Canada Geese Defend Their Nesting Site
March 31, 2011
Canada geese did not nest here until about three years ago. They would fly through on their way north to Canada. Many ducks did, too. I have photos of mergansers and wood ducks that rested here on their way north. However, once the Canada geese decided to nest here, only mallard ducks have dropped in and/or nested here. I have gotten used to them and now actually enjoy watching the geese court, brood, and finally, raise their chicks. I have even seen their eggs when the mother rearranges herself on the nest.
But before they make a nest, the geese have a lot of work to do. Geese don’t necessarily mate for life. They lose spouses, just like people do, to death and infidelity. They don’t pine away forever if either happens, but they may lose the breeding season and have to wait until the next year. They usually, but not always, return to the same pond each year for breeding.
We had several geese for about three weeks stop in the afternoon and then leave at dawn the next day. But last week, “our” geese returned and stayed. They serenely walk side by side about the beaver bog, occasionally swim, sleep on the ice, and just take it easy. And every year, a solitary male challenges the mated male. This lone male may be a youngster or a widower, But he wants to entice the mated female to be his mate. The mated male will attack the unmated male and drive him off a safe distance. The female may join her partner in attacking the stranger. Eventually, the lonely male will take off and cruise other ponds for women. It could be one hour to a few days before he decides to try his luck somewhere else. The slide show above shows you the attacks that the mated pair makes on a solitary male. On many slides, you can just see the head of the mated male on the left side of the photo as he runs or flies in for his attack.
The other problem that the resident geese have is another couple that wants the same nesting site. The arguments between the two couples are often more violent than the arguments between a mated pair and an interloper male. Males and females will fight and I have even seen them tag team other couples. The male will attack, hands the fight off to the female, and if the strange couple is not scared off, he will go back in. We had a skirmish like this today.
The new geese arrived yesterday. Yesterday they stayed far away from our geese on the other side of the bog in the back pond although at times they would stroll a bit closer to the front pond and our geese would begin to pay attention. The new geese then returned to the back pond without a confrontation.
Today, the new couple tried to come into the pond that our geese are considering for a nest (there is no telling where they will, or if they will, build their nest).. We watched as our geese attacked the newcomers. They were sly. They walked side by side just as the do in peaceful times. But their necks would begin to extend as they got closer to the new geese. And suddenly, our male would run full tilt for the new male. After a few seconds of chasing the other male, our male would break off the attack and step aside. Then our female, who had stayed still during the attack, would run in and chase the other male. Sometimes, as our male chased the new male, our female chased the new female. But either way they decided to attack, our mated geese would reconnoiter after their attack and then extend their necks, bob their heads at each other and repeatedly touch their bills together. This cracked me up. The geese were giving each other high-fives!
If you would like to learn more about the geese in your ponds, read The Geese of Beaver Bog by Bernd Heinrich With some knowledge of goose behavior, you can enjoy observing them much more. Heinrich, my favorite nature writer, is a professor at the University of Vermont. His writing engages you. You won’t put the book down. Heinrich wrote the book after he observed his own geese on his pond for a season or two.
As I mentioned above, this slide show shows the confrontations between a mated pair of geese and a solitary male. The action was taken with a very long lens on an extremely overcast day. The photo quality if poor, but the messages of the geese is clear. This is the first time that I have made a slide show in Lightroom. I have no idea where the first couple of frames flash a bright light. There is no audio track. I hope you enjoy it!