Exploring The Last Green Valley: Canada geese are here to stay
Exploring The Last Green Valley: Canada geese are here to stay
The V formation is all about energy conservation. The birds take turns at the point or lead of the V and each following bird drafts off the leader and on down the V. This formation also results in an updraft that provides lift to the following birds.
Sometimes I have heard just the faintest sound of honking birds and had to strain my eyes to find the V shape of flying geese high up in the sky.
Those long-distance flyers, just like commercial planes, are using the curvature of the earth to the advantage of their flight plan.
The geese I saw yesterday were only flying about 100 feet in altitude and they seemed to be intent on getting to a nearby water source or grassy clearing.
This flock was definitely not making the long flight southward. In fact they were flying northwest!
This got me thinking about Canada geese and the difference between the flocks we see year-round and the migratory flocks that fly by on their way further south.
According to a Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Wildlife Division fact sheet, Canada geese (Branta canadensis) were abundant in our region during the 1700s and 1800s, principally as a migratory population.
Excessive hunting caused the number of Canada geese to decline but protective measures beginning in the early 1900s resulted in their numbers slowly rebounding.
Releases of captive geese raised by game breeders resulted in an established population of resident geese that have spread throughout the region.
The year-round resident geese are distinct from the migratory geese that nest to the north in Canada.
The migratory geese that arrive in The Last Green Valley are from Quebec, Labrador and Newfoundland, and arrive in our region between October and December. They will usually continue to move further south in January.
If the winter is mild, they will remain here throughout the winter before returning north to their nesting grounds.
The migratory geese are moving to warmer climates with a greater chance of open water and agricultural or grassland (golf courses) free of snow cover that provide a ready food source.
Our year-round resident geese already live in a relatively warmer climate compared to the Canadian provinces. Why leave when the food sources they seek can usually be found during the colder months?
Over the past 50 years, our resident population has continued to increase thanks to our modern landscaping practices. New ponds, lawns, athletic fields and golf courses provide the right combination of grazing sites, water and cover.
Canada geese can be found in a variety of habitats near water. Lakes, ponds, rivers and marshes are where you’ll usually find them.
They are looking for aquatic plants to feed on. They also enjoy grazing on lawns and hay fields as well as gleaning corn fields following harvest.
Canada geese are beautiful large birds that can reach up to 13 pounds in weight and measure between 22 to 48 inches.
Their unmistakable black head, bill and graceful neck contrast with a white cheek or chinstrap that circles the throat. They are gray-brown in color on the back and wings with white on the belly and a black rump and tail feathers separated by a band of white feathers.
Canada geese are monogamous and mate for life. Nest building begins in March, up to seven eggs are laid in April and the young hatch in May.
Canada geese make their nests near water along shore edges. Geese want quick and easy access to water, cover for the nest and good visibility. The female will incubate the eggs for about 28 days while the male stands guard. Predators can include raccoons, skunks, foxes, coyotes, dogs and gulls.
Our region’s resident Canada geese have grown significantly in numbers, doubling in the past decade, and for many municipalities have become a pest —especially if you’re looking to maintain a grass area free of their droppings!
Their droppings also create a high nitrogen problem for our ponds, lakes and rivers.
Hunting is one way to control the resident population. The migrant population is susceptible to high hunting pressure due to its long migration, so hunting season in Connecticut is timed to occur in September when the migrating geese are not present in the state.
Regulated hunting can be effective, but it is not effective in urban and suburban communities where hunting is not a viable option.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has established an “egg depredation order” that allows landowners and local governments who register to “destroy resident Canada goose nest and eggs on their property under their jurisdiction when necessary to resolve or prevent injury to people, property, agricultural crops, or other interests.”
Nonlethal methods can also be used to scare off resident Canada geese, and can be especially effective in controlling populations during the nesting season.
The high school near our office in Danielson uses cutouts of coyotes on their athletic fields to keep grazing geese at bay.
Landscape modifications to make the area less attractive to resident geese and hazing with dogs and repellants can also be effective.
It is also important to avoid feeding resident geese as this will only attract them and keep them coming back, creating an even greater overpopulation problem.
Bread, in particular, should not be fed to geese or any other waterfowl. Geese are herbivores eating a wide range of plant matter, and bread — new or stale — does not resemble their natural food.
The beautiful Canada geese are here to stay and we can enjoy their graceful flights for years to come. We must be mindful, though, of resident populations that can also be detrimental if allowed to increase beyond their habitat’s capacity.
We live in a beautiful region full of natural wonders and cultural heritage opportunities. I hope you’ll join me in caring for our region, enjoying all it has to offer, and passing it on to the next generation.
Bill Reid is chief ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor and has lived in the region for more than 30 years. He can be reached at email@example.com.
The Norwich Bulletin is granted first serial rights and associated electronic rights to publish the preceding article. The Last Green Valley, Inc. retains all other rights to the work.
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