May 26th, 2016 permalink
Not that we need more Canada geese in a year where there are already too many adult birds, it’s surprising how few gosling are at the Brighton millpond this spring.
Most eggs have hatched for the season yet you’ll be hard pressed to find goslings. I’ve counted less than 30 when we usually have more than 100. The reason?
I met a gentleman from Ireland who had the second largest collection of ornamental waterbirds in his native land before marrying a Yank and moving to Brighton. He told me geese with families will move their goslings off ponds where there is an overpopulation of adult birds. Bingo! That’s surely the reason.
May 26th, 2016 permalink
Two weeks ago, the City of Brighton installed about 10 devices on the millpond to scare geese away. They don’t work. They just disturb the peace by occasionally emitting a noise that sounds like a drone or distant helicopter. The geese will continue to graze on vegetation within a few feet of the noise. Before the contraptions were floated in the pond, we had an abundance of geese. The same number are there now; the most I’ve ever seen at the millpond in spring.
We usually get an influx of the Canada Geese in the fall that’s similar to the population we have now. Why? There are probably several reasons. Most people think it’s because the birds are fed by the public. That’s part of it, but it’s only a small part of it.
It’s likely the result of our warm winter. Birds that usually flew south remained in the area so fewer of them were lost in their travels. Plus the city and residents have cleared vegetation from the pond’s shorelines and planted grazz making it more hospitable to the birds. They fly up the cleared embankments, munch on grass to their heart’s content then poop it out while roosting for the night. The shore near city hall has never had less vegetation or been dirtier. Geese won’t roost where they can’t see predators coming. If shorelines have shrubbery, they will either spend the night floating on the pond (next to the devices designed to scare them away) or fly to a well manicured lawn where they can graze. Golf courses seem to attract them like tornadoes seek trailer parks.
Geese are semi-territorial, my term not one in books. They like the company of other geese, but each bonded pair likes to keep a distance from other bonded pairs. Ganders yell at their neighbors to convince them to leave what they consider their territory at the moment. Sometimes it’s ten feet; sometimes it’s twenty. Where birds congregate, ganders clash. They bite their rivals’ chests while beating their wings against them. It’s quite a show. The birds don’t appear to be injured as often as rival ducks are during their violent territorial disputes.
There is talk about rounding up the geese during their annual molt when the adults lose their flight feathers to grow new ones. Through the grapevine, I heard they are going to relocate them. Since I’m unaware of any area seeking geese, it’s my opinion they will be relocated into kitchens.
May 3rd, 2016 permalink
It’s astonishing how quickly goslings grow. This clutch of eggs hatched just five days ago and are already about 2.5 times larger than they were when they left the nest.
None of the six goslings have been lost. Like ducks, their most vulnerable time is their first two weeks of life. But geese are more proficient parents than ducks so they don’t lose as many of their young as ducks do.
The first hatchings at the Brighton millpond are always geese. The ducks usually begin to hatch about a week later. I had a report of one duckling being with its parent on Saturday but I was unable to locate it. I’m hoping it survived the cold nights we are still experiencing here in the northern tier of states.
Every family has a dreamer. Watch the gosling on the left. Maybe he was imagining flying in just a few short months as he gazed upward.
Perhaps he wondered what was beyond the horizon as he looked away from his family as they ate.
Of course it’s anthropomorphic to imagine what critters are thinking, but it’s fun to contemplate how a young bird imagines its future. As it looks toward the sky, does it know it will be flying through the air in three months?
Then there’s always a clown in the group who spoils family photos. This one photo bombed his siblings as they ate (left).
I’ve counted 22 goslings on the pond so far but there will be at least 100 in the weeks ahead. I don’t record gosling numbers because I can’t identify specific birds. If I was licensed to band them, I might be able to keep precise records like I do of the ducks, but that might take away some of the enjoyment of just watching the youngsters’ behaviors as they grow.
April 27th, 2016 permalink
The hatching season has begun! Four families of Canada geese now reside on the Brighton millpond with a total of 22 goslings, but that’s just the beginning. Don’t count on me to keep track of the numbers. It’s easy to do now, but within days there will be so many families that all look alike that I can’t possibly provide accurate counts. I don’t even try. If I could convince the geese to wear name tags I could do it. It’s illegal to band them without a permit.
