Canada geese (Branta canadensis) loved the lawns at Princeton, New Jersey, immaculately manicured and a nice fresh green. They’d be lolling around in the morning, sometimes sleeping and sometimes nibbling on the grass. You could tell they’d been going vegetarian because their droppings, in an apparent group effort to mimic Jackson Pollock on the sidewalk, managed to be quite reflective of their diet. They sometimes also eat small insects, fish, beans, rice, wheat, aquatic weeds, and corn. Geese adapted to city life have also been known to look for food in rubbish bins, or even beg for it, although I haven’t managed to see any of that myself.
It isn’t a bad idea to stay away from Canada geese, which have a reputation for being aggressive if you’ve wandered into its territory or near its young. Last spring, I fled from a titchy little teenage Canada goose, charging at us Very Fast, still covered in down and not even as high as my knee. Thankfully, as a result of my cowardice and longer legs, only my pride was left wounded. I suppose the angry little fluffball was going through a rebellious phase.
One of my favourite things to see was a Canada goose couple with their goslings, waddling along. Like humans are (supposed to be), Canada geese are monogamous. They usually find a mate in the second year of their life, laying two to nine eggs during the breeding season in elevated nests near water. Interestingly, some degree of social structure exists: whilst goose parents are generally protective of their goslings against other geese, a number of adults and their goslings can form friendly groups, known as creches. The goslings are capable of walking, swimming, and eating at birth, and are fluffy and yellow-grey. As they grow older and larger, they get less fluffy and darken in colour, before finally growing proper feathers and begin to be able to fly at around 6 to 9 weeks of age.
Young geese don’t usually leave their parents until after their first round of migration, when they return to where they were born in the spring. Canada geese migrate in the classical V formation, and researchers have found that they have elevated thyroid hormones, which help increase metabolism, as well as elevated stress hormones such as corticosterone during and after migration. It may not be something one would commonly think about, but even birds get stressed too.
With them being considered pests in some areas, dirtying water and land and even destroying crops, suggestions have been made that they should be culled and donated to food banks, which haven’t been very well received. However, many profess that Canada geese make for good eating, and the geese are some of the most commonly hunted waterfowl. One problem with eating them, on the other hand, is that they often feed on polluted land and grass inundated with chemicals, rendering their meat rather iffy for consumption if not well tested for toxins.
For all you know, news has gotten out along the goose vine that some humans don’t like them. And maybe, just maybe, that gosling decided that the sentiments were mutual.