Clyde (left) is easy to tell from his mate (or any other goose for that matter). He is huge, has a very thick neck and a broad chest. Bonnie (right) is petite with a slender neck and more dainty features.
What’s Good for the Goose is Good for the Gander
This story begins with my husband and me sitting shoulder to shoulder, both with mobile devices in hand. We were perusing online real estate listings as we were in the market to buy a new house. I heard Jamie “hmph” and then chuckle a few seconds later.
“What is it?”
“Oh, you’d never go for it.”
“Nah. It’s not really… your style.”
“What!? I don’t have ‘a style’!”
“It’s got a pond though,” he shrugged. You’d like that.”
A few seconds later with my curiosity fully piqued, I was looking at our future home for the first time. With 1970’s retro flare, window’s galore, and a fuzzy photo of a goose on a pond… it was love at first sight.
Several long months later we were signing the official documents necessary to become the new owners of the pond! I mean, the house as well, of course.
“I hope a goose comes and has babies!” I gushed one day.
“I sure hope it doesn’t. ” Jamie said rolling his eyes.
“Oh, poo.” Was probably my unspoken response.
“Exactly.” Would’ve been his.
The first spring after we’d moved in I was thrilled to see a pair of Canada Geese arrive. I wondered if one of them was the same goose from the real estate photo. Looking back years later, I’m nearly certain it was. This pair was quiet and kept their distance from us. Never having had a resident goose at our home before, we were unsure of a few things. How close was too close? Is it ok to feed them?
How Close is Too Close?
One thing we learned right away:
Head bobbing + hissing = “Too close!”
A thing we learned later on:
Coiled neck + open mouth + staring at you = “Too close!”
Eventually we also learned:
Frequent head tossing + fanned tail = “Too close!”
In conclusion we learned:
Wild geese don’t actually like people, so back off already!
**I put some of that in bold for you in case you miss the theme here. You’re welcome.**
Is it OK to Feed Them?
Is it your desire to create a potentially aggressive goose?
Do you want to participate in a wild goose chase every time it thinks you have food?
Would you enjoy being “goosed” by a goose as it checks your pockets for food?
Is feeling pooped from scooping bucketfuls of goose feces a goal of yours?
If you answered a resounding “yes” to any or all of the questions above, then by all means, feed the geese. However, if you are a rational human, you may want to refrain. Not only can it instigate the unpleasantness previously mentioned, it is also not beneficial (and even potentially harmful) to feed a wild goose human food of any kind. While it may be fun for us, it is not in the best interest of the geese.
Disclaimer: We have never ever attempted to feed human food to any waterfowl on our property.
Instead, we have added native aquatic plants to the pond that we know they will enjoy eating. The roots, shoots, stems, and seeds of native grasses are beneficial to them. Insects that live among these native plantings add to their diet as well. Sagittaria latifolia – Arrowhead (aka Duck Potato) is one of my favorite emergent aquatic plants that has tubers the geese forage on. It is also foraged by humans for consumption. However, please do your research before attempting to eat any plant, native or not.
We’ve gotten to know this pair of geese pretty well over the last three years. With a quick observation of their habits, personalities, and body language even the kids can usually tell when it’s Bonnie and Clyde that have come to visit (hereafter referred to as B&C). Without fail, there’s a whirlwind of both excitement and tragedy surrounding every spring arrival. I keep a calendar and document weather patterns and wildlife encounters that help me piece together important events in nature on our property. If you care to revel in a little bit of goose drama, read on. If not, I don’t blame you. I do hope in all of this you’ve learned one important thing that you can take with you before you go: Please, don’t feed the geese.
B&C arrive and begin defending their territory from other geese.
29th – Two eggs are in the nest. The geese are here briefly so Bonnie can lay an egg and then they fly away (though never far).
Begins with rain, snow, freezing temps, high winds, downed trees.
4th More eggs are present. The geese continue their short visits to the nest and are away most of the day (this minimizes their scent at the nesting ground).
5th Bonnie will now sit on the nest 24/7.
15th-17th Heavy rain and snow. Bonnie remains out in the open, exposed to the full force of the elements. One morning, she was completely encased in a layer of snow.
First week, temps hovering around 87 degrees. Bonnie endures the heat, but is visibly suffering at times.
4th This morning, the geese are gone. Egg shells litter the grass over the pond spillway. At dusk, a coyote arrives (we suspected it had been the culprit). Within minutes, Bonnie and Clyde fly in out of nowhere, honking wildly, flapping their wings, and getting as close as they dared. The coyote ignores their presence. Their distressed displays are hard to watch.
6th-12th The pair visits frequently. Clyde always stays in the water while Bonnie swims directly to her decimated nest. She picks and pulls at the grass as if trying to tidy and rearrange it. The visits become shorter and they disappear by summertime.
Weather less severe than last year. Temps in low 70’s.
17th St. Patrick’s Day. Bonnie & Clyde arrive. As before, Bonnie swims straight to her nest.
Begins cool, windy, with morning frosts and occasional rain showers.
5th It’s nesting time!
6th One egg is in the nest. B&C visit the pond long enough for Bonnie to lay eggs. She’s not sitting on the nest yet.
9th Nest is destroyed. One egg found unbroken 15′ away. The geese are gone.
Temperatures range from low 50’s to upper 70’s. Weeks of rain.
14th A new pair of Canada Geese arrive. The female likes to stand on the fountain and honk incessantly. The male sometimes joins her. This vocal couple is not Bonnie and Clyde. We named them Captain (Von Trapp) and Maria. They visit on occasion each year and (without fail) they climb onto the fountain and “sing”. Actually, it’s a really annoying sort of honking duet if I’m honest. Very unpleasant.
Beautiful, cool, breezy weather.
13th A pair of geese are here with 3 tiny yellow goslings. We believe it’s B&C who may have had a chance to start a new nest elsewhere and brought their young back “home”!
17th The geese come and go. Only 2 goslings now.
19th 1 gosling remains. The geese leave and do not return this month.
13th-30th B&C are here every day. There is no gosling. They do not leave. There are 5 gallon bucketfuls of goose poop everywhere. We’d like to try to swim in the pond. Attempts to move them along are made. An air horn (highly ineffective, they don’t flinch), an expensive fake floating alligator head (highly ineffective, they don’t care – does make for a fun conversation piece), and other half-hearted (benign) attempts are made to ask them to leave. They don’t.
31st It’s become apparent the geese will remain here until the fall. Google has informed us they are molting. Without flight feathers, they cannot go far