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A Bird in Hand

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A Bird in Hand

Canada goose, ubiquitous is thy name!

Some things in life are consummately knowable. Your feelings about the color purple, your favorite type of music, the best ways to waste away a lazy summer afternoon, and your thoughts about health care reform.  And this also can extend to the animals around you: cats versus dogs, clumping cat litter or non-clumping, and chickens: yes or no. 

But some things in life are less certain. Democrat or Republican? How about neither? Domestic-branded automobiles, but not made in the USA? Or, Walmart: how can it be the All-American company when it only sells Chinese-made goods? And counted among these things that we might ponder late into the night are Canada geese. Do you really know your honkers? 

Canada geese are not what they appear. Yes, we can all identify these large gray, white-breasted, black-necked, white chin-strapped, golf course and city park denizens. But what do you really know about them? Careful, this question can lead you to that ontological abyss. Don’t send me your psychiatric bills! Nothing is obvious, not even Canada geese. 

I mean, even their name. I don’t want to sound pedantic, but these big waterfowl are Canada geese, not Canadian geese. I don’t write the rules—I’m just the messenger—but we need to clean this up. Unless, of course, you are a slave to the vernacular and ain’t is a common contraction in your vocabulary. Just sayin’... .

There are seven sub-species of Canada geese. There used to be eleven, but then some smart fellow began to apply chromosomal studies to specie differentiation. With that, it was found—at least at this point in time—that the four smallest subspecies of Canada geese were indeed a separate single specie apart from the others. These wee ones are now classified as the Cackling geese. Just goes to show that just because a bird walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it might not be a duck. And the same is true with Canada geese. 

Traditionally, Canada geese spent their summers in the Great White North and wintered in the more temperate climes of the United States. Hence their name. They always came out of Canada in the fall, just like some peculiar folks today who spend their winters in Florida. And, just like in the Gulf region, some of these Canadians stayed. This resulted in many local populations that no longer migrate and now spend the year-round in the same location. Have you ever wondered why there are so many French-speakers in some areas of Florida? Viva Quebec and all that jazz and now please pass the  sunscreen.

Today, though most of these birds continue in the old patterns, many Canada geese populations are now residents and no longer migrate. Granted, they might move about a bit during the different seasons, but by and large they stay “home.” Everyone in our neck of the woods knows about that one bonded-pair of Canada geese that always nests in downtown Sandpoint, and then parade their newly hatched goslings down to Sand Creek. That, my friends, is truly chilling in the hood, or however it is said. The lingo will change next week; I will send a memo.

The problem with these resident populations, or mobs, if your prefer, is that Canada geese are the avian equivalent of cows. Herbivores. Grazers. Yes, they can dabble in the lake and tip themselves over to reach the aquatic greens way down deep with their long necks, but only if they must.  If is far more enjoyable to stroll the neatly trimmed city parks and local golf courses to graze on that luxuriously green, chemically-intense, grass. Think about it. These places get doused every morning with sprinklers. What is not to like? Why migrate up toward that mosquito-plagued tundra in Canada when one can lounge in the cool greens of some endless manicured pasture? It’s a gimme. 

Unfortunately for folks who do enjoy golf or the city parks, there is much not to like about this arrangement. Namely, goose droppings. Gross! They’re everywhere. In the grass, on the beaches, turning putting greens into hazards, everywhere! And while the honking of these birds in flight might sound romantic to some, have you ever shared a park with a flock of these paranoid noise makers? Gosh, it is enough to drive a vegan to hunt waterfowl.

I think that we need to appreciate these beautiful animals for what they are: opportunists. Humans have unintentionally dealt them a pretty good hand and the geese are playing their trump. You can’t blame them. But who knows the future? Our current economic recession might turn the table on these feathered neighbors. The resident biped populations might begin finding their next meal in the local park, a la Hemingway in Paris, or the city park budget might get lopped and the sprinklers quit sprinkling and the mowers quit mowing. Oh well, these big lugs can always fall back on their old ways, assuming these new generations of geese can read migration maps. But until then, happy birding!

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Author info

Michael Turnlund Michael Turnlund is a Sandpoint resident who teaches at Clark Fork High School. An avid birder, he's happy to share his knowledge of the area's avian wildlife

Tagged as:

birding, Canada goose, geese

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