• Kev Thomas Writes

Canada Geese: A Honking Tale

Above: A Canada goose grazing along a canal

Although we’re still four months away from the large flights of Canada geese arriving at the marina each evening, we do have a noisy resident pair trying to incubate their eggs. We’ve also got a resident pair of mute swans who've been here for years apparently. The male swan, or cob as they’re called, is a bullying tyrant, and totally intolerant of the Canada geese. He spends almost all of his time chasing them around the marina, and beyond. This chasing goes on throughout moonlit nights too. At this stage it’s doubtful if the Canada geese will see their eggs hatch. They just aren’t getting the incubation time needed, due to what can at best be described as harassment by swan. The eggs will probably addle.

Above: The male mute swan or 'cob' is totally intolerant of Canada geese inside the marina and ruthlessly chases them away.

When the large flocks of Canada geese arrive, they land on the open water away from the piers and then kick up a honking racket accompanied by a lot of head bobbing. I always thought Southern Africa’s hadeda ibis were noisy birds, and in the Eastern Cape they’re abundant. However, when it comes to noise rankings, I don’t think they’re a patch on a Canada goose convention.

Above: When the large flocks of Canada geese start to arrive in August they're exceedingly noisy.

Not shy, the geese swim across to any boat dweller silly enough to feed them (which includes us) and then they hang around the boat honking loudly. Once it gets dark, they settle down, until in the pre-dawn the noise kicks off again, and builds to a crescendo before they take off in a welter of water and flapping wings, circle the marina, and head out. Probably to feed in wheat stubble or similar on fields that have already had the combine through.

Above: Wild Canada geese are quick to become human habituated and if fed, soon take to begging for food around boats.

Deciding to delve deeper into the history of Canada geese in the UK, I learnt they’d been here for centuries, and the fault lies with the monarchy, no less. Apparently, King Charles II imported numbers of them from the new colonies in North America during about 1665. He wanted them as ornaments in his London garden, normally referred to as St James Park. Canada geese are larger in body than the UK’s native graylag geese and certainly more exotic looking. Known as colonial geese in those far off days they were soon found in the gardens of many of the UK’s most stately homes.

Above: Canada geese escapees soon established a feral population within the UK.

Over time though, escaping became the order of the day and the escapees soon procreated to the point of establishing a feral Canada goose population. Granted, a small number of Canada geese do migrate here each winter, however, the UK’s main populations are the descendants of those Canada geese which once graced the British aristocracies’ gardens.

Reading a dated newspaper article, I was amused to see journalist Robert Hardman state that if there were a prize for Britain’s most hated bird, it’d surely go to the Canada goose. He went further and wrote that if they were human, they’d lounge around all day doing absolutely nothing and lay claim to every welfare benefit in the book. Like me, I guess he finds them extremely noisy for he says that at least the cuckoo has an interesting call, even if it does kick other birds out of their nests. Feral pigeons too, he writes, may splatter Britain’s national landmarks but they do scarper on demand, whereas the Canada goose just sits there like a corpulent squatter, fouling its neighbourhood and eating its way through anything it can find.

Above: Canada geese can be found across much of the UK. This flock are on the Kennet & Avon canal system near Seend. Most of them are young birds going into their first year.

After observing Canada geese up close when they were here last August, and having been woken up by them regularly I think I tend to concur fully with Robert Hardman’s sentiments. With a wingspan of up to six feet, and capable of producing a dropping about every forty seconds, they don’t only scare the hell out of the other birdlife around them, they don’t migrate anywhere, they just hang around, breed, and make a noise – not my kind of bird. Last year the big flocks started arriving at the marina on 11 August, and I’ve noted by then much of the wheat on surrounding farms has already been combined, leaving a lot of inviting stubble.

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