Wednesday, March 19, 2008


It's officially Spring in the Northern Hemisphere; a fact lost on those in my part of the world where we're still buried under six feet of snow. But while the temperatures remain in the subzero range and the painfully jolly weather guys claim there's weeks of the same to come, the first sign of impending rebirth wandered past me this afternoon. My new neighbors have arrived.

The Canada Geese are back.

When I was a kid on the prairies, the change of seasons was clearly marked by Canada Geese winging their way either South or North. In the Fall, the trademark "V" formations of Southbound flocks covered the sky and were inevitably followed by a brisk North tailwind. Spring came with a similar Northbound "V" accompanied by a warm wind from the South West.

Here in Ontario, the milder winters and year round supply of food mean many of our wildfowl stick around. Yet our Canada Geese still signal the vernal equinox by moving in next door.

They first appear in groups of 10 or 12 tramping through the snow, waddling from parks and wetlands into urban neighborhoods, searching for places to settle down. And you can come across several of these little parades on any given day. They're like weekend real estate tourists scoping your street for an open house, making mental notes about access to schools and the mall before making a down payment.

Hah! "Down" payment! Get it?


Right now, the small groups just make a slow tour of the area. But as soon as the snow melts, they'll be back, walking the same route, dropping pairs as they go. And the nesting will begin.

I'm sure there are Ornithologists who understand why Canada Geese don't keep to the relative serenity of more pastoral settings let alone how they choose who goes where and what spots are best, but to me there's a fascinating chaos to the outcome.

Apparently Canada Geese mate for life. Hence, according to my Mom, the reason they are called "Canadian". Further proof most of the folks I know are genetically flawed, but fascinating because the longer you live in one area, the more it seems like the same pairs are setting up house using the same personal criteria of "location, location and location".

It's not unusual to find a nesting pair right smack in the middle of a parking lot or on the boulevard of a busy intersection. Sometimes, you'll pull into the drive to discover somebody laying eggs by the front step. Even the most territorial dogs get used to the idea that part of their yard has suddenly become "off-limits".

My own theory is that if you're going to be stuck sitting on a half dozen eggs for a few weeks, you want to be someplace where humanity can at least keep you entertained. And so they sit amid shoppers and rush hour taffic watching the passing scene.

Now, for all their grace and elegance and decades as a national symbol, the truth is that our Geese are pretty much a public nuisance. They chase pets and small children, crap everywhere and deliver this material (which we euphemistically call "grease") in daily amounts that approximate twice their body weight.

They are the scourge of beaches, golf courses, public parks and schoolyards. By rights we should be "greasing" them by the thousands. But we don't. Oh, we do hunt them, but only in remote locations and only for a couple of weeks, when they're fat and grain fed and "good-eatin'". But that's mostly an excuse to dress in camoflage and start drinking before breakfast.

Up to then, we go out of our way to make sure they renew the cycle of life with as much help as possible. It's like these birds become part of our families as soon as they move in.

So you will find a nesting female in her parking lot surrounded by piles of birdseed and baked goods that passersby have dropped off so the expectant mom doesn't have to go very far for a snack. Likewise, nesting sites are typically decorated by paper cups filled with water. Our two national symbols, the Canada Goose and the discarded Tim Horton's Cup living in mutual harmony.

I've seen people literally guarding a nest as the eggs hatch, becoming surrogate mommies and daddies as they help the gander keep interlopers at bay.

Once the goslings are born, the impact of our Geese on our lives and our deference to their needs increases exponentially. Baby Geese need to be taught to forage for food, to swim and to fly and we help out with that as much as we can.

Needless to say, these educational activities can't be accomplished in a parking lot. So the Geese walk to the nearest park or stream and we help them get there and safely back home again.

For about 3 weeks in early summer it is completely normal to find a half dozen lanes of traffic backed up for blocks as a mating pair slowly cross the road with 8 or more less than nimble offspring in disorderly single file behind them.

Horns will Honk and tempers flare at the backs of these lines, but once word passes that it's Geese on safari, the road rage subsides into a kind of good-natured acceptance that the wait is unavoidably worthwhile.

Last summer, I wandered a dog friend into a marshy area where the local dogs like to goof around to find several animals and their owners still leashed together, waiting patiently as a mother goose prodded one nearly mature youngster after another into the air. The last one just couldn't get with the program. But Mom had decided it was time to solo and she wasn't handing over the beach until everybody was airborne.

Owners hunkered and dogs flattened on the ground, tongues lolling, all of us patiently waiting for nature to take its course, and somehow sensing that it was more important for this to happen before anybody got to chase a tennis ball.

A few minutes later, little Orville or Wilbur finally grasped the concept and took off. Mom turned to us, Squawked what I took as a "Thank-you" and then flapped off to join her family in the pond. The dogs rose as one and the humans quickly followed, unsnapping leashes and getting on with the play at hand.

Today's real estate tour circled my house a couple of times, with the lead pair, who seemed somewhat familiar, taking particular interest in the shade tree that sheltered a mating pair last Spring. I better go get some birdseed and stop by Tim Horton's. It looks like I'm gonna be a daddy again.


Ken said...

No grey areas with us. At chez nous we're squirrel-haters. The indiscriminate decapitation of tulips and war-zone look our garden takes on pretty much every morning of spring would have driven a lesser woman than my wife to the loony bin (she's the gardener of the household). Then there's an elderly Ukrainian woman whose backyard kitty-corners onto ours. She thinks these tree-rats too cute for school... so she FEEDS THEM!

We live in a pretty "wild" area of the city, being so close to High Park. So the Pied Piper of tree-rats was really performing our local wildlife a great disservice. She was fucking with the animal multiculturalism in Toronto. Baaaaaad!

Thankfully though, she's moved, or croaked or something and more sentient beings occupy the property (actually a location manager I know).

Our hate took on new meaning when, for one winter a family of them nested in our eaves. I couldn't bring myself to buy a firearm so we got a "humane" trap and I'd take one or two of them to the other side of the Don River almost every day.

Now the eaves are fixed, and I, like you wonder why one member of the urban animal kingdom seems to be more important than the other. Goose poop isn't a big deal where we live, but the dog doo is.

Hey, before anybody thinks I'm an urban snob/landominium doyen who doesn't like to get down a dirty let me say this: I fish, I canoe, I birdwatch and I own a telescope (sorry, I'm reaching here). Tulips have a right to live. Stop the decapitation!

Cunningham said...

So, when you guys get "goosed" it has an entirely different meaning for you doesn't it?