Monday, August 2, 2010

No Safe Place -- For Canada Geese

(Mama Goose yesterday; that only she could voice in words what her eyes seem to say.)

Since they were only two weeks old, in mid May of this year, I have been closely monitoring the family of six goslings and their parent Canada Geese at Turtle Pond.

It has been a wondrous and educational experience.

Most fascinating has been the "Father Goose."

One can always recognize Daddy immediately.

He usually stands a few feet from the rest of the family, his head held very high and moving in all directions. He is on the constant look-out for any threat, big or small to his family.

So intent on vigilance, the gander rarely relaxes or even takes significant time to eat.

Meanwhile, Mother goose usually stays back with the goslings, watching and carefully guiding their every move.

From the instant I first saw them in a grassy patch near Belvedere Castle in Central Park, the family of geese came immediately to me, though the gander stayed a few cautious feet back, watching. -- Always watching.

Eventually, I won his trust too, with some snippets of pumpkin and bird seeds held flat in my hand.

He would gently swoop them up like a mini vacuum cleaner. Mom, on the other hand, could sometimes be a bit rougher.

The goose family has enjoyed literally thousands of admirers. From small children, to passing lovers, to joggers stopping for a breath, to photographers, mostly amateur, simply seeking beautiful and interesting things to photograph. What is more beautiful and interesting than a mated pair of Canada Geese and their growing babies?

I too, took many pictures.

The babies have grown fast. In fact, they were fully grown with adult coloring by mid July, just slightly more than two months after being born.

But, they still had the baby "peeps" and google sounds of tiny chicks. The goslings are in fact, very chatty. They seem to talk non-stop -- perhaps not too unlike human children.

Canada geese are extremely social birds -- especially with people and kids.

And that is the one thing that has always concerned me about them. -- their trust of humans.

Although the parent geese always remained somewhat cautious and hanging back (especially the gander) the goslings were already freely walking up to people within a matter of weeks from their birth.

While everyone I saw delighted and rejoiced in the geese family, I always worried, "What if one day...?"

Ah, but that is something one does not want to think about.

If the geese family was fascinating to observe during the day time, they were even more intriguing at night.

Their resting spot was always the same: A large, open rock formation at the far end of Turtle Pond. It allowed the parent geese full view of all surroundings.

There, Mom and goslings would settle down in a kind of heap, while Daddy, as always took the sentry stand a few feet away. On one occasion, I however, observed Mom taking the sentry position as Dad apparently needed at least one evening of rest, settling down close with his goslings. Apparently, in the geese world, Mom and Dad sometimes switch duties.

But, what was most amazing about the evening observations was the Mama duck (whom I named, "Marina") and her four tiny ducklings who, each night, settled down within mere feet of the goose family. Apparently, Marina appreciated the protection that the goose family -- especially the gander offered (even if not necessarily intentional).

This observation flies in the face of those who claim that Canada Geese "chase or push out other birds." Nothing could be further from the truth. From what I have personally observed over at least two years is that most of the mallards appreciate having the geese around even if there are sometimes scrambles and some pushing away for food. -- Perhaps the ducks and geese have a kind of "love/hate" relationship, though in the end, protection and security seem to trump everything else.

At least that's what a mama duck and her ducklings seemed to indicate. And, quite frankly, who should know better?

But, if Turtle Pond in Central Park seemed to be a "safe haven" for parent geese and their goslings, all of that has seemingly come crashing down in the last couple of days in a summer that has spelled almost constant death or disappearance of resident park birds.

First, there were the beautiful mated pair of swans who lived at Harlem Meer over the fall and winter.

In the first days of spring, the female swan was found dead in the lake. An autopsy later revealed she died from botchulism (sic). Her companion mate frantically searched for her for more than two weeks at the Meer, even wandering in the empty Lasker swimming pool one day. Park Rangers had to guide him out. But, soon after that, he vanished, never to be seen again.

As spring proceeded, two of the three white Peking ducks at Harlem Meer also disappeared. Considering these birds cannot fly, suspicion was that the birds had met with fowl play by humans.

"Joey" the lone surviving white duck has since teamed up with the older, mated pair of resident mallards at the lake. "BradAgelina" as I call them are the alpha ducks who rule everyone else, including Joey. But, Joey seems to feel secure with them, so he stays and puts up with the abuse from the drake. It is so sad that he lost his siblings.

But, these deaths and disappearances pale compared with what happened on July 8th when up to 400 Canada Geese were rounded up and gassed at Prospect Park under the auspice of the USDA.

To quote an 80's song from Bannanarama, "Its Been A Cruel, Cruel Summer."

But, still I thought through all this, that the Canada Geese family at Turtle Pond was "safe."

That all changed this weekend when I discovered to my horror on Saturday afternoon that three of the goslings are missing! I searched all over for them, but they were no where to be found.

And yes, even going back to the park last night, there was just Mom, Dad and the three surviving goslings. -- Oh, and of course, Marina and her now grown ducklings resting nearby.

The whole family of geese seem much more guarded and wary now. They did not approach me in their usual gregarious manner.

Something happened. Something very bad happened.

Canada Geese goslings normally stay with their parents for a full year. These are extremely tight family units.

I will check into matters today, but I am quite sure that neither the park nor the government had anything to do with the gosling disappearances.

Like the white ducks and at least one of the swans at Harlem Meer, I am quite sure they were victims of human cruelty.

There is no way any kind of animal "predator" got them, nor a dog. These geese always rested very close to the edge of the pond, allowing easy escape from a dog.

But, perhaps a band of sadistic thugs entering the park at night? Would the trusting goslings not walk up to them and potentially be grabbed?

I don't know. I just know three fully grown goslings are suddenly gone --despite the constant vigilance and protection of the parent geese.

Bottom line: In the summer of 2010, there is no safe place for Canada Geese and quite frankly, many of the other resident birds of our city parks. -- PCA


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