Canada Geese are always interesting to watch as they fly across the sky in their typical V-formation. We witness their migration with amazement and whisper to ourselves that winter is coming when they are found high above our heads in autumn. Then in the spring, they fly back north to the place where they came from. Usually.
But what about the geese in the park? How do they fit in with this picture? Where did they come from? And why aren't they going anywhere like the rest of the Canada geese?
These were the questions that were rolling around in my head when I decided to write about resident Canada geese (Branta canadensis).
I knew little about the subject to begin with, save for knowing that Canada geese can usually be spotted in town around the local rivers, parks, creeks, and retention ponds. If I wanted to get pictures of them, it wouldn't be too terribly difficult; after all, they are here year-round.
Some folks might assume that the Canada geese at the local park are a different, non-migratory species than the Canada geese that come from Canada. That's a good guess! But the truth of the matter is that all Canada geese are born with the natural desire to migrate home to the location of their birthplace.
Migratory Canada geese make nests in the northernmost parts of the United States, Canada, and the high arctic after flying northward to breed in March. Female geese make their nests at the site of their own births. Thus, migratory geese will continue to move north to south and back again with the seasons.
Resident Canada geese were born here, in the middle and lower United States. They do not have a birthplace up north in Canada. The instinct to fly north to familiar breeding grounds was broken the moment they hatched, and probably before.
You see, earlier in America's history, migratory Canada geese were fair game for hunting, as they are today, but with a difference: Live goose decoys were used instead of the fake plastic ones we are familiar with. Injured geese were kept, bred, and utilized to bring the migrating geese in. To get a goose to cooperate as a decoy, its legs had to be secured, and it had to be chained or penned at the site of the hunt. From its tethered position in shallow water, it would call out to a flying flock of incoming geese to lure them in close enough to be shot down. These domesticated, enslaved decoys were known as call geese, living their lives in the care of hunters.
Fortunately for the geese, live decoy use was banned as unsportsmanlike and cruel by the mid-1930s. By then, several generations of Canada geese had already acclimated to living in the lower U.S. as resident geese in the care of game hunters. These resident geese were then offered freedom on game farms, reserves, and in parks and zoos.
Migratory Canada geese populations had declined, however, due to unrestrained hunting, even though our country began to regulate hunting of migratory birds through the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.
Some thought that these giant Canada geese had become extinct, but fortunately that was not the case. A few pockets of them turned up in numbers enough to start a breeding program with the hopes of creating healthy numbers of Canada geese again.
Over the years, this protection proved to be so successful that we are now once again deluged with Canada geese, including resident Canada geese, the kind that don't migrate because they were born here. These days, regulations permit hunting of both migratory and resident Canada geese; details can be found at local Department of Natural Resources websites.
There are many different viewpoints regarding the recent population boom of resident Canada geese. GeesePeace is a group dedicated to solving problems with the local goose populations in humane ways. In addition, the Humane Society of the United States offers education and ideas of a similar nature.
For those who would like to see the local Canada geese fly back to Canada, it's not going to happen. You might see resident geese fly across town and back again, but they are generally homebodies; once they establish themselves in an area that is attractive to them for raising their families, they stay put. An ever-increasing population of resident Canada geese brings challenges to any city or town. Hopefully, these issues can be resolved in a satisfactory manner among all groups willing to help address them.
I enjoyed going to the local park on a chilly winter afternoon to watch the Canada geese, and I will go back again soon. They are beautiful birds with a fascinating history. I hope their story inspires us toward conscientious stewardship of our land and the creatures that live among us.
How to Live With or Get Rid of Canada Geese by Doris Lin