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