Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Ever Resourceful Canada Geese!

While truly legitimate to have concerns about the survivability of flightless, domestic ducks in a public park (such as Brad and Angelina),  the wild mallards and Canada geese are another matter entirely.
These animals have been conditioned over thousands of years to survive, pretty much, whatever nature and life throws at them be it blizzards, frozen lakes and ponds, animal predators, human harassment and bitterly cold winters.
True, the birds greatly appreciate those "free" handouts that people sometimes toss to them, (particularly during frigid weather that results in snow covered grounds and icy lakes).
But, they don't need humans to survive.
Yesterday, when going to Harlem Meer around dusk, I was at first surprised to discover Brad and Angelina in the (now) tiny pool of open water all alone, except for two mallards hanging out with them.
Hm, did the geese take off again? I wondered. 
I didn't see any geese on the frozen lake so suspected they might have flown off to the Reservoir (where there is still a sizable pool of moving water) or some other spot.
In a way, that was good for Brad and Angelina and their two pals as it meant I was able to leave more than enough food to see them through still another frigid night in New York City.
Unlike the wild mallards who can fly and graze on lawns, the domestic ducks,  Brad and Angelina are unfortunately confined to the safety that the small pool of water by the Dana Center provides for them.  Were they to attempt to graze on park lawns, they would be easy targets for dogs or even cruel humans.  They can neither run very fast or fly. 
After feeding the hungry ducks, I walked with my dogs around the grounds of Harlem Meer.
And low and behold, there were several dozens of geese!
However, they had moved from the icy lake and shrinking pool of water, to the snow covered grounds surrounding the lake.
And boy, they must have been "working" the grounds since the time I had left the previous night.   So much so, I could just imagine the conversation that must have taken place among the geese either shortly after I left or earlier yesterday morning:
"OK, guys, time to get our butts in gear!  We need to get on the grounds and start working the snow.  There's plenty of grass and food under the snow.  We just gotta dig for it."
"Good idea, Joe!  But, it would be better if we divide up into groups and work different areas.   About fifteen in each group.  We can get most of the park grounds free of the snow by tomorrow night!  Let's get to work, guys!"  Decide which group you wanna split to."
And so it was, last night that the geese were in evenly divided groups of about fifteen to a gaggle working the snow.  One flock was at the west side of the lawns.  Another in the middle.  And still another group towards the north side of the lawns.
And they had done a truly remarkable job!
Although most of Central Park grounds were still covered in snow that had fallen a couple of nights ago, most of the grounds around Harlem Meer consisted of huge patches of visible grass created mainly by the geese!
This of course might explain another reason (in addition to swimming) why the geese have such large, powerful feet.
They seem to use their feet to first walk on the snow, crush it down and create large "footprints."  And then they utilize their beaks to peck at the ground created by the footprints and pick out grass or other foods!
Quite a diligent and amazing feat.
Another thing interesting about the observances last night, was the way the geese communicated with each other across the different sections of grass and among the divided groups.
There was quite a bit of honking directed towards the other geese of the fields.
"Hey, Joe, how's it going on the North side? You making progress over there?" 
"Pretty good, Doug.  The snow's soft and yielding here.  Some good grass, too.  A little too close to city streets, but all in all, good!"
"What about you, Gary?  How it going on the West side of the field?" 
"Great over here!"  Most of the snow gone.  Good grass.  Some of our gals taking a moment to relax."
After witnessing this cooperative and highly organized scene, a part of me wondered why I was so worried about the 'hungry" geese the day before?
Obviously, the geese have it all figured out!
As Tina, Chance and I finally made our way towards the Park Drive to exit Harlem Meer, I looked back upon the three groups of then well fed geese to discover some of them casually walking on the park paths, seemingly greeting human pedestrians!
They looked like groups of little people out for a "walk in the park" on a spring day!
But, as the sun set in the park, the wonders of the day weren't quite over.
As my dogs and I headed towards the Reservoir (which is closer to my neighborhood), I could suddenly hear the faint sounds of vigorously honking geese.
And there in the distance was a gaggle of about 15 geese flying in perfect "V" formation to gracefully land in the western open water area of the Reservoir.
"OK, now that they've eaten their bellies full, they can relax in the quiet and safety of the Reservoir and watch the moon rise."
Ah, the ever resourceful Canada geese!

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