Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Family and Social Structure -- Thy Name is Canada Goose

Though it may appear random, these are actually two separate goose families raising their goslings together.
Mama goose (Greta) attacking and delivering stiff "correction" to hapless goose who wandered too close to the family.
Temporarily vanquished. No harm done, but stiff corrections for young goose forced to learn the rules of goose hierarchy and social order -- the first of which is "Never mess with the family."  
Proud daddy, Hansel and one of his now nearly fully grown goslings at Central Park Reservoir. The babies will soon be flying.
One of the most fascinating and informative aspects of observing Canada geese is their intricate social and family structure.

It might appear to the casual eye that a gaggle of geese on a lake or grazing peacefully on grass is a loose and random thing devoid of structure and order. But nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, there is a very definitive hierarchy among Canada geese and those who attempt to test or challenge its order in any way can be in for rough corrections.  

At the very top of the hierarchy are the mated goose pairs with goslings. They essentially rule over all and have first claims to territory and food. So fierce are geese parents in protecting their young and providing the best in resources for them, that no other geese dare to challenge or even defend themselves if and when attacked.

And it is not only the gander who vigorously defends and wards off possible intruders into family space, but the mother goose hen as well. (This is especially true as goslings grow and no longer require the mother to constantly hover over them as is needed when the babies are small.)  

In the past few weeks, I have noted, for example, Greta taking on a much larger role in chasing off and even attacking those hapless geese who make the mistake of getting too close to the family at Central Park's Reservoir. Moreover, while her mate, Hansel is usually content to chase and pull some down feathers from the offending goose, Greta is far more relentless and even aggressive in her pursuit; often pushing the subordinate goose down in the water and continuing the chase on to land. "Mother goose" doesn't fool around as the name in human folklore implies.  

Below parental geese in hierarchy, are the older, established goose pairs without goslings. (But even they have to acquiesce to pairs with offspring.) It is common to see these geese chasing and administering "corrections" to younger geese or sometimes just going off on their own, away from the maddening crowd. 

At the very bottom of goose hierarchy are the young "singles;" particularly those yearlings from last year's crop of goslings who, not only have to withstand constant corrections from the group at large, but even their own parents.  (It is particularly brutal to observe parental geese vanquishing their offspring from the year before when they want to nest again in the spring. "Kicking from the nest" is not just a phrase.)

Established social order among Canada geese has not just played out at the Central Park Reservoir this summer, but also at the park's famous Rowboat Lake.  There, two mated goose pairs have (so far) successfully raised four goslings.

The interesting aspect about this set of circumstances is that one pair only had one gosling and the other pair had three. Amazingly however, both families meshed together (presumably for the overall safety of all the offspring) and as result, even the solitary gosling without siblings has survived. Such might normally be difficult in nature as geese are flock birds who almost always grow up with siblings. It seems in this case, the parent geese of the one gosling adapted and figured out a way for their baby to grow up with others. Fortunately for them, the other goose parents were accommodating. As the saying goes, "There is safety in numbers" and goose parents appear to know this all too well.

There are also five other geese at the rowboat lake, including the presumed parents (Man and Lady) of the two new goose mothers. They appear to be hanging out most of the time with three of their offspring from prior years as they did not successfully nest this year. But even the new grandparents now have to acquiesce to the two families with goslings.

Quite often all 13 geese can be observed in fairly close proximity to each other, but the five have to maintain respectful distance from the two families all the time. Hierarchy and structure matter in the goose world and they matter all the time.  

The reason for choosing this particular time to cover goose hierarchy and the particularly high protective status of goose parents with babies is due to the disturbing story covered in yesterday's blog.

That concerned a goose family with six goslings who were brutally rounded up on a woman's driveway in California by USDA Wildlife Services and sent to their deaths. .  

The story was particularly horrifying due to eyewitnesses descriptions of all the "blood" left in the aftermath of the assault. Normally, goose roundups result in lots of feathers strewn about, but not blood.

One has to conclude that either USDA hired brutal thugs to do the particular roundup or that the goose parents fought fiercely for their lives and those of their babies.

I personally surmise that both are tragically true. -- PCA


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