One of nature’s most alluring sounds is the song of flying Canada geese. Years ago, one had to travel to remote marshes to enjoy it. Not anymore, and a mother goose in Cedar Rapids shows she enjoys urban life.
Giant Canada geese were once nearly exterminated, but a small flock was discovered. Volunteer groups and biologists carefully transplanted geese to new locations, often to urban ponds. Boy, did the huge birds ever love them!
Canada geese love dining on short mowed grass. Lawns surrounding ponds in golf courses and condominiums are perfect habitat. The big birds don’t mind human activity or noise and have expanded so much that many people consider them pests.
Usually, a goose pair chooses a hidden nest site. It may be near an urban area but often is in tall grass or bushes and is hard to spot. Not so one Cedar Rapids goose. She made her nest in a small island of woodchips and dandelions between a parking lot and road. Within sight is a movie theater, tattoo parlor, and medical building!
We are curious about how mom and dad plan to get the goslings to the nearest pond which is a distance away and through traffic.
The staff have been watching the mother for several weeks.
Geese are little bothered by traffic or noise.
Sitting, Hatching, and Raising
Goose eggs take about 35 days to hatch. Mom does the incubation but dad is normally close by and is a good protector. They mate for life and can live for decades. When the goslings hatch mom and dad lead them to a pond or river and teach them how to find food.
Our urban goose may be wise. The major nest threat is predation by dogs, raccoons, opossums, and skunks. They all avoid busy parking lots. So the goose couple may have chosen a safe nesting location…..or perhaps they just want to take in a movie, get a tattoo, or visit a doctor!
Walking one of Cedar Rapids’ trails sometimes is like a skier racing a slalom course. Instead of weaving between flags, pedestrians must dodge piles of goose poop.
It wasn’t always that way. Before the mid-1980s few geese lived in town. Cedar Rapids began restoring them. About 125 of the giant birds were released near downtown. Few predators pester them and are they prolific! A goose couple can live for decades and raise upwards of a dozen goslings a year. That is a lot of geese!
Geese Mixed Blessing
Canada geese are a blessing. We love hearing “goose music” as they wing over our house. Watching such attentive parents teach their babies to swim and find food is great fun.
Canada geese are a curse, mostly because there are so many of them and they enjoy living, and pooping, in town. Their droppings are more than a walking nuisance. Loaded with nitrates and bacteria, they stimulate algae growth, lowering water quality.
We enjoy the haunting call of geese on the wing.
Geese love short grass
Geese love water but don’t need massive remote lakes. They prefer the dozens of small ponds at golf courses, corporate and school campuses, and parks. A lawnmower is a goose’s best friend. Well, maybe not a mower, but close-cropped lawns have tiny tender grass shoots that make fine goose dining. Running a mower down to a pond’s edge creates goose paradise. And problems for landowners.
People sometimes put snarling coyote mannequins near their pond to scare the big birds. It might work for a minute or two, but geese are smart. They figure out it’s a fake and nibble tender grass right under the phony predator.
How to Discourage Geese
Some cities reduce goose numbers by locating their nests, shaking the eggs to kill the embryos, which is called addling, or coating the eggs with oil so they won’t hatch. It may work to reduce flock size, but geese are protected by federal and state laws. Destroying eggs without a permit is illegal.
Here are less lethal and legal tricks that work, at least to some degree to discourage geese:
Hold the chow. Folks love tossing stale bread to waterfowl, but it just encourages the crowding of the pesky birds.
Stow the mower and let the grass grow. Geese shun tall grass. Even better, plant tall prairie grasses near the water’s edge.
Fence ‘em out. For some reason geese don’t usually cross even small low barriers they could hop or fly over. A fence of lightweight plastic pipe set parallel to the edge of the water may discourage them from entering small areas.
We’ve got them. Geese are fellow city residents. We need to coexist, but a few simple tricks can discourage them from certain areas while still letting us enjoy delightful goose music as they wing overhead.
