Friday, July 9, 2010

For the Birds -- Observances and Commentary on Urban Wildlife

Pictures above: 1-- Joey -- Struggling to find a new niche and make it on his own. 2- The family of Canadian Geese at Turtle Pond. The goslings in the middle and both parents positioned protectively, Mama at top of photo, and Daddy at the bottom. 3-- Gracie and 4 of her 6 ducklings at Harlem Meer.)

When leaving Lasker pool last night after an evening swim, I walked around Harlem Meer to check on some of my favorite ducks.

Overhead, there was a great deal of commotion from what at first seemed like a frantic flock of smallish birds. But, the erratic way the creatures flew and the weird sounds they made, made me wonder if they were in fact, not bats?

That suspicion was confirmed by another park goer who said to me, "Watch your neck. Those are bats!"

"Really?" I said. "I have never seen a bat in my life!"

About the same time there was the discovery of bats flying overhead, I noticed a female mallard lying low in the grass and appearing like there was something wrong with her wings. Her wings were spread out like a fan, and for a moment, I wondered if they were broken? (Ducks don't normally rest with their wings spread out.)

But, after a few seconds, I realized this was, "Gracie," one of the Mama ducks at Harlem Meer who has six precious ducklings who were hatched almost a month ago. Her wings were spread out protectively covering her babies, presumably from the bats flying overhead!

I have never seen anything like this before and thought it to be quite amazing. (Unfortunately, I did not have my camera with me to take pictures.)

After giving some treats to Gracie and her precious little ones and being assured by the young man I was speaking with that he would stay there for a while to make sure no harm came to the family, I moved on.

I saw "Joey," the white, Peking duck who tragically lost his two female siblings over the past month (most likely to human cruelty). Joey was with a small group of female mallards on a patch of grass, but when a group of young people walked by, he and the other ducks immediately jumped in the water and swam away.

I noticed Joey has become a great deal more skittish and wary of people than what he and his siblings used to be. I guess these birds have to learn from experience in order to survive.

I feel bad for Joey now. He and the two girls used to be the rulers of the Meer. It was as though they owned the lake with their constant presence, confidence and tendency to grab all the food treats that people threw out.

But, now Joey is trying to find another small group of ducks that will accept him into their midst. A few drakes have run Joey off from their female companions. But, over the past week or so, I've noticed Joey with this group of about three or four brown female mallards. But, while this flock of ducks doesn't run him off, they don't exactly welcome him either.

If food is tossed out, the female mallards eat first.

Poor Joey has gone from the top of the heap to the low bird on the totem pole.

But, hopefully Joey can find gradual acceptance from the other ducks he now shares the Meer with and really needs for purposes of companionship and protection. I am relieved (though in a sad way) that he has become much more wary and discerning of which people he can trust. That is really important for Joey's survival, especially being that white Peking ducks are purposely bred so that they cannot fly.

Other interesting observances over the past week or so -- the family of Canada Geese at Turtle Pond.

I have said it before and will say it again:

The devoted parental skills of Canadian Geese would put most human parents to shame.

Although the six goslings (hatched on Mother's Day) are now almost fully grown and difficult to distinguish from the Mother in terms of size and coloring, both parent Geese continually protect and guide them.

Canadian Geese communicate with all different types of sounds. Though most people are familiar with the "honks" of geese, particularly when taking to flight, the birds also communicate through soft, googling or cooing sounds (particularly the youngsters) and when threatened, hisses. (This is particularly true of the parent geese when dogs, a natural enemy, approach the family.)

But, what is particularly fascinating is the family resting and sleeping at night!

Mama and the six goslings crumble in a sleeping heap near the water, while the Daddy goose stands about 5 or 6 feet away from the family keeping constant vigil.

Only when things are extremely quiet and peaceful, will the Gander finally settle down on his haunches and rest.

But, I don't know that the Father goose actually ever sleeps at all.

Even when at rest, his head remains high, all senses of hearing, sight and smell forever alert to the slightest hint of threat to the family.

Though I haven't personally witnessed it, one suspects that Daddy goose would be able to immediately awaken and hasten the sleeping family into the water upon any threat -- or be willing to take on any adversary.

Utterly fascinating stuff.

It is mainly due to this "crash course" of observing and learning about urban wildlife over the past year or so, that I am personally so disturbed -- and angry with our city's persecution and killing of Canadian Geese. (Please read articles below)

Not only does the rounding up and gassing of these magnificent creatures signify horrific cruelty and stupidity but it also represents our government's abysmal failure to properly address an issue, as well as waste taxpayer money.

Rounding up and killing RESIDENT Canadian Geese (especially at a time they cannot fly due to molting and often have babies to raise) does NOTHING to protect the flying public from bird collisions with planes.

Analysis of feathers from the plane that landed in the Hudson river two years ago, indicated the geese that collided with the plane were MIGRATORY birds -- not those living within seven miles of the airports.

So, how does killing the resident birds around the air ports address the problem, other than telling the public, "See? We're doing something -- killing a whole lot of birds!"

Its the exact same thing as telling the public, "We're protecting you from terrorists by frisking little old ladies on planes!"

In both cases, the harassed and scapegoated are members of the same species causing the problems, but that's where all similarities end.

The ultimate solutions to bird collisions with planes is to first, build sturdier planes that cannot be brought down by an 8 lb bird and secondly, to better study and predict migratory bird flight patterns.

Terrorizing and gassing (when they are at their most vulnerable) thousands of innocent Canada geese who have absolutely NOTHING to do with this threat is both, barbaric and insane.

Please call 311 (the city's and Mayor's complaint line) to voice your protest. --PCA


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