Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Inevitable Challenges of Growing Up

(Photos:  Papa and Mama geese at Turtle Pond -- a pair again.   Papa goose pecking and pushing at one of goslings, with mate behind him.)
Below is one of many beautiful clips from "Winged Migration."
It reminds me of the recent sightings in Central Park.
As noted, many hundreds of geese temporarily stop over in Central Park during spring migrations which invariably take most of the birds to ultimate destinations as far north as Alaska.
Most of the migratory geese have vacated the park now, as the main migrations occur in middle and late February.
No geese presently on the Reservoir, North Meadow or Great Lawn.
What geese remain in Central Park now are mostly those "resident" geese who return here after wintering in places farther south and who, in some cases, I am familiar with.
"Papa and Mama" geese have returned to Turtle Pond with their four remaining grown goslings -- though the family dynamic is quite different now from what it was last spring when the goslings were newly hatched and raised at Turtle Pond.
Though living in the same location, the parent geese (like humans) are pushing out the now young adult "children" and requiring more "alone time."
Though the family still swims and grazes together, the parents and goslings appear to be resting in different locations at night and both, the gander and his mate, will at times, push and peck at the youngsters as if to say, "Its time for you kids to grow up and learn to be on your own!" 
The other night for example, the parent geese were resting on the small rock near the pier and the four goslings were gathered in the marshes not far away.
When, a few minutes later, the family came together on the pond, Papa goose pecked at and chased the goslings seemingly demanding that the parents be given their own space.
On most occasions when birds are observed being pushy, "dominant" or territorial with others, it is usually presumed to be mating behavior.  But, in some cases, it might actually just be a case of parent birds insisting that their grown "teenagers" grow up and become more independent.   We see this behavior in mother cats who sometimes become what appears to be "combative" with grown kittens.
I guess there comes a time in all species (including humans) that babies have to be ultimately "pushed from the nest," so to speak. 
Though in geese, the family unit remains very strong (and might even serve to keep other geese out of a particular area), that is not to say the family with adult goslings actually remains together 24/7 or that all is forever tranquil.  The ganders seem to "rule" with a very strong wing -- literally -- and call most of the shots along with their mates.
It of course is likely too, that the parent geese might seek to breed again.
I am seeing this same kind of dynamic at Harlem Meer.
During the day, most of the geese are swimming in peaceful groups (or families) on the lake or grazing on grass.
But, at night, the geese (and mallards) are paired off.
Any geese who tread too close to a mated pair (whether family or not) will get chased off quite vigorously by the gander.
Spring brings with it, its own special challenges to the geese and other migratory waterfowl.
But, aside from the obvious stresses and dangers of actual migration, there are the challenges of either finding a mate or, in the cases of youngsters from the previous year, those of just growing up and either finally leaving -- or being kicked out of the nest. 
Nature can be brutal -- but at the same time, wondrous and endlessly fascinating.  -- PCA

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