A goose by any other name
Years ago, my husband and I were birdwatching with friends and one of the women in our group (who shall remain nameless) kept referring to all the “Canadian” geese at the Middle Creek Refuge.
We had gone to see the snow geese but for some reason this lady fixated on the Canada geese.
The official name for any bird is its Latin name. So, the “real” name for this creature is Branta canadensis. That’s because the bird probably has 200 different names in 200 different languages, based on its colors, its sounds, its habitat, or many other reasons.
Birds get named after people, after habits, after all sorts of things. The Latin name is the same around the world for that bird.
Canada goose is the common name for the species Branta canadensis. So, it is correct to call this bird “Canada goose” and not correct to call it “Canadian goose.”
A Canadian goose could be any goose from Canada. It’s confusing, I know. But it really bugged me that that lady kept saying, “Look at all the Canadian geese!”
Canada geese are big waterbirds with a black head with white cheeks and what some field guides call a chinstrap, a long black neck, large body, large, webbed feet, and wide, flat bill.
Living in a great many habitats near water, grassy fields and grain fields, they are particularly drawn to lawns for two reasons: they can digest grass, and when they are feeding with their young, manicured lawns give them a view of approaching predators.
In spring and summer, geese feed on grasses and sedges, including skunk cabbage leaves and other grasses.
During fall and winter, they rely more on berries and seeds, including grains, and seem especially fond of blueberries. They’re very efficient at removing kernels from dry corn cobs left in the field after a harvester has come through.
They stay together in large flocks for much of the year and may be related to one another. They mate for life, and pairs remain together throughout the year.
Canada geese do not breed until their fourth year. They will break off into pairs and begin the task of raising young.
Geese will nest usually on a slightly raised mound of earth near water. Choosing a spot where they can have a fairly unobstructed view in many directions is a strategy that keeps them and their nest sites safe.
Females select the sites and do much of the construction. They add dry grasses, lichens, mosses and other plant material along with down feathers and some body feathers beginning after the second egg is laid. Females do all the incubation while the males stand guard for the females and nest sites.
Having been chased by male geese while photographing young, I can tell you they are not afraid to come after something larger than they are!
Soon after they hatch, goslings spend most of their time sleeping and feeding. They remain with their parents constantly, though sometimes “gang broods” form. These can include at least two broods, and sometimes five or more, that travel, feed and rest together, accompanied by at least one adult.
Hatchlings are covered with yellowish down and their eyes are open. They leave the nest when 1-2 days old, depending on weather, and can walk, swim, feed and even dive. They have enough energy remaining in their yolk sac to survive two days before feeding.
Young often remain with their parents for their entire first year.
I guess that’s not being such a silly goose after all!
Jeannie Carl is a naturalist at the Carbon County Environmental Education Center in Summit Hill. The center rehabilitates injured animals and educates the public on a variety of wildlife found in the area.
For information on the Carbon County Environmental Center, visit www.carboneec.org.