It’s my opinion that all Canada geese have identical personalities so they cannot easily be individually identified. In addition to the millpond ducks often having unique markings, they have a range of personalities, and rather consistent buddies and territories. That’s how I can identify them and write about their lives in more depth than I can the geese.
The current goslings/families are: 3/2, 4/1, 6/2. As I’ve said many times on this blog, the Canada geese have the most well developed parenting skills of all the waterfowl. Both parents tend their little ones and they are kept between mom and dad as they forage until they are old enough to explore on their own. Swans are also good parents and the males (cobs) protect their cygnets aggressively, but their success rate is far below that of the geese. That may be because it takes much longer for cygnets to mature.
April 4th, 2016 permalink
There are three easy to spot Canada* goose nests in the bay south of Stillwater Grill. The pairs began to incubate their eggs this past week. Canada goose eggs take 25-28 days to hatch so you’ll see goslings at the millpond by the last week of April. Over the years it seems goslings begin to hatch about 10 days before ducklings do.
*That’s not an error. These birds are Canada Geese not Canadian Geese.
Geese may continue to produce families for up to 7 weeks. Most goslings, however, hatch early within the species’ hatching window of 42-50 days. Both goose parents will stay together with their offspring until they migrate in late autumn. That’s not true for ducks. The drakes leave all of the parenting to the hens in most cases. Males feel it’s their civic duty to mate with several hens so their prodigy populate the Earth. I doubt many succeed because males outnumber females, but they give it their most sincere efforts.
The first ducklings will probably hatch near the end of April. Two weeks ago when it appeared we were getting an early spring, I thought ducklings might arrive early. But now I think they will begin to hatch on schedule. The duck hatching season is longer than that of the geese. Expect to see newly hatched ducklings for at least three months.
If you visit the millpond soon, keep an eye out for small, round birds feeding in the millpond. They are Pied-Billed Grebes passing through on their migration (below). They nest in our region as well as in Northern Canada but not at our pond. They are fun to watch as they dive to catch fish and other aquatic edibles.
November 17th, 2015 permalink
There’s something approaching magical as families of Canada geese leave the millpond at twilight. The process starts with an increase in honking to excite the group. Then they lift off into the golden glow of the setting sun. Part of the magic is their unknown destination.
It might be another pond or a safe, nearby meadow or farmer’s plowed field with fresh, green shoots on which to munch. In the morning, they will return to the pond to beg park visitors to turn over their bounty. Most will be migrating to warmer climes for the winter soon.
July 26th, 2015 permalink
If they weren’t so numerous, we would appreciate them more than we do. Canada geese are certainly the most attentive parents on the pond. Unlike ducks that leave all of the parental responsibilities on hens, both parents stay with goslings to teach them to fly and then lead them to their wintering grounds before they bid adieu. Throughout their time with their offspring, they are fierce protectors when other waterfowl come around. People tell me they have been attacked by geese but I doubt they are this species. I’ve never seen a person attacked in all of my hours at the pond, but geese hiss often to show their displeasure if you get too close. It’s all bluff.
Sculpturally, Canada geese are magnificent achievements in evolution. Even though they are large, heavy birds (up to 18 pounds), they are able to fly long distances due to their conformation and wingspans of up to six feet.
I’m not convinced geese are very intelligent beyond their successful set of instinctual behaviors. They all seem to have the same personality so I give them very little attention. Ducks are more interesting. It’s my opinion ducks are smarter, can problem solve, and certainly have individual personalities from shy to fearless.
Ducks jabber to each other more than geese do. It seems, if their brains are engaged in any activity, they mutter to each other, but I’m not convinced it transmits meaningful information beyond “Danger,” “Heads up!,” “Where are you?,” “I am agitated” or “Here I am.” Geese, on the other hand, seem to have a broader range of vocalizations from loud calls to soft “purring” to their immediate family members. Can they transmit specific information in their honks? I’m not convinced.
Below is a close up of a Canada goose’s taupe flank with beads of water after it hopped out of the pond. If you would like it as a desktop pattern (1920×1200 – 840k), you are welcome to grab it here or click the image to see a more reasonably sized version that’s 1300 pixels wide.
