The longer and warmer days of March have arrived, as have the red-winged blackbirds. Groups of deer and turkeys are everywhere, feeding throughout the day. If I travel near open water – lakes, ponds, rivers or swamps – Canada geese are ubiquitous and dominant, by sound if not sight. It’s hard to tell who’s who, as migrating geese are following the retreating snowline northward; large numbers of “resident” geese are very active; and all are moving daily between shared resting and feeding areas.
Like any serious wildlife photographer, I like the morning hours. So do geese. The chatter starts before sunrise as they become restless and prepare to leave nighttime retreats for nearby fields.The honking increases in volume and intensity as sunrise approaches. First light is soon followed by a series of noisy feeding flights.
Geese consume a variety of plant materials, including grasses and grass-like plants, wild seeds and berries, and agricultural grains (waste seed in spread manure is also on the menu). Submerged aquatic vegetation in shallow water is consumed by “dabbling”, where they tilt forward until balancing upside down, head and neck under water.
At this time of year geese spend a lot of time on the thin ice at water’s edge, resting and preening.
Geese are among our largest birds, with a wingspan of up to six feet and maximum weight of over 15 pounds (size varies with the numerous subspecies in North America). .
In recent years goose populations have increased nationwide. In many areas geese have become a serious nuisance and the focus of intense research and management programs. This is in large part due to increasing numbers of “resident” geese. This population consists of geese that were brought to the Northeast from the Midwest in the mid-20th century, mostly for government and private game farming and stocking programs. The semi-domesticated birds thrived, especially in relatively safe, man-made habitats such as parks, lawns and golf courses. Normal mortality factors like hunting and natural predation are negligible in these areas, resulting in uncontrolled population growth. Under these conditions it is not unusual to find 20 year-old geese! The problems associated with large numbers of geese in urban and suburban areas are many – overgrazed lawns; large quantities of messy, bacteria-laden droppings; aggressive behavior during the nesting season; a hazardous presence at airports; etc. Efforts to manage nuisance geese involve an array of tactics, including repellents, fencing, egg treatments, habitat alteration, and controlled harvest. Hopefully, the implementation of sustainable, long-term solutions will allow all to coexist and insure that the dawn flyways remain noisy.
All photos by NB Hunter