Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Mystery of (More) Failed Goose Nestings in Central Park

Lady tending to her three eggs over the past month at the Central Park Boat Lake.
Man protecting the area of his mate's nest over past the past five weeks. 
Lady was still nesting even after the 28 days of incubation had passed. (note can lid in background suggesting human presence.) Last night, the nest was finally abandoned and all traces of the eggs gone. The two geese had reunited on the lake.
So far this spring, there have been four goose nesting attempts in Central Park (that I personally know of), but only one has been successful in terms of hatching goslings.

The latest casualty is the goose pair at the Central Park boat lake whose three eggs failed to hatch this past week despite the hen's diligent efforts to consistently incubate and protect her eggs -- even beyond the normal 28 days.

Last night the nest was devoid of any traces of eggs and the hen (Lady) had finally given up and rejoined her mate, Man on the lake.

Other failures this spring were John and Mary at the Reservoir and Stumpy (the one-footed goose) and Stanley at Turtle Pond -- though in the latter cases, the hens were compelled (for whatever reason) to abandon their nests midway through the process.

I am at loss to explain what seems to be, an extraordinarily high nest failure rate of 75%.

As noted in past years, Central Park has a history of addling (i.e. oiling) goose eggs in order to suffocate the developing embryos and prevent hatching -- though the Conservancy is usually loathe to admit that.

But I am not aware of goose management tactics this year as represented by constant goose harassment (by Geese Police) on ponds and lakes, as well as nest tampering.

Moreover, with such a low population of resident geese in Central Park, it seems such efforts would not only be time and money-wasting, but cruel and unnecessary. (There are currently less than 30 geese in Central Park which consists of 843 acres.)

If anything, the lakes and ponds of Central Park appear nearly waterbird-empty this time of year.

A few years ago, there were not only high Canada goose egg losses in Central Park, but also, the deaths of two nesting hens at the CP Reservoir. I attributed those mortalities to a particularly brutal winter that presumably left the hens in a weakened state for the rigors of nesting a couple of months later.

But I don't know what to attribute the current egg failures.

In the particular case of Man and Lady, I expected the eggs to hatch as Lady was so diligent and protective of them. (Though this pair has previously known egg losses, they have also been successful in hatching goslings.)  Unfortunately, Lady did nest in a location that was easily accessed by humans and therefore, the nest was vulnerable to tampering. (Other factors could be raccoon predation, but geese are extremely alert and reactive to raccoons and vigorously defend their eggs.)

Indeed, the most frustrating aspect of all this is not knowing if the nest failures are due to natural circumstances or human interference.

It is known that nature can sometimes be cruel and unpredictable. It is also known that even under the best circumstances, unviable eggs and losses of young goslings do occur.  

But, it's also known that Canada geese have been in the cross-hairs of human wrath for some years now. More than 5,000 geese have been captured and slaughtered in New York City over the past six years and countless numbers of their eggs destroyed. Add to these brutalities, harassment which has indeed occurred in Central Park for a number of years and is, in fact, acknowledged by the park.

But I thought over the past year or so, that we perhaps had finally turned a corner in our paranoia and irrational scorn of Canada geese. I thought I perceived a change in attitude among the people I meet in Central Park in terms of newly discovered appreciation and wonder of Canada geese and other wildlife.

The question is, did these "changes in attitude" filter up to the powers that be in Central Park -- those in charge of actual policies? Or, are we still mired in mindless bureaucracy and cruelty?

That is the question that cannot be answered in this blog at this time.

Perhaps we will know more in a few weeks, when the molting season begins for the geese and they are unable to fly for more than a month.

Will the honchos from USDA "Wildlife Services" be back in town to do their annual goose roundups and slaughters in various parks around NYC and even from Jamaica Bay Wildlife "Refuge?"

It seems we will have some of our answers then.  -- PCA


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