I often get distracted walking past my patio doors by the sights outside; songbirds eating, bluejays demanding their peanuts, ducks waddling in the lawn, a swimming muskrat, a foraging beaver, hunting herons, coyotes passing through, deer, geese, anything and everything.
My camera sits on the table right here, always ready. Today, I paused to watch the two Canada Goose families that are raising their goslings here. The kids are getting their downy grey feathers transforming from cute yellow fluff balls into ugly ducklings on their way to adulthood. They are nearing my garden. Over the last week, they’ve been venturing further from the safety of the pond as they goslings grow.
I started to photograph the families. The one gosling is about a week older and still subtly larger than the four from the other brood. Even though they hang out together, they never comingle. Suddenly, they flushed. The goslings ran as fast as their little legs would carry them, flapping their near-naked wings to speed them along. Their parents were running right behind. I thought that the dog next door must’ve come outside. She’s restrained by a fence but takes delight in shooing the geese. The geese, not ones to take chances, always oblige.
When I looked up, I saw a coyote coming full speed from the corner of the woods, closing the distance with every stride. The adults could’ve taken to the air and made it to the pond safely, but they wouldn’t leave their goslings running for their lives. The last goose, an adult, tried to take flight as the coyote lunged into the air with her mouth open. Her jaws caught just enough of the goose to foil her escape. They continued dashing down the incline toward the pond and out of my sight. I could only hear all of the geese honking and squawking in panic.
The coyote stopped at the edge of the pond, head down. I could only see her shoulders but could tell by her posture that she had caught one. I thought she’d seized the last gosling – the singleton, the lone survivor of his clutch. It seemed to me that an adult would put up a fight. This was over in an instant. The coyote intermittently looked up and around, feathers protruding from her mouth and sticking to her tongue. She looked like she was feasting right here.
I continued taking pictures conflicted by the exhilaration of Wild Kingdom in my backyard, the gratitude that I had my camera in hand as this unfolded, and the sadness of empathy for these goose families that I’ve come to know.
The coyote sees me
I’d stepped just outside the door when I first saw the coyote but hadn’t moved any closer. In fact, I’d hardly moved a muscle. She had looked in my direction but didn’t see me until now. She gently gathered up her catch, and it was only then that I saw she’d killed one of the adults. She held a limp, lifeless Ethel in her teeth. The entire sequence lasted just two minutes.
Canada Geese are surprisingly big birds. This will be a hearty meal. The huntress casually trotted off, turning back towards the scene one last time before disappearing into the woods. I like to think she has a den full of pups that are going to eat well today.
On the water, Fred is honking with his sole gosling by his side. The other family of six geese paddles silently nearby. He’s looking at the shore where he’d last seen Ethel as if waiting, hoping, for her to reappear. It’s heartbreaking to watch. Just a few moments later, Fred is silently preening. His gosling is doing the same. “Is this a displacement behavior?” I wonder. Then all of the geese casually swim away.
I saw them later that afternoon, resting in the adjoining yard. Three weeks have passed since and I haven’t seen any of them. It makes good sense. I wonder if Fred and a new mate will return to nest here next year. After all, mama duck keeps coming back year after year to nest and lay eggs even though she’s never been successful. Having your eggs eaten must be equally traumatic.
That’s just how nature works sometimes. Next spring, I’ll be waiting to see who shows up.
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