Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Great Romantic Bonds of Canada Geese -- Loyalty Like No Other

Hansel summoned yesterday to assist Greta in bringing babies to the water and establishing family bond.
And in another part of the park, Stumpy and Stanley appear in romantic dance.
Stanley -- forever committed, attentive and loyal.
A mystery how Stumpy lost her right foot years ago, but it matters not to her mate.
Not the prettiest goose it the park, but Stumpy does not suffer for a lack of love.
Back at the Reservoir, Greta showing her babies how to forage for food.
Proud mama.
All five goslings in tow, the happy family swims off together.
Hansel on sentry duty last night as Greta safely protects babies under her wings.

The family and spousal bonds of Canada geese are among the strongest on the planet and often put those of humans to shame.

Over the years, I have witnessed mated goose pairs actually grieve and hold mock funerals over their lost or unviable eggs. More than once I have seen a goose who has lost his mate or family continually search and call out in long, plaintive tones for what too often is irretrievably gone forever. 

One particular gander whose mate died several years ago during the nesting process, lingered alone on the Reservoir for months as if in perpetual grief. Though there were numerous flocks of geese on the water during the molting season (including many single females), the gander stayed completely to himself and did not mingle with or even fly out with the other geese when the molt season was over. (I am not sure what eventually happened with this widowed gander. It was during this time that construction began on the Reservoir running path and it was closed off to the public. By the time I was able to return weeks later, the lone gander was gone.)

When arriving to the Central Park Reservoir yesterday afternoon, I was hoping and prepared to observe the new goose parents happily swimming on the water with their recently hatched goslings. Greta's eggs had begun hatching two days before and so it was past time for the little ones to be hitting the water and learning how to forage from their parents.

But instead, I found Hansel protectively standing closely to his mate, while she continued to sit and presumably shelter her hatchlings.

I was a bit bewildered and concerned as the scene reminded me too much of the "mock funerals" I had witnessed in the past and more to the point, I could not detect any movement under Greta.

But not to be unduly alarmed, I decided to walk around Central Park for a while and return to Hansel and Greta a bit later. It was premature to make judgment. It was more than possible that Hansel had been summoned to the nest by his mate in order help her escort the little ones to the water as a family. But such did not appear to be immediately imminent as the goslings were not even visible.

I walked over to Turtle Pond to investigate whether the pair of geese observed there over the past few weeks was still nesting as they had initially appeared to be. (i.e. gander in guard mode.) In recent days however, the two geese appeared together on the water and that prompted me to think the nesting might have failed.

There were no geese on the pond and so I walked to the protected grassy area that is adjacent to Belvedere Castle. Sure enough the mated pair of geese were there leisurely grazing together.

Both geese recognized me and began moving forward to greet. I noticed the hen had a slight limp in the grass.

But as the geese got closer, the reason for the hen's limp was revealed.

She is missing her entire right foot.

"Oh my God, it's Stumpy!"

Stumpy is a one-footed goose who has been observed in various places around Central Park for some years. (Mostly, the south Pond and the Boat Lake.) It is likely that one of the reasons she has managed to survive -- even through two particularly brutal winters in NYC -- is that she has a completely loyal and devoted mate faithfully by her side. The two geese frequently call to each other and are clearly bonded for life, regardless of condition. Stumpy cannot move as quickly as whole and younger geese, but that does not dampen the love and commitment of her mate (whom I shall call), Stanley.

While observing the unbreakable bonds between Stumpy and Stanley yesterday, I could not help but think of the many times we hear in the human world of men leaving their wives of many years for younger and prettier women. Such clearly doesn't happen in the goose world even when the female mate suffers disability or fails to produce young.

"Monogamy" and loyalty in the goose world truly do mean forever.

I don't know how, when or why Stumpy lost her foot. It could have been due to a Snapping Turtle or it could have been a fishing line injury that eventually cut into and severed her foot. But, it doesn't matter as her mate accepts her come hell or high water.

That is the essence of the romance of Canada geese.

After spending time with Stumpy and Stanley and chatting with some equally enamored nature lovers, I decided to return to the Reservoir.

On the way there, I thought that it was for the better that Stumpy's attempts to produce young ultimately failed despite her and her mate's dedication. (The reasons don't matter.) Stumpy is an older, frail goose who has compromised vision and only one foot. None of that matters however to her mate who will always see her as young, healthy and beautiful. This is truly the stuff of great romances.

More pleasant surprises awaited at the Reservoir.

Hansel and Greta had indeed moved their babies and were observed at another part of the rocks that surround the watercourse. Hansel held guard in the water as Greta was busy showing her little ones how to forage for food among the plants and foliage. In their first days of life, newly hatched goslings have to learn how to move quickly, stay close to their parents at all times, swim and forage for food. They are forced to learn and grow quickly.

After some time, Greta returned to the water with her babies in tow where Hansel patiently awaited. The family then swam off together towards the north end of the Reservoir. The goslings were getting their first in-depth tour of the watercourse.

When finally returning home, I learned on the news that a badly decomposed human body was retrieved from the Reservoir yesterday afternoon mere yards from where Hansel and Greta had been nesting. (Guess that explains all the police activity at CP yesterday.)

It's not known yet if fowl play was involved in the person's death, but I could not help wonder of the irony. -- New life and old (possibly violent) death in an area only yards apart.

Last night, I returned briefly to the Reservoir to find Greta once again resting with her tired babies safely tucked away under her wings. Hansel stood sentry duty just a few feet from his family. There is little, if any rest at all for ganders who have spouses and babies to watch over and protect at all times.

All was peaceful -- and incredibly romantic once again.

No romance quite like that of Canada geese. -- PCA


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