July 24th, 2015 permalink
On July 18, Joyce from the Wildernest store received notice from a park visitor a Canada Goose had a bloodied foot after it was attacked by a muskrat. I told her I would attempt to find it so I could apply a wound dressing to the injury. It took me five days to locate it on the millpond. Often, injured birds hide while they heal. They know they are more vulnerable to predation and other birds, members of their own flock, sometimes attack weaklings to reduce their competition.
The wound is more likely from a turtle than a muskrat. I can’t imagine a 4-pound rodent doing this much damage to a goose. Muskrats and waterfowl get along fairly well unless the mammal gets cornered and lashes out. I’ve seen a muskrat bloody the bill of a mute swan seven times its size with one swipe of its claw-covered paw, but muskrats are almost totally vegetarians and just want to be left alone to seek food.
Even without wound dressing, you can see this wound is almost healed. Waterfowl have an amazing ability to heal and veterinarians have told me they rarely need to rescued with foot/leg injuries unless bones are broken.
The webbing between the toes will not regenerate. There appears to be no infection. The only long-term effect will be less propulsion as it paddles. I saw it put its full weight on the foot last night so it’s well on its way to recovering.
June 2nd, 2015 permalink
May 27: A pair of goslings was entertaining park visitors Saturday evening beside the millpond. Their parents weren’t in attendance, and they were very comfortable being at the feet of humans. I’m fairly confident they were hand-raised birds who had been dumped at the pond that day because of their behavior.
After most park visitors had left for the evening, I walked to the bay north of city hall where most Canada geese roost and the youngsters followed me like puppy dogs, a clear sign they were imprinted on humans. I threw out some duck chow to attract geese to the chicks and left once the goslings were in the company of other geese.
The birds probably won’t be adopted by another goose family because of their age, but they have a good chance of surviving on their own since they are old enough to flee predators and their body mass can endure the cold nights. I found one of them by itself three days later and it seemed to be faring well. The absence of the other one isn’t troubling. Many of the Canada geese spend their nights floating in the center of the pond. Since family groups stick together, it should be easy to spot lone goslings throughout the summer. My biggest fear is humans will intervene and take them home to “care” for them. They need to be left in the wild to become birds able to interact with other geese so they can live normal lives.
May 20th, 2015 permalink
If dandelions were rare, we’d cherish each bloom and marvel at its color and the way its seeds set sail on slight breezes. So it is with Canada geese. They are actually beautiful creatures, but they are too numerous to fully appreciate in this region.
That might not be true this year, however. There seems to be a dearth of goslings at the millpond. I don’t recall ever seeing a goose family with only one chick before, but I imagine it’s not unusual. There are no large goose families in attendance even though there are plenty of adult geese roosting at the pond’s edge in the evening. Maybe their hatch is late. Geese tend to hatch a couple of weeks before the ducks but only about fifteen arrived then. I’ve never attempted to document gosling counts. The adults all look alike to me so it seems like an impossible task.
I expect, as summer arrives, so will more goose families. The parents walk the goslings to the millpond for the handouts, I’m sure. They stay until they migrate in autumn. It will be highly unusual if this influx doesn’t happen. It might signal environmental factors are in play.
April 30th, 2015 permalink
March 18: The migrating Canada Geese arrived back at the Brighton millpond this week. Bonded pairs began to scope locations for their 2015 nests. This couple took a late afternoon stroll on the pond ice as the male honked and flapped his wings with bravado. Goslings usually begin to hatch about two weeks before the ducklings. As of April 30th, no youngsters have been seen so all of the waterfowl at the pond are running a bit late this year. It’s a good thing. Hypothermia is the biggest killer of very young waterfowl. The first ducklings were born on April 29th in 2012 when we had a very warm winter, but for the past two years the first ducklings hatched May 12 and 15th.
September 26th, 2014 permalink
I still see the waterbirds at the Brighton millpond do things I’ve never seen before after so many years of watching them. On this day, two ducks were involved in a shoving match. As they butted chests and beaks with each other, A goose entered the fray and stopped it. There was no food on the ground so stealing food wasn’t the goose’s motivation. There was nothing at all to encourage the goose to enter the fracas except to calm the tempers of the participants. It stood over the ducks for a few moments then rejoined its family group. The action worked. The ducks ended their squabble.
