… is good for the gosling

On some mornings, before the sun peeks over Revis Mountain, you can hear them honking from a mile away. Even when they are not around, you know they have been here because of the calling cards they distribute across every inch of grass. An adult Canada goose can produce between one to three pounds each day. During spring and summer you really have to watch where you walk. You know what I’m talking about, right?

On occasion, I’ve counted over 60 geese on Blue Heron lake and surrounding grass areas. They arrive in V-formation, honking loudly as they land with a splash. Once on the water, they often continue honking as if to say: “We’re back.”

Canada goose landing on Blue Heron Lake.

If you are not sure what that might sound like, just click here (turn your speakers on).

Canada geese are attracted to three things: water, open space (where they can keep an eye out for predators), and lots of grass to forage. They don’t need any human-suppled handouts, winter or summer. It’s best not to feed them, unless you want more calling cards to clean up. Rows of “teeth” are designed to mow the grass and other vegetation.

Goose teeth are actually serrated cartilage, not bone.

During consecutive walks around the lake this April, I noticed a pair of Canada geese in the same spot on a quiet edge of the lake. I was pretty sure a nesting was in process. They nest on the ground, so there is not much work involved; all that is needed is a shallow depression filled with goose down and other feathers. The female selects the site and does site preparation.

The location appeared to be a good one. Passer-byes would not see it unless they actually walked over to the exact spot. For the next thirty days, I took a look with my binoculars to see how things were progressing.

Hidden nesting site.

The goose bears full responsibility for incubating the eggs. The gander is supposed to stand watch nearby throughout the approximately 24-32 days of incubation. That said, other than those first few days of site preparation, I never saw a male in proximity.

During the unusually hot days of April, I worried about that lone female; she looked pretty forlorn. One afternoon, I saw her go into the water for about fifteen minutes; other than that moment, I never saw her off the nest.

Lone goose on nest.

I had marked my calendar for day twenty-four of incubation. Beginning then, I stopped by the nest site both in the morning and in the afternoon. The eggs could hatch anytime now and I didn’t want to miss all the action. Another day went by, then another, and another. Did I miscalculate the arrival date of fuzzy little goslings? Were these eggs not fertile? Would the hen abandon the nest?

On the morning of day thirty, the scene had changed: there were now two geese present. The gander had returned. Today is egg hatching day, I figured, so I settled down on the granite shelf across the cove where I had an unobstructed view of the birds. With great anticipation, I waited and watched.

Canada goose and gander at nest site on the morning two goslings hatched.

From time to time the goose stood up, looked around, and nudged her beak into the down pillow beneath her. I couldn’t see any eggs. The gander, about four feet away, also stood up and walked around. That’s when I saw the chicks, barely visible, two of them blending in with the surrounding vegetation.

Gander with hours-old goslings.

Yes! The goslings had finally hatched. I didn’t witness the break out, but they were only hours old, maybe feathers still wet. Good enough for me.

After some minutes, the gander descended the slope, peered around a bend, then returned to the goslings. The goose rose and walked to the top of the knoll, surveyed the surroundings, and returned to the nest. The gander then trundled down to the water; the goslings followed with tentative steps.

Precocial birds like geese and ducks are able to walk and swim shortly after hatching. Feathers need to dry, and the chicks might need some rest after the effort of breaking out of the shell. The slope leading to water’s edge was steep. I fully expected that the hatchlings would tumble head over heels, but that didn’t happen. Regardless, wading through the tall vegetation and climbing over protruding tree roots is not an easy task for a new-born with webbed feet and legs only an inch or so long.

Goslings taking their first walk along the lakeshore.

Once in the water, though, with terrestrial obstacles behind them, it was full speed ahead for the feathered flotilla. As on land, the adults were extremely cautious, and continuously examined their surroundings on all sides as they paddled away from shore.

Goslings first time on water only hours after hatching.

Once the geese were out of sight, I returned to the nest to photograph the broken eggs shells. I was surprised at what I found: an un-hatched egg. It wasn’t in the nest. The errant egg was lying a few feet away. It had a small opening in which I discerned what appeared to be a bill. Was this a failed hatchling? Who pushed the egg out of the nest?

Un-hatched egg.

The next day I returned to find the egg broken open, and empty. The contents had been eaten.

Un-hatched egg, contents eaten.

P.S. Many thanks to my wife Patty who helped prepare the video files I recorded with my heavy, hand-held camera.

Keep birding,
Robert Groos
For more from Robert Groos, visit:
robertgroosphotography.com


Robert Groos is a published photographer and keen observer of nature who lives in Yosemite Lakes Park. He shares some of his outstanding images of our local feathered friends along with some tidbits of interesting facts about each. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do. 

Previous posts:
It’s nesting time
Wild turkeys on parade
The Pied-Billed Grebe
Hunchback of YLP: The black-crowned night heron
The bluebird
Talking turkey
The secret world of the phainopepla
Acorn woodpecker 
Oak titmouse
Swallows
White-breasted nuthatch
California quail
Bald eagle
Western kingbird
The turkey vulture