Since I wrote about Canada geese for this column about 13 years ago, there has been a pretty big change in the Canada goose world.
At that time, there were 11 recognized subspecies of Canada geese, ranging from the giant Canada goose to the smallest, just larger than a mallard duck. In recent years, the smallest four subspecies have been reclassified to a new species, the cackling goose, leaving only seven subspecies of Canada geese.
The cackling goose, besides being much smaller than the Canada goose, also has a shorter neck, a smaller bill and a darker breast. They are also far less common than the Canada goose.
This loss of four subspecies doesn’t really detract from the Canada goose. This is still an awesome and adaptable species that, unlike so many other species, has thrived under the domination of mankind.
The official 2015 bird survey estimates that there may be more than 5 million Canada geese in North America. They have found humans to be good neighbors and providers in just about every corner of the country, sometimes to the chagrin of city park managers, golf course superintendents, farmers and airline pilots.
Those seem like pretty disparate groups to stress over healthy numbers of Canada geese, but they all have one thing in common: Geese get in their way. In city parks and golf courses, geese love to graze on the short, green grass. That seems to be in line with park and golf course management goals and should save on mowing costs. The geese however, carry things a bit too far, covering this same grass with slippery feces — definitely not consistent with grass management and human enjoyment.
When the green grass is newly emerging grain, a large flock of geese can keep it short all summer, preventing it from ever making grain. That clearly isn’t what the farmer intended when he planted.
Airports and pilots? Canada geese are so numerous around some airports that they are a hazard to aviation. A goose through a cockpit windshield or a flock of them sucked through a jet engine can ruin a pilot’s day. In fact, it is likely that the flock of birds that caused US Airways Flight 1549, piloted by captain Chesley Sullenberger, to crash land in the Hudson River in 2009 was a flock of Canada geese.
Human changes to the habitat have even changed Canada goose migration patterns. The southbound fall migration of geese once drew with it the close of autumn, and the high-flying northbound V’s heralded spring. Not so much anymore. Up to a quarter of the geese living today may not migrate at all. Many of the others now delay fall migration.
On the positive side, more than 2 million Canada geese are harvested by hunters each year. Even this heavy harvest rate doesn’t seem to impact numbers.
I thought about all this as I wrote the Bird-of-the-Month post on Canada geese for the Friends of Camas NWR website (friendsofcamas.org). This posting celebrates birds of all types and never sees birds as a problem (with the possible exclusion of starlings and house sparrows).
In Canada geese we have a species with little threat of facing extinction, something everyone should appreciate. Yet, when the Canada goose gets in our way or becomes a perceived nuisance, we tend to treat it as a commoner, worthy of little respect or consideration.
Seems we should make up our minds about what we really want.