September 26th, 2014 permalink
The Canada geese spend their days at the Brighton millpond, but most leave as the sun sets. Many graze on lawns during the night. Others float in ponds far from shoreline predators. Last night, this family group left the Main Street area heading northward honking as they took flight.
September 21st, 2014 permalink
Two autumns ago, we had a ditzy Canada goose spend a couple of months at the Brighton millpond. She was named Tallulah by Katie, a frequent pond visitor at the time. A similar bird arrived this past week. I doubt it’s the same one although her odd behaviors are almost identical. I suspect she was hand raised from the time she was a wee gosling. She walks up to humans and doesn’t respond to potential dangers like other geese. That makes her vulnerable to children, adults, and dogs chasing her. Canada geese look alike, but you can identify her because she’ll be alone. Most geese at the pond are in family groups.
September 3rd, 2014 permalink
A family group of Canada Geese leaves the Brighton millpond at sunset to graze on grass at a nearby meadow or golf course (much to the horror of greens keepers). The goslings are still building their flight muscles after only a few weeks of flying. The parents continue to stay with their offspring until they reach their wintering grounds. They have a couple more months in Brighton before they head out for the winter. Clicking on the above image will provide you with a 1200 pixel image, but a 2400 pixel image (932k) is also available so you can see some gold sunlight on the wings of the geese.
We’ve had beautiful sunsets in the past couple of weeks. Afternoon thunderstorms set the conditions for them. There’s no finer Michigan summer evening than one where a storm rolls out, the sky clears before dusk, and the sun sets in golds, oranges, and pinks.
July 11th, 2014 permalink
Geese parents know which gosling are theirs, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out how they know. All goslings look alike to me. When gosling from several families intermingle, the parents will attack chicks that aren’t their own after the quickest of glances. The only way I can identify a particular goose is when something is amiss. One gosling in a family with seven siblings has a left wing that droops. It isn’t broken. I’ve seen it move in its full range, but at rest, it’s lowered.
Will it be able to fly south with its family this fall? Perhaps. It has months to build its strength but we’ve had injured geese winter at the pond and they survive with the 100 or so ducks that remain. NONE of the geese or their children can fly now. The adults have dropped their flight feathers and are growing new ones along with their kid’s growing their first set. In a month, both parents and children will take to the sky. Meanwhile, they seek safe roosting locations at the millpond nightly. Some move to the center of the pond while others seek pondside berths in open areas so they can watch for predators coming from all directions.
Last night something frightened all of the geese away from one of their prime roosting areas beside city hall. The birds that usually rest there (including this droopster) moved to the gazebo. An unleashed dog (some people think it’s fun to let their dogs chase the birds) or a fox/coyote probably charged the birds before I arrived. Frantically fleeing danger may be how this young bird injured its wing last week.
May 3rd, 2014 permalink
The Canada geese starting spitting out goslings about 7-10 days before the ducks hatch ducklings. May 2 marks the beginning of the hatching season with the appearance of the first two goslings on the banks of the Brighton millpond.
The youngsters have to scrounge for their own food right out of the nest, but they seem to watch how their parents forage to get an idea of what’s edible and what’s not. The choices are complicated at urban ponds where paper clips and cigarette butts are mixed with digestible fare.
No question about it. Goslings hatch out as cute little fuzz balls. Within a month, they become gawky teenagers but have to wait a couple of extra months for their flight feathers to grow for their first liftoff. During that time, the parents will also drop their flight feathers and become land bound. Nature is efficient. The whole family will be ready to head south together during the fall migration.
Canada geese are often considered a nuisance because of their droppings, but humans should admire their tenacious parenting. They are very protective yet give the kids breathing room to develop their own foraging and defensive skills.
Canada geese aren’t eligible for the annual Brighton Millpond Fertility Tournament. It’s impoosible to identify broods with any level of accuracy since all of the parents look alike.
May 2nd, 2014 permalink
Two injured Canada geese in one week. I hope this trend doesn’t last all summer. The first two photos are of a goose with an injury at the front of its neck. Perhaps it was bitten by a stray dog or ran into a branch as it came in for a landing.
