Sunday, February 17, 2013

"Ignorance is Bliss" -- If We Understood Their Language, What Would Geese and Other Animals Say About Us?

New Arrivals --  Flocks of migrating Canada geese newly arrived at Jackie Onassis Reservoir in Central Park.
Canada geese resting on rocky, sandy ridge that goes across Reservoir. Over the winter, this has served as a good and safe roosting area for wintering birds.
Banded Canada goose at Harlem Meer. Not sure where the goose was originally banded from. But, a temporary visitor now to the Meer in CP.
Extremely friendly youngster temporarily at Harlem Meer.  This goose was with two other geese and walked up to everybody, including children.  Likely, a "resident" NYC goose as migratory geese are generally cautious and wary.

As dramatic the temperature changes in New York City over the past few days, so too are the swiftly changing Canada goose numbers as flocks of geese leave on early spring migrations and others temporarily drop in.

Last week it appeared that most of the 200 or so geese who had stayed at the Reservoir through much of the winter had suddenly departed.

But, no sooner had those geese left when other geese arrived, (presumably from the south) at first flying cautious circles over the Reservoir and eventually landing and skidding across the water.

As of yesterday, the number of geese at the Reservoir was again up to nearly 200.

Meanwhile, the approximately 80 geese who had dropped into Harlem Meer just prior to or during the blizzard also departed a few days ago.

Yesterday, there were only 3 geese at the Meer. The three geese were very human friendly and readily walked up to people.  One of them had a band around the right leg, indicating the goose originated from some place other than Central Park. The other two geese did not have bands, suggesting a kind of mixed group.  One of the geese was so friendly, I thought he might follow me home!

Walking home from Harlem Meer by way of the Reservoir, I noted one group of about 30 geese in the water suddenly gather together, honk loudly and take off flying over the trees in a northern direction.

But, I could not know if the geese were embarking on the first leg of a thousand mile journey to Canada -- or just popping over to the North Meadow for some fuel up on grass before they actually leave for the spring migration. 

So much I actually don't know.

Despite the hundreds of entries in this blog about geese and despite the thousands of (mostly whining) articles about these magnificent and mysterious birds and despite the dozens of USDA government "reports" on Canada geese, the reality is that we as a species know virtually nothing about them.

How, for example, does a banded goose wind up with a family of unbanded geese? What happens to the survivor of a mated pair of geese if its mate is shot or dies?  How, why and when do geese determine when to leave a location and where exactly to go?  Does one goose -- a leader -- make these decisions or do they decide as a group?

Last year, about 100 wintering migratory geese stayed at Harlem Meer in Central Park from December to late January.

This year, nearly 200 geese wintered at the Reservoir in Central Park, (many of them leaving in the last week) while no geese actually wintered at Harlem Meer.  

What were the factors indicated in these changes?  Were they weather related or based upon other things?

If weather related, how could the geese have known in late December and early January that this winter would be colder than last?  How could they know when arriving to Central Park during comparably mild weather that virtually all of Harlem Meer would freeze over and the Reservoir would not?

To me, these are fascinating questions, but questions that I can find no answers to in all the things that have previously been written or even filmed about Canada geese.

The one thing known for sure is that geese (like ducks and other animals) do "talk" -- a great deal in fact -- but unfortunately, to this point, humans have failed to understand animal language.

Until the day we learn to actually decipher animal language, we are merely blind and speculating fools.

Perhaps the real reason we cannot decipher animal language is because we would not want to know what most animals are actually saying about us.   Such is a scary thought indeed.

Such knowledge would undoubtedly compel us to examine and access our values and prejudices regarding other animals.

Perhaps that is the very definition of the phrase, "Ignorance is bliss." -- PCA


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