It is interesting that scientists are "reluctant to use the L word" to refer to language that dolphins and other animals use to communicate with each other. What else might it be called?
Last night, while walking past the North Meadow in Central Park, at least 100 migratory Canada geese were grazing on the lawn.
The geese towards the back of the line loudly honked a message to the geese at the front to which those geese immediately replied back.
Because people rarely walk in that part of the park at night, I am guessing the message was, "Heads up -- human and dogs in area!"
All the geese momentarily looked up, but then apparently determined I and my dogs were not a threat. There was some further light honking and then the geese casually returned to grazing.
How did the geese arrive at the decision I was not a threat?
I am not exactly sure. It could be however, that since I have passed by this area for the past week or so, the geese now recognized my dogs and me. The first night they actually backed off cautiously a short distance. Last night, they didn't.
To me, this goes to the geeses' ability to both, quickly learn and recognize, as well as to communicate that information to other geese.
As noted previously, migratory geese (unlike resident geese long acclimated to local activities and people) are generally very cautious and wary around human activity. My guess is this is why migratory geese usually choose the Central Park Reservoir to winter. It is very safe and protected from both dogs and human activity (in addition to being the last watercourse in Central Park to ice over in frigid weather).
However, there is little edible grass around the Reservoir.
While geese appear quite capable of temporarily living off fat reserves in winter and going stretches of time with little food, one supposes the geese need to "fuel up" before taking up again, the stresses of a long migration.
That likely explains the evening "pond hops" over the past week or two to the North Meadow.
There is virtually no dog or human activity in this area of the park at night. It is safe, quiet and there is still plenty of grass. (Apparently, the geese however, return to the "safer" Reservoir by daybreak.)
I have noticed over the past week that the flock of grazing geese on the North Meadow at night has grown to include virtually all of those at the Reservoir during the day.
Moreover, they seem to stretch out in a long line the approximate length of a city block.
This appears to me to be preparation for eventual take off for migration.
The geese are usually facing north and seem to be comprised of different, organized groups or families. There is generally active communication among them.
I don't know, but am guessing that when the geese finally take off for the northern reaches of Canada or the sub arctic, they will leave from the North Meadow and probably at night. They will take off in "waves" very much the same way they arrived to the Reservoir in the early days and nights of January.
And though the frigid weather and blistering winds of the past week in New York City might not have been conducive to taking off for spring migrations, that time should be arriving shortly.
Already the trees and plants are beginning to show new buds and bulbs. Temperatures and recent storms may not have demonstrated it, but spring is slowly, but surely on the way.
So yes, a lot of movement, activity and "fueling up" among the migratory geese these days.
And a lot of honking and "discussion."
Whether those communications be to warn of changes or possible "threats" in the area or to discuss the plans for actual migrations and when, may not be within our human grasps to understand at the moment.
But, for sure, they are "language."
I personally have no reluctance in calling them such. -- PCA