I couldn’t get good photos of it for an appraisal on the rainy day so I can’t tell if the damage is just to feathers or something more serious.
This goose along with the other one that has monofilament line wrapped around its lower bill are both able to eat and appear active, but the goose with the fishing line is not preening its soaked feathers; not a good sign. Whether either injury is life threatening is still unknown. Capturing large birds is not an easy task and causes extreme stress for them. There is also the difficulty in transporting them long distance for what might be expensive care.
It’s times like this when you wish you could communicate with wildlife and have them cooperate during physical examinations.
May 1st, 2014 permalink
As daylight fades, most of the geese that spend their days near Main Street leave for nighttime roosts. It’s a gradual departure by family groups or close friends.
First, their calls to one another rev up just like race cars at the starting line. Then they become more agitated. “You ready? I’m ready!” they seem to signal to each other. I don’t know if they have a specified commander for these missions or if they just wait for the most daring to lead the pack: “You first. No, you today.”
A member of the family group or subflock finally makes a move. The others follow as they flap wings and paddle to gain speed in the water then they lift off putting distance between them and their reflections in the ripples. They may circle the area once, maybe to give others courage to join the flight, and then off they go honking their farewells.
April 29th, 2014 permalink
I noticed this goose on the night of April 18 and took pictures of it. I didn’t know what was wrong with it, but its chest had a strange shape. I looked for it each day thereafter to follow up but couldn’t find it. On April 27, a pond regular pointed out a goose with a monofilament line coming out of its mouth. Then it clicked. The shape of the chest previously seen was caused by the fishing line being wrapped around its body but hidden in the feathers so I couldn’t see it.
The bird swam away on Sunday so I couldn’t photograph it until Monday to evaluate its condition. It appears a fishing hook is embedded in the corner of its mouth on the right side. The line I saw wrapped around it’s body the week before is now wrapped around its lower bill and tongue (right). Twelve inches of line hang from its mouth with a sinker tied to the end of it.
The Canada goose is able to eat normally (left) and doesn’t appear emaciated or in pain. It’s obviously bothered by the fishing line, but doesn’t seem to be in imminent danger.
Perhaps we can capture it and either remove the hook immediately or transport it for surgical treatment at a licensed wildlife rehabilitation facility. This is another reminder of the need for fishermen to know the danger their gear poses for wildlife. Each year, at least one waterfowl / fish hook encounter happens at the millpond. Some lead to death. We had success with Frick in 2011 and Capt. D. Hookt last summer, but a white Mandarin duck swallowed fishing gear and died less than a month ago. A receptacle is available for fishermen to discard monofilament line and gear. It’s beside the millpond sidewalk near City Hall. If you see someone fishing at the pond, please point it out to them.
April 10th, 2014 permalink
The closer you get to the surface of water, the more brilliant are the reflections upon it. Imagine what waterfowl see at their eye level as they leisurely paddle around ponds each day. Our retinas would be overwhelmed if our streets, paths, and parking lots were as reflective as water. Yet it would be rather refreshing to read an obituary someday that states, “He died peacefully surrounded by family and friends following an extensive battle with color.”
April 10th, 2014 permalink
Canada geese are as common as dandelions and get even less respect in our region. Open a window anywhere within our county in spring, and you’ll hear their honking. Visit any shoreline and you’ll be dodging their droppings. Still, they have merit as doting parents, beautiful beings, and (I hear) delicious main courses. Here, you see the chest of a member of the millpond’s flock. It’s intricately feathered to protect it from water and weather. Droplets of pond water bead and catch beams of sunlight as this bird hissed at me as I moved close to photograph it.
November 15th, 2013 permalink
A lone Canada goose has been roosting with the millpond ducks at night lately. It’s smaller than most Canadas that frequent the pond. The ones that haven’t migrated tend to leave the pond at night or huddle in a group in the center of the pond. This one doesn’t join them. It moves slowly and, as it searches for food on the ground, it isn’t as domineering as most geese are with ducks. Maybe it’s sick but might just be separated from its family group and unsure of itself.