We like geese. Yes, they leave piles of poop on trails and urban grassy areas. And, that is a pain. We’re not fond of running the gauntlet of goose dirt on the sidewalk. Still, we like geese. They recently made us laugh with an antic we found hysterical.
While driving on Shaver Road, NE, near Cedar Lake in Cedar Rapids we spotted dozens of fluffy baby geese on a nearby lawn. There were at least 50 fuzzy babies watched over by only nine adults. All streamed across the road as fast as their little legs would take them and sprinted across a parking lot. It was a herd of fluff balls moving in concert. We were laughing so hard photography was difficult. Another couple had also stopped to watch and catch a video of them.
We often walk around Cedar Lake and always see geese, but May is probably the best month to watch them. Geese mate for life, so we usually see a pair of adults with anywhere from two to a dozen babies.
Here is why we like them. They’re attentive parents, teaching their babies how to find food and swim and keeping them safe. An adult goose is both formidable and a great bluffer. If we approach too closely they’ll open their bill and hiss. It’s clear communication that says, “Stay away from our babies.” We imagine that an enraged parent goose would drive off a hungry raccoon eyeing a baby for dinner. But, they don’t usually bother walkers beyond the hiss and evil eye routine.
One fascinating goose observation is that often several goose couples let their babies intermingle. It’s like a swarm of geese tended by many parents. Often the babies are of different sizes, so some must be older than others but the parents protect them all.
When we saw the 50 odd goslings with only four pairs of adults we wondered if they were operating a goose daycare, allowing other goose couples to have a few hours off from parenting duties.
Goose babies grow amazingly fast on a diet of mostly grass, and we’ll enjoy watching them mature as we do our regular walks around the lake.
Too many people hate Canada geese. Once rare, this giant bird is now common across North America and enjoys living in town.
Geese were once uncommon rural birds, but starting several decades ago people began restoring populations in places where they were long absent. Our town of Cedar Rapids is an example. Nearly 40 years ago a few of the giant Canada subspecies were released in town. No one dreamed how successful they would be. Geese multiplied like crazy and now seem to be everywhere as they relax along the river or wing over downtown.
People dislike them because of the mess they leave on sidewalks, lawns, and golf courses. The expression loose as a goose is apt. Despite their mess, we find geese fascinating and love watching them, especially during our walks around Cedar Lake near downtown.
Geese pair up in late winter.
There’s much to admire about Canada geese. They mate for life and are devoted to their partner and babies, live many years, and have plenty of leisure to socialize and relax. Food is usually abundant. City geese enjoy eating lawn grass and the corn that spills from railroad cars.
Because geese are common, big, and unafraid of people they’re easy to observe. Having knowledge of their annual pattern can help see them as fascinating animals rather than messy pests.
The Seasonal Goose Pattern
FEBRUARY AND MARCH: Geese are now in pairs, rather than mixed in big flocks. Males and females show the same plumage, making it difficult to tell genders apart but usually, the ganders, or males, are slightly bigger than the females and have thicker necks. When we spot a lone goose in March, we know it’s likely a gander. Its mate is either laying an egg or incubating nearby but out of sight.
Goose nests are usually hidden, although sometimes one will be in plain view. Normally it will be in a low spot near water, but we spotted a goose nest in an old bald eagle nest high in a cottonwood tree. Over a couple of weeks, the female lays a clutch that can have from just a few to a dozen eggs. When the clutch is finished, she’ll start a 35-day incubation period. During this time, she stays out of sight. People are most likely to see a lone goose, the gander, in plain view nearby.
APRIL: Most goslings hatch in April, and the proud parents lead them to water. Amazingly these balls of fluff can walk and swim when only hours old. Mom and Dad protect them from predators and people who approach too closely. Crowd a goose family and the parents will hiss and threaten. A big goose is intimidating but we know it’s mostly bluff.
Often several goose couples bring their goslings together, so we sometimes see as many as 25 or 30 babies intermingled in big groups. Adults seem to share parenting duty.
