Monday, December 28, 2015

The Extraordinary Intelligence and Memories of Canada Geese


               A Canada goose never forgets a human face.
 
Much has been studied and documented about the extraordinary intelligence of crows.
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Much has also been written about Canada geese, but virtually nothing of their intelligence.
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On the contrary, most articles or informational pieces on geese decry them as "nuisance" or offer tips on hunting them.
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It is interesting to note today, an article from Ottawa, Canada mentioning both, geese and crows.
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Apparently, both species are thriving in numbers, according to Christmas bird counts.
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The article doesn't say, but it is this writer's conjecture that such ability to flourish in the face of the planet's sixth mass extinction has more to do with both species' remarkable intelligence, adaptability skills and memory than anything else.
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I personally cannot speak to the intelligence and memory of crows as I don't often see these birds during daily walks.
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But, I certainly see Canada geese.
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Despite unusually warm weather in New York City for the past two months -- so warm that many trees are budding and some plants are sprouting flowers -- Canada geese have migrated normally as they always do. They appear unfazed by fluctuations in weather or circumstance as in reality they are adaptable to nearly all kinds of extremes.
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Geese are also unfazed (though acutely aware) of Manhattan skyscrapers, noises and activities of the city and even helicopters and planes flying overhead.
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"Adaptability" could well be the middle name of Canada geese.
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"Memory" might be another.
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A couple of days ago, I wrote about the returning migratory geese, most of whom arrived on Christmas day to winter at the Reservoir in Central Park.
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Their arrival was in good keeping with the usual time, however their numbers (like the Christmas count above) appear to be larger.
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Despite a brutally cold winter last year lasting well into March, most of the geese not only survived, but apparently had a good spring breeding season. (I personally had been concerned about the impacts of the unusually long, icy winter on the geese's relatively short breeding season. But, apparently they figured way to adjust.)
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Though many water birds can be currently seen at the Reservoir, by far, the greatest numbers are observed in Canada geese and gulls (at least a couple hundred of each).
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And, not only are geese proficient in remembering their flight paths and wintering haunts, but they also have exceptional memory for people, faces and old habits.
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For example, geese migrating through New York City and stopping only at the Reservoir for rest are virtually never seen climbing along the jagged rocks that surround the water course.
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But, returning, wintering geese do.
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They obviously remember doing this last winter when water and ground was covered in ice, food was scarce and they had to briefly rely on the generosity of human handouts.
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They also remember which humans supported them during rough times.
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A number of geese have come directly to greet me over the past couple of nights, one of them being so bold as to beg treats from my hand.
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Geese know and remember well who their human friends are, even when not having seen them for a year or more.
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What is particularly mystifying is how geese can recognize a particular human face from amongst the thousands of people who walk or run the Reservoir path each day, while this human is not able to differentiate or identify any geese as individuals. It's a bit daunting to consider geese might actually be smarter in recognition and memory than we humans!
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I personally believe all of these observations (and more) over time speak to both, extraordinary intelligence in Canada geese as well as exceptional memory.
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Though you will read many articles demonizing geese and informational pieces reporting their "exploding numbers," you will rarely be informed of the reasons why geese are so proficient in survival and procreation.
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But, I believe if scientists or documentary producers ever take the time to study the questions of intelligence, adaptability and memory in geese, both they and the rest of us will be in for some startling surprises (as we have been with crows and other animals).  
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But, I personally won't be. -- PCA
                                                


                                               *********

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