Saturday, May 6, 2017

First Casualties of the Year -- John and Mary's Eggs

Greta still on eggs at Reservoir in Central Park. But will they actually hatch as they are due to within a day or two?
John (left) and Mary (right) hovering around nest earlier in the week before being forced to abandon. (Note plastic bottle near eggs.)
Note the empty bottle seemingly tossed on Mary's nest.
After taking a few days to presumably console their grief, John and Mary returned to the Reservoir yesterday. Nature does not allow much time for waddling in despair. Life requires adaptation.
Some sad news to report.

John and Mary -- one of the two pairs of nesting geese at the Reservoir in Central Park --mysteriously abandoned their nest earlier in the week.

It is difficult to speculate on what, precisely went wrong. Nor would it be entirely accurate to say that matters had been progressing entirely normally (whatever "normally" actually means).

But as written in a "Tale of Two Nesters" a few weeks ago, the two nesting hens were behaving rather differently from the get-go.

Greta and her mate, Hansel spent more than a week preparing and fretting around the nesting site. Greta created a "blanket" of down from her breast to carefully line the nest and hide her eggs. But John and Mary spent little time around the nesting site until the time Mary actually laid her eggs. Nor was any down distributed in the nest to conceal and/or help warm Mary's eggs.

In the weeks that followed, Greta never left her nest and only occasionally got up to move the eggs around or take a stretch, whereas Mary frequently took short breaks from the rigors of nesting and incubation. It was not unusual for Mary to wander a short distance from the nest, leaving her eggs exposed.

Little of Mary's behavior seemed "typical" to me or even in line with her past nesting behaviors. Did she sense something off about this particular batch of eggs or was age or some mysterious environmental factors having impact upon behavior?

It's impossible to say with any sense of certainty. What is known is that the area in which Mary nested is frequented by a family of raccoons -- though she successfully nested in the exact same place last year.  (As previously noted, geese are quite adept in defending their eggs against raccoons and John and Mary are no exceptions to that. If anything, the raccoons appeared wary and intimidated by the two geese.)

What's also known is that Mary is an older goose (not sure how old) who is now blind in one eye. Did either of these factors play a role in the eventual sad outcome?

It's possible that the stress of having to constantly protect and defend against roving raccoons became too much for Mary and her mate and it's possible that age and half-blindness also contributed to the failed nesting. It's also possible that harassment from some cruel humans might have played a role as evidence by an empty water bottle hurled upon Mary's nest during the last two weeks.

Add to those possibilities, the fact that Central Park had a policy for some years of addling (i.e. oiling) goose eggs in order to suffocate the embryos and prevent them from hatching. It is not known if this policy is still active, but if the eggs from at least three other nesting goose hens in Central Park (including, Greta) fail to hatch, it could be assumed to be.    

This past winter, there was no evidence of "Geese Police" being active in Central Park and with few resident geese remaining in Central Park, there is certainly no need for them now. (There are currently less than a dozen geese in all of Central Park which is more than 800 acres.) 

The problem with ongoing goose harassment and egg addling policies in some places is that when geese mysteriously disappear and/or their eggs fail to hatch, it is difficult to know whether such is due to natural phenomena or human actions.

Greta has now been on her nest for nearly a full month. Presuming and hoping her eggs to hatch in the next day or two, such would signify the mishap with Mary's eggs to be due to age, environmental or other, individual factors. Should Greta's eggs not hatch however, such would suggest human interference. Certainly, Hansel and Greta have done everything to ensure a successful nesting process and healthy, viable goslings.

And yet, truth be known, even when all factors are nearly perfect, the eggs of nesting birds don't always come to fruition.

Too many times, I have personally witnessed geese appearing to "mourn" over their destroyed or unviable eggs -- including this year with John and Mary.

(Before actually "abandoning" the nest, the two geese hovered around it for several days as if in grief or holding some type of memorial service. I knew then the signs were extremely ominous for a successful hatching. Since that time, John and Mary have briefly left the Reservoir and then returned to it last night.)

Last year was the most successful year for Central Park nesting geese. But though both, Greta and Mary each laid six eggs last spring, only half of them actually hatched, producing six healthy goslings in total.

Considering all the things that can and often do go wrong in the nesting process, perhaps it is no surprise that seemingly only the older, more experienced and established goose pairs actually nest.

It's a daunting process with no guarantees for ultimate success and lots of potential for loss and grief. 

The loss of John and Mary's eggs represent the first known goose casualties of the year in Central Park.

It is with great hope that they will be the last to have to report.


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