Fred and Ethel* are back for their twelfth season. They are a pair of Canada geese who have been raising their families on my pond year after year. In the spring, when the flocks of geese begin to stopover on their trip north, Fred and Ethel return. They are a close pair, always looking out for one another. I recognize them just as they recognize me. I can’t tell them apart by their appearance from other geese; it’s their behavior that gives them away.
They wander closer to the deck in their feeding than the other geese. They don’t run, squawking to the water when the dogs come out. (The dogs mostly ignore them). They don’t alarm call or head for the pond when I’m out gardening and walk past them. They tolerate me in the yard but still react to my neighbors or visitors. Those people warrant an alarm and retreat.
Sometime in May, Ethel disappears to incubate eggs. In all these years, I’ve never been able to find their nest. Our pond only covers an acre, as does the adjacent pond. The backside of the ponds is bordered by a thicket of trees, dogwood bushes, invasive honeysuckle, and more. This side has a few homes and yards. It’s not a big area to search thoroughly. Geese like to nest in a place where they can see danger coming – decidedly not a thicket. Since the goslings show up swimming when they are only days old, the nest can’t be far. Yet, I cannot find it. Could they be the first geese to nest in a forest?!?
Come June; I wait for the goslings, a series of yellow cream puffs swimming tightly between their vigilant parents.
It’s a hard life for them. They haven’t had a lot of success raising their whole brood to fledge. The first year I lived here, only one chick made it to adulthood. The next year the attrition was fast and merciless. Eight goslings appeared on day one. Only six goslings remained then next day. Then two. By the end of the week, they were all gone. Snapping turtle? Largemouth Bass? Great Horned Owls? Raccoons? Red-Tailed Hawks? Mink? Disease? Some combination of the above?
If they survive the first week, they have made it through the riskiest time. In 2015, six hatchlings appeared on day one, and all of them survived to adulthood. I enjoyed watching them progress from cute fluffballs, to ugly ducklings, to ragged teenagers and finally becoming almost indistinguishable from Fred and Ethel.
In 2012, they raised a clutch of five successfully. In 2018, just two survived the first week, and only one made it to adulthood. The geese are more protective of the goslings and always head toward the safety of the water with the youngsters. As they grow, the parents become less concerned, but the goslings remain wary. These kids don’t know anything about these dogs and me. Their instincts compel them to run as fast as their little chicken-legs will carry them into the water as their parents watch from shore.
Years ago, I bought some duck chow for my backyard Canada geese and mallard ducks. Everybody loved it except for the waterfowl! Hobbes, my dog at the time, ate it, and got diarrhea. The raccoons ate it; the coyotes ate it; the rabbits ate it; the deer ate it. The geese and ducks wouldn’t touch it! I’ve tried cracked corn since then, but it was the same scenario. I guess offering them a peaceful place when they can raise their family without human harassment is enough.
Last year, when Ethel disappeared near nesting time, so did Fred. They didn’t spend their summer here with or without kids. I was concerned that one or both of them had died. I’m thrilled to see them back this spring, hope they stick around and would live to watch some goslings grow up on my pond.
*I name all of the recognizable, repeat visitors to my yard.
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