Naturally Yours - Geese early sign of spring -- Canada geese population rebounded from 30s and 40s

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Many people consider robins to be the first sign of spring but, here in the Peace Country, the first migrants to return are the Canada geese.  Between March 8 and 15, I constantly scan the skies in hopes of spotting my first goose.

The Canada goose is easily recognized by its black head and neck and distinctive white cheek patches.  In different parts of the country, the birds are different sizes but most of our resident geese belong to the “large” race.  During migration, however, you may spot birds that vary in size and colour.

Canada geese claim their territories and start nest building as soon as there is open water.  Eggs take about a month to hatch and you can usually spot families with four to six goslings in the early part of May.  The youngsters leave the nest immediately after hatching and follow their parents as they learn what’s good to eat.  During the summer, families will often join together and leave a couple of adults minding dozens of goslings.  Young geese stay with their parents until the following spring and the flocks we see in fall are usually family groups travelling together.

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As you might expect, most geese choose to nest on the ground by the water but they will also use old beaver lodges and man-made nesting structures.  They don’t mind heights, however, and will also take up residence in old hawk nests or on cliff ledges.

Though they sometimes feed in the water, Canada geese are primarily grazers, coming up on shore in search of shoots and seeds.  In the fall, they gather by the thousands in fields to dine on fallen grain, canola and even peas.

Geese stay in the region until freeze-up and then head to slightly warmer climes.  Calgary now has a year-round population because they have rivers that don’t freeze, but most geese head to coastal regions or the central and southern U.S.  They are strong flyers and can cover as much as a thousand kilometres in a day.

If you say the word goose, most folks immediately think of their v-shaped flight formations.  Flying in the slip-stream of another bird saves energy and most large flocking birds use this technique.  If you watch a flock of geese or ducks for a few minutes, you will notice that the lead bird changes regularly so that no one bird has to expend all its energy “breaking trail”.

Another intriguing thing about goose flight is their method for slowing down when they come in to land.  Large birds have a lot of momentum and in order to reduce their speed geese actually roll their bodies sideways in the air.  This coordinated tumbling cuts their speed enough that they can land safely.

With our spring skies full of geese, it is hard to imagine that the birds were actually rare in the province in the 1930s and 40s.  Drought and over-harvest caused serious declines across the continent but re-introduction programs and tighter hunting regulations allowed the birds thrive. Who would have thought that a few decades later we would be blaming them for enjoying the ponds and lush lawns in our parks and golf courses?

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