It’s 11:45 am on a winter morning - they come from the east, from the west , from the south, and from the north - wave after wave of Candian Geese returning from their routine morning flights. They are coming home to their gathering place at a pond, which is part of the St. Vrain Greenway in Longmont, Colorado. The 14,000 ft. Long's Peak looms in the background.
They circle over the pond like F-16’s returning to a carrier, pick landing spots in the densely crowded landing zone, then gleefully glide down, spreading their wings for gentle landings into the huge gathering of other geese, who have already returned from their flights. There is a cacophony of happy honking as the geese collect to enjoy their regular late morning social gathering and chat about their morning flights.
In the afternoon, it gets very quiet, except for a few complainers, as the geese settle in for an afternoon nap.
Late in the afternoon, the sky once again darkens as hundreds of Canadian Geese get clearance and take off for their late afternoon flights. After seemingly randon groups of geese get airborne, they move into their classic v-formations, to take advantage of the slipstream to reduce air drag and off they go into the wild blue Colorado skies for fun, exercise, and flight training for young fliers. They return as the sun is setting, just in time to see breath-taking aerial views of rosy sunsets over the snow-capped Rockies to the west.
Canadian Geese, also called Canada Geese, range widely across North America. They generally live around ponds, rivers and lake shores. They also like city parks, if they are not too crowded with humans. They migrate south every winter, winging their way over the distance from their Canadian summer retreats. Many choose Colorado as a place to spend their winters.
Canadian Geese are characterized by long black necks, accented with white chin straps. Their undertail coverts are white. They have dark brown backs, upper wings and flanks, and light brown, nearly white breasts. Their tails and webbed feet are black. The males are large birds, weighing from 8 to 14 pounds with wingspans of 50 to 68 inches. The females look virtually identical to the males, but are slightly lighter at about 7 to 12 pounds. Male and female geese have different vocalizations. Canadian Geese usually mate for life - which may extend 20 years.
The Geese feed on aquatic vegetation, grass, roots and young sprouts. When feeding in water, they submerge their heads and necks to reach aquatic plants. They also eat some insects, molluscs and crustaceans and they like to feed on grain and corn from leftover cultivated grains in fields. They can frequently be seen camping out in Colorado cornfields. They also like to hang out at night on frozen ponds, totally indifferent to the cold.
Canadian Geese typically nest on the ground on islands and around shorelines, building their nests with grass and plant material lined with feather down. The female lays her eggs as soon as there is open water for mating and snow-free nest sites are available. Females typically lay a clutch of 5 to 7 white eggs, while the male guards the nesting area. Not easy, the egg laying process can take more than a day. The eggs typically take about a month to incubate. To escape their shells, baby geese peck with an “egg tooth” located at the end of their bill. It requires one to two days for them to free themselves from the egg.After the baby goslings have hatched, the family moves away from the nesting site on foot toward more favorable feeding areas. The newly hatched babies, called goslings, are able to swim immediately. The parents both accompany their babies during their swims. Goslings can dive and swim for 30 to 40 feet underwater and they eat almost continuously to attain growth for their first migration flights. Five weeks after the goslings have hatched, the females begin moulting, the males begin right after mating. During this time, the adults are unable to fly. They regrow their flight feathers and are ready to fly at about the same time as the goslings are ready to learn how to fly, at about nine weeks old.
In autumn, as soon as the young are strong enough for the flight, the Canadian Geese begin their long migration south. They learn the migration routes from their parents and follow the same routes in subsequent years. Although an increasing number of Canada Geese are choosing to winter in Canada, especially in urban areas, the majority fly south to winter in the United States and Mexico. Many choose Colorado.
The natural enemies of Canadian Geese include Bald Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, Snowy Owls, and Prairie Falcons, although humans are their main enemies. In order to control rising Canadian Geese populations, some communities have begun to initiate egg collection programs and allow hunting as a way to decrease their numbers. What a shame to kill these beautiful wild creatures. There must be a better way to control their presence.
Meanwhile, the skies
will continue to fill with these graceful birds as they signal the change
of seasons every year, flying south in the fall and north in the springtime.