June 22nd, 2013 permalink
Canada geese aren’t hospitable to millpond park guests. Come anywhere near goslings and the parents let you know you’re not welcome. Visitors are often scared of the 3′ tall parents, but it’s bluff. Take a step toward them, and they run away. I hear tales of childhood attacks but have trouble believing they are this species. The millpond geese hiss but only attack each other.
I think the tiny flowers in the city hall area where these geese reside is a lovely patch of Birdsfoot Trefoil (aka Birdfoot Deervetch). I’ve photographed the plants close up before, but identified them as Lathyrus pratensis (aka Meadow Vetchling). Whatever it is, it’s a nice pastoral addition to my photographs of birds.
Birdsfoot Trefoil is considered invasive in lawns, but it’s a welcome crop on cattle grazing land in other states (pdf). USDA recommends its use (pdf). It’s a member of the pea family, and the flowers look like miniature sweet pea blooms. When the seeds form, three pods look like a bird’s foot on the top of the stem, hence the name.
June 13th, 2013 permalink
Canada Geese are very protective of their young, much more so than the ducks. Both parents stay with their goslings until they are fully grown and then accompany them on their first migratory flight southward in late autumn.
Ganders keep a comfortable distance from other geese as they escort their family group around the pond. If two family groups get too close, one family group will retreat in order to keep the peace. If both males feel they are entitled to the same space, arguments erupt. Most often, it’s a honking match, but it can escalate into a brawl if neither male backs away. The bout shown here was a serious one. Each gander bit into the chest of the other and held on.
It began as a shoving match, but devolved into a major fight with each male pounding the other with his wings. Nearby geese, goslings, and ducks got out of the way but were agitated as the flap fest continued. Geese have wingspans approaching six feet so the scuffle stirred the air and filled it with slapping sounds. If the encounter had happened in the water, it would have been even more dramatic with violent splashing.
After about a minute, one of the birds decided he’d had enough. He ran away with the victor in hot pursuit for fifty feet. It was over as quickly as it ignited. No one was seriously injured, but another dominance hierarchy was established within the flock.
June 5th, 2013 permalink
I’m not a big fan of Canada geese nor is anyone else around here. Like dandelions, they are so common it’s difficult to view them as anything other than pests. They are noisy and messy. According to my dad, they are the only animal on the planet that poops more than they eat. I’ve heard tales of them being bright, but I don’t buy it. Ducks are smarter and have more varied personalities.
But geese have at least two remarkable characteristics: They grow from goslings to adults incredibly fast, and both parents are devoted to their offspring. The goslings shown here are about a month old and just beginning to grow their adult tail feathers. Their faces are starting to look grungy as their down is replaced with adult white “chin straps” against black heads. In another month, they will be the size of their parents, but not as well muscled. The parents will retain their family group through the fall migration to lead them south so they can find their way.
April 28th, 2013 permalink
April 27: Near the end of March, I discovered this nest near the Stillwater Grill. Faithful reader, Wanda Ryan, announced that the first goslings hatched the day before. These are their first family portraits posted here but are surely not their first portraits. Everyone at the millpond yesterday took at least one shot of them with their cameras and cell phones. Babies always attract attention. It’s a human trait to enjoy seeing them. The nest is empty now (below), but the whole family might return to it on cold nights, to browse for food or avoid predatory fish and mammals. The bay is still filled with activity from other nesting birds, fish, and muskrats.
As the shallow water continues to be warmed by the sun, the turtles will emerge. This area abounds with turtles each summer. Painteds, Red-Eared Sliders, Snappers, and Musk turtles are there. While they are in the area, I’ve never heard of a Soft Shelled Turtle at the millpond.
March 27th, 2013 permalink
After photographing the Canada goose near Stillwater Grill the other day, I decided to view the area from another angle. This bay at the millpond abuts a parking lot for the restaurant. A 10′ tall seawall separates them. From atop the wall, I could see into their nest built a foot above the water within the cattails (above). I think I see four eggs (below) but my camera is limited by only a 6x zoom so I can’t be sure of the count. Birds usually lay an egg a day and wait until the entire clutch is finished before they begin to incubate them for the young all hatch at once. In this weather, the eggs benefit by natural refrigeration. There is still plenty of ice at the edge of the cattails along with a discarded plastic water bottle and assorted debris delivered to the bay on windy days.