Monday, January 2, 2017
"Assimilate, but Never Forget" -- Lessons Learned by Canada Geese
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