Saturday, January 14, 2017

Saving Up for Icy Days, The Geese Take Nothing for Granted

Typical posture of wintering Canada geese. But what might appear "laziness" is actually calculated to save energy and needed fat reserves for the long winter ahead.
They haven't had a lot of ice to deal with so far in NYC, but the geese and ducks are well suited and prepared for it.
The winter of 2016 is a tough one to figure out so far.

We have had a couple of "Arctic blasts" in New York City but they have been followed by quick warm-ups with temperatures rising into the 60's.

Any snow that has fallen or watercourses iced over have rapidly thawed, thus making this an easy winter so far for the birds.

Canada geese wintering at the Reservoir Central Park have taken advantage of a relatively mild January by being more active than they usually are in winter. It's not unusual these days to see the geese flying out of the Reservoir in the early mornings or evenings to presumably seek grass grazing somewhere.

Typically, geese "hunker down" during bitter weather to presumably slow their metabolisms and save energy and fat reserves. This enables them to sometimes go many days without food and still survive regardless of what mother nature has in store. While it is a little unusual to see geese "sleeping" with their heads tucked on their backs during the spring, summer and fall, such posture is typical in winter.

It is during the three other seasons (in addition to mating and raising young), geese concentrate on feeding and building strength to see them through the winters. While they may appear "lazy" during the winter, the geese are actually being calculating and smart. No point after all, in wasting precious energy and burning calorie and fat reserves one might need later during a particularly long or challenging winter.

This might help explain why geese are better able to survive unusually brutal winters than their smaller cousins, the ducks.

From personal observations of mallards over the years, their smaller size and apparently faster metabolisms don't allow them to go many days without food. Put simply, the ducks have to eat virtually every day of the year if they are to survive. But geese can "zone out" for stretches of a time and not seem to suffer devastating effects.

This was particularly notable during the harsh winters of 2013 and 2014 when thousands of water birds, particularly ducks, perished in the North East due to starvation. With watercourses frozen over and snow on the ground for many weeks -- particularly during the later stages of winter -- the birds had no access to food and whatever fat reserves had long been used up.

It is far too early now to evaluate the winter of 2016.

While seemingly "easy," so far, I am reminded that the challenges of 2013 and 2014 did not truly settle in until mid February and even early March.

So with cautionary note, we say, "so far so good."

But for sure, the geese are not just sitting back on laurels and counting lucky stars.  

Rather, when the moon rises and the stars come out, the geese take to the skies and lawns to bank those extra calories -- just in case.

One never knows what February and March have in store and Canada geese are never ones to take anything for granted.

Saving up for icy days, might well be their credo. -- PCA


Monday, January 2, 2017

"Assimilate, but Never Forget" -- Lessons Learned by Canada Geese

As New Year's fireworks boom in Central Park, the geese gather tightly together and wait out the challenge.
All is quiet (again) on New Year's Day.
"We made it through another year, guys!"
To catch a little shut-eye on a lazy winter's day.
Large snowfalls, frozen watercourses and frigid weather in many parts of the country (including upstate New York) have seemingly sent many geese and other water birds to seek refuge in New York City -- even in larger numbers than we are normally accustomed to seeing this time of year.

So far, New York City has seen little snow and experienced just a brief bout with an, "Arctic cold blast." But temperatures over the past ten days have been relatively mild. So mild that on one 60 degree day last week, all the iced-over ponds and lakes of Central Park suddenly melted.

Fair weather and open waters have served as attractant to geese and other water birds not wanting to stray too far from their home bases, but still seeking temporary wintering habitat.

The Central Park Reservoir has long been especially appealing to these birds during the hearts of most winters.

For one matter, the apparently deep Reservoir rarely freezes entirely over (though it nearly did during the particularly harsh winters of 2013 and 2014, resulting in the deaths of many water birds due to starvation). Most winters, the Reservoir only partially freezes, thereby allowing the birds to survive fairly easily.

Another amenity the Reservoir offers is relative safety from predators and hunters -- something especially important to Canada geese who are most noted for their extreme organization, vigilance and protection towards family members. (One of the many reasons for their high survival rates.)

And finally, the Reservoir is close to grazing areas in the park and elsewhere where the geese can fly in and out to munch on whatever grass remains from summer and fall.

All in all, it's a generally good set-up for geese and ducks most winters -- though as noted, there can sometimes be nasty surprises.

What intrigues me especially about the migratory geese and ducks who spend winters in New York City is how they are able to adapt to the noises, crowds, lights and general chaos of New York City as compared to the quiet, rural environments they come from.

One would think New York City to be a shock to wild birds and indeed it is for most species of our feathered friends.

But the highly resourceful and intelligent Canada geese and their mallard pals seem immune to the stresses that would send most wild birds packing -- up to and including fireworks.

As part of Central Park's  New Year's, "Midnight Run" for joggers, it routinely sets off fireworks every year as the clock ushers in the New Year.

The exploding lights and loud booms of fireworks are frightening to the park wildlife, especially as the "festivities" are not part of daily park routine.

Witnessing the fireworks displays for the past several years, the geese quickly gather themselves together and swim their way to the far north east reaches of the Reservoir -- the farthest point from fireworks without actually leaving the water. There is a continued and somewhat frantic dialogue occurring among the geese as represented by loud and lingering honk exchanges from one flock to another.

But unlike past years, none of the geese actually flew out from the Reservoir this year.

Rather, they elected to "wait out the challenge" which they apparently figured or more accurately remembered, would soon end. Presumably, the older and more experienced geese were able to calm and assure the younger and more frightened ones to stay.  

It seems that even fireworks, the geese and ducks eventually adapt to. 

Yesterday, I returned to the Reservoir shortly before sunset and was struck by the number of geese and ducks lazily gliding along the water. There were easily more than 200 geese and almost as many mallards, diving ducks and coots; the stresses of the preceding night apparently long forgotten.  

That is until next New Year's Eve.

Lessons learned by Canada geese may be easily assimilated, but they are never forgotten.

Call me biased, but I truly believe Canada geese to be among the least appreciated, but most intelligent, adaptable and resourceful life forces on planet earth -- and that would include human beings who don't always remember and learn from our mistakes. -- PCA