Adult geese protect their young.
SUMMER: Goslings grow amazingly fast and by mid to late summer are almost as big as mom and dad. They gradually develop their adult feathers and by late summer look identical to their parents and have learned to fly.
FALL AND WINTER: When the grass stops growing our Cedar Rapids geese often leave town in the morning to fly into the country, where they snack on corn that farmers’ combines missed at harvest. They wing back in the evening and spend the night along the Cedar River or lake. Winter geese socialize in groups of 20 or 30. Should a hungry predator approach, the flock will make a racket and send it on its way.
Many Canada geese are migratory, although some stay in town all year. In the fall and winter, some individuals in a big group of geese may have hatched as far away as Canada, while others are locals. It’s during winter that young geese form pair bonds that can last for life. Usually the female determines where home is. So, if a Cedar Rapids hatched male goose takes a fancy to a young Canadian girl Canada goose, he will follow her north to nest, perhaps in Manitoba. But if a young Canadian boy goose pairs with a Cedar Rapids girl goose they’ll set up housekeeping here.
Geese are fascinating wild animals. Because they are amazingly common and easy to see they are one of the best birds to observe as they go about their annual pattern of life.
We are fortunate to live at the end of a channel on a small lake. Our north facing windows face our backyard and the channel. One of our friends, who knows very little about nature, does not understand that after living here for 18 years, we still get excited when we see any wildlife in our yard and in the channel. Most of my photos are taken from windows inside the house, hoping to not spook my photo subjects. We frequently have deer coming through and we can tell which paths are being worn into the ground. During the winter we’ve taken photos of deer amidst the falling snowflakes. And, on our trail cam, we have “caught” coyotes, fox, raccoons, opossums, and neighborhood kitties.
This spring we have had a special bonus of occasionally watching a male turkey strut between our and the neighbors’ yards. Usually, he is skittish and if he spots me looking out a window, he quickly moves out of sight. One morning he must have felt like he was “king of the hill” and actually posed for photos about 20 feet from where I was watching him. I have also watched him fly over the channel near dusk and find a tree to roost in for the night. It always amazes me to watch these big birds fly through the trees, as normally you only see them walking and running on the ground.
Lounging on a log
Last summer when the water level was high, an oak tree uprooted and fell into the channel, covering both sides of the channel, and completely blocking our water access to the main lake. Because the channel is narrow, there is little clear land on either side. The oak landed at the bottom of a steep hill, so removing it was quite a process. It took a bucket truck on top of the hill, a small boat in the channel, lots of ropes, and a very talented arborist to take care of the problem. This spring the water is lower and that downed tree is now a horizontal stump about four feet long partially submerged from where it fell.
The turtles love this new sunning perch! We have never seen so many turtles at one time. So far, our biggest count has been nine painted turtles on the log. In spring we sometimes get lucky to see a large soft-shell turtle swimming in the channel and climbing out onto the shore. The females are much larger than the males.
Wood Duck- Goose Dustoff
On a recent rainy day, we spotted a pair of wood ducks. They are also very skittish and do not like to pose for photos. We watched as they flew up into a large basswood tree and perched on the branch. I think that is the first time I have ever seen ducks sitting in the trees. It was not a great day for photos, but I tried anyway.
The ducks flew to another tree, rested for a while, and then flew down to the water. Mr. Wood Duck and Mr. (Canada) Goose then had an altercation on the grass with much hissing, honking, flapping of wings, and chasing.
Male wood duck
Mr. Wood Duck was very proud of himself for chasing the goose parents and two goslings of out “his” channel. Mrs. Wood Duck cheered him on while sitting on top of our boat motor. My husband, John, had the fun of watching the goose and duck stand-off. I was trying to get to a different window without all the raindrops obscuring my view. That did not work, but it made me smile to hear John laughing and enjoying the whole spectacle.
Loving Our Wildlife
Even after nearly two decades, we still so enjoy our yard and sharing our stories about animals and plants.