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Voices of Spencer Creek

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Geese

Wildlife in the city: Geese mate for life, fathers guard the young, and they are fun to watch. So what 's a little mess...?

By Lois Barton

Posted on Jun 12, 2004

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"Waiting Parent Goose," photo by Sue Monahan

One day a few weeks ago my friend Sue invited me to go with her to Alton Baker Park in the city of Eugene to see the goslings. This lovely park is near the banks of the Willamette River, a corridor of the Pacific Flyway.We spent a happy hour observing the many waterfowl that dwell in and around the ponds in the park. There were large Canada geese as well as white geese and several kinds of ducks and pigeons vieing for scraps of bread people were feeding to the waterfowl around a large pond.

Canada geese come in several sizes. The large familiar ones we see and hear during their migratory flights are called Honkers. They can be as much as 50 inches long with a wingspan of 50 to 60 inches, and can weigh as much as 26 pounds.

She took me to the island where some of the Canada Geese were hatching their young. It was fascinating to see a male goose guarding one of the nests while his mate was off for a break. There were three active goose nests on that small island then, which has a causeway for human access as well as some trees and low brush. I was surprised to see that geese had chosen such a place to nest. I have thought of Canada Geese as wild creatures that are more likely to avoid contact with humanity than otherwise. So I did some research on the web and learned how mistaken my understanding is.

"Goslings," photo by Sue Monahan

An article by the Humane Society of the United States includes the following history: "At the end of the 19th century overhunting and mass killing for market had reduced Canada goose population to near extinction. The International Migratory Bird Treaty Act was created in part to protect the population that remained.

"In the early 1960s small groups of the 'giant' Canada goose were discovered at a number of refuges, and federal and state agencies began a concerted effort to rebuild populations. Geese were captured and moved into new areas, eggs were taken and incubated to encourage second clutches, and in places where populations were re-established, 'surplus' birds were moved to areas where geese were not yet found.

"Although these efforts were probably made with good intentions, they represent one of the most dramatic examples of human action leading directly to widespread human-wildlife conflict. The principle reason for the growing conflict is that relocated geese have not learned their species' migratory pathways, and instead have remained year-round in urban and suburban areas where wide lawns, parks, golf courses and artificial ponds make perfect goose habitats. These populations have expanded to the point where, by the mid-1980s, many states were concerned about 'too many' geese.

"The problems stem from the fact that geese prefer to graze on residential lawns, golf courses and playing fields. Where geese graze they defecate. Geese feces can be a serious annoyance to {folks} using grassy areas.

"For some communities, the preferred method for dealing with 'problem' goose populations is the roundup, a process in which flightless geese (during the molting season they are flightless for about a month) are herded into pens, boxed in transport cages, and sent to slaughter at commercial poultry processing houses. In areas where food retailers refuse to accept meat from wild animals exposed to environmental chemicals, the 'expendable' birds may be put to death using lethal gases....It is believed by many who care for geese and the environment to be unnecessary, illogical, and inhumane."

More research led to the following information: "These birds mate for life, and the family group remains together for several months after hatching the young. A gander protecting the nest makes a very formidable adversary, and his wings are capable of delivering a blow of surprising force, sufficient to rout foxes and similar predators, not to mention humans." –from a Canadian nature magazine

"In general their populations are increasing, partly because of habitat restoration but also because they adapt superbly to the presence of man, feeding on waste grain in croplands, nesting in urban areas and grazing on lawns.... They have become quite a common sight in city parks. Overpopulation is discouraged by discouraging feeding.... Their nests are made of grass and plant material lined with feather down. They typically nest on islands and shorelines, including urban settings wherever they feel
safe." Another tidbit from the web is that it takes a little over a day to lay an egg, about a month to incubate. Incubation time varies with the climate, and goes a little faster farther north. Baby geese have an "egg tooth" at the end of their bills, and it takes that baby one to two days to free itself from the shell.

In the Orient geese have been kept as "watchdogs". They create a loud quacking and honking when they are startled. The British Waterfowl Association says "Geese have always had the reputation of being guardians of the farmyard." An article titled "The Homestead Goose" includes the statement "Geese...will weed your strawberries, gain a pound a week, act as guardians of your property..." This article includes a picture of another breed--Chinese geese--which are labeled the watchdog geese.

We observed this aspect of their behavior once, more than 40 years ago. One summer night under a full moon, our then teenage son and his buddy, went looking for entertainment out here in the boonies. They ended up at a neighbor's pond, and rowed his boat across the pond for a lark. The resident wild waterfowl were disturbed by this middle of the night occurance, and raised a racket which woke the owner. He came out, armed with a pistol, to deal with the problem, and the boys left in a panic, the boat loose in the water, and a gate open as they fled. The area was fenced to keep deer from munching his rhodies, so the open gate was as serious an infringement of his private domain as the pond escapade. The most ironic element in the story was that our son's wallet fell out in the boat. When the owner finally retrieved his boat, he called to report the wallet, offering to return it if the owner would come to get it. I went up with my son and witnessed his well-earned scolding.

"Lois on Goose Island," photo by Sue Monahan

Sue's invitation to observe goslings in our city park has added delightfully to my understanding of this particular part of the natural world around us, and I'm grateful to her for the experience, and for her photos taken at the park.

Copyright ©2004 by Lois Barton

For more on geese visit Food Not Lawns, More Thoughts on Sheep, Geese, Lawnmowing: Flowers, Not Tree Lawns by Lokiko Hall on Bummers & Gummers Online at West By

Spencer Creek Journal: Geese and the Electric Co-op by M.G. Hudson

Now Available on Compact Disk:

Stories from The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte

Three and a half years of years Lois Barton's stories–so you can read them without going online!

Lois Barton's Selected Works
Volume I, Chanticleer's Tales
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84889 Harry Taylor Rd.

Eugene, OR 97405

Writer and historian
Lois Barton
Lois Barton is an 85 year old mother of eight children. She has lived on the same rural acreage just south of Eugene, Oregon for more than 50 years. All their children learned to milk, to keep the woodboxes filled, to do their share of household and garden chores. Her first book, Spencer Butte Pioneers, was published in 1982 when her youngest started to school. Since then she wrote five other books: Daughter of the Soil, now out of print; One Woman's West; A Quaker Promise Kept; and Through My Window, autobiographical sketches, sequel to Daughter Of the Soil.

Through the years Lois has been a 4H leader, president of the neighborhood association, a precinct committee woman, election board clerk, editor of the Lane County Historian, and a life long Quaker. She spent a month in Southeast Asia in 1974 as a member of a church peace mission, after working for ten years as director of the Eugene Chapter of the World Without War Council.

Visit the Sunnyside of Spencer Butte Section in our new format for more of Lois' stories. See more of Lois Barton's articles in West By online magazine's archives:

Visit the Heron Rookery

Sauerkraut and All That

Charlotte's Overdose - Just who is Charlotte and what did she take?

The Midwife - The midnight call awoke an unusual midwife.

The Mystery of Fox Hollow - Fact and fiction meet in this story of the origins of Faith Rock.

Trees, Tame Trees and Squirrel.

And follow the links of the Voices of Spencer Creek for the most recent articles by Lois Barton!

© Copyright 2000-2004 by West By

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