GETTING GOOSED–GOSLINGS ON OUR POND

I always love  the drive to our land, getting closer and closer as the highway skims the top edge of the  long, high Military Ridge that shows up on every topographical map of Wisconsin till we turn south onto the country lane and drop  into our little valley.  It’s a very pleasant way to spend 40 minutes.

Yesterday it seemed to take forever.  I was dying from suspense.

For the second year in a row a pair of geese have nested on the 20-foot wide island in our tiny pond.  For the second year in a row their residence had lasted the full 28 days it takes to incubate.

Last year, on the very day we so hoped to see goslings, we found instead an empty nest.

Both geese had vanished.

This year the nest was again empty.

That was because the goose family was resting on the pond shoreline!

As we approached, the adults slipped into the water closely followed by a ball of yellow fluff.  The five goslings paddled after their parents, pressed together like an inner tube raft. Geese usually hatch a clutch of three to eight eggs, so five should make a very manageable family.

From the far side of the pond, the parents pivoted to eye us, keeping their little brood tucked safely between them.  If only we could communicate to them that we are not a threat.

Geese like to gab.  According to Ducks Unlimited Canada, http://www.ducks.ca/resource/general/wetland/geese.html#communicate goslings begin communicating with their parents while they are sill in the egg.  Once hatched, they respond differently to specific noises from their parents.  Scientists have identified at least 13 different goose calls that communicate greetings, warnings and contentment.  Unfortunately, I don’t speak goose, and I can’t reassure them that we want to be good neighbors.

Living near geese in the northern Chicago suburbs and on our 44 acres are completely different experiences.

Lake County, IL was Goose Central.  Vees of geese were almost constantly moving above our heads from one lake to another .  Their honking was more common than car horns.  To many people they had reached nuisance proportions.  It seems that people aren’t the only ones who like pretty little lakes with neatly mowed grass borders.  I’ve never understood the human attraction to manicured lawns, but geese appreciate them because it lets them glimpse preditors from a safe distance.

The City Geese of Lake County have lost all their fear of humans,  In fact, the situation is often reversed.  They can be intimidating when protecting a nest.  At Abbott Labs, where Doug worked, areas of the parking lot were frequently barricaded to keep commuters from being accosted by geese living in the water retention ponds that landscaped the grounds.

That has not been the case with the water fowl on our little pond.

“Our” geese watch us warily from as much distance as they can manage, and the wood ducks take flight the minute they hear us.

Hopefully, we’ll find some middle ground with our new family.

Yesterday I did peek at them twice more.  The second time, they did not leave the shoreline that seems to have become their new base.  They watched me unwaveringly as the goslings poked around the grass for something to eat.

Young geese must eat constantly.  They have 8 weeks to turn turn themselves into full-size birds, at which time they will weigh 24 times what they did at hatch. Geese prefer a diet of plants and grains.  In the water, they feed like ducks – tail in the air, head searching for submerged food.  They feel around with their sensitive bills.  Tooth-like spikes around the edge of the bill let them chomp down on a mouth full of water weed, spit out the water and keep the goodies.

Now that we know that, we may plant a patch of winter wheat for them for next year.

In the meantime, we will keep watching.    All five goslings were tucked under a protective parent’s wing.  I hope it will protect them through the long night. 

Friday I will post about our other new neighbors who we met for the first time yesterday.  Our bluebird house is occupied!

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