groups. Migration is no picnic, and we can fly over 1000 km in a single day. The V shape helps us save energy. The leader creates an air current and we all follow in his wake. The leader is usually an older, more experienced goose. It’s tiring to be the leader, so we’ll take turns doing it. The V shape also makes it easy for the group to change direction and speed very quickly, to avoid a passing airplane, for example.
A : I’m sure many of our readers have seen you on golf courses, parks and bike paths. Some people complain that you make a mess with your poop, and ravage perfectly manicured lawns. What do you have to say about this?
G: Yeesh, you humans! You’re never happy. In the early 1900s, the Giant Canada Goose of Southern Manitoba was almost extinct because you hunted us and ate our eggs. You decided that you wanted to save the geese, so you bred us in captivity and released us into places we had never lived before, like BC, Quebec and the Maritime provinces. You protected us with the Migratory Bird Convention, so people need a license to harm us or our eggs. Then you created perfect, open habitats for us, just full of our favorite food; short grass! Now you complain that there are too many of us. Well, you have no-one to blame but yourselves.
A: I guess you’re right. That conservation plan worked a little too well. Why do you like urban areas so much?
G: No predators, lawns everywhere, humans don’t shoot us, what’s not to love?
A: I guess, but can’t you poop somewhere else? It makes the bike paths hazardous.
G: Listen, we’d move if we could, but we can’t. During the summer we can’t fly for 6-8 weeks. This is because we’re moulting, losing our flight feathers and growing new ones. Growing feathers takes a lot of energy, so we need a lot of food. I can easily eat 4 lbs of grass a day and excrete 2 lbs of poop when I’m moulting. I’m sorry we’re making a mess of your lawn, but there’s nothing we can do about it.
A: Well, it makes sense when you put it that way. I imagine not being able to fly is frustrating.
G: It’s not so bad. We can still swim. We spend half of our time in the water anyway, and do most of our feeding on land. And we’re with our family and friends, so life is good.
A: One last question. Is it true that Canada geese mate for life?
G: Of course it’s true, what are you suggesting? One couple we know just celebrated their 20th anniversary!
A: Okay, okay no offense meant! How did you meet your wife?
G: I met my wife when I was 2 years old. I knew instantly that she was ‘the one’ because she was the same size as me. I think you humans call that ‘assortative mating’. We wanted to have kids, but we waited until we had been together a few years before we finally did. I didn’t want to be like my brother, who cheated on his wife while she was incubating their eggs. They were young and foolish, and they ended up breaking up. It usually takes 2-3 years for a strong pair bond to form between a male and a female. It’s uncommon for a couple to start a family before that 2 year mark.
A: Thanks so much for talking with me! Say hi to the wife and kids for me.
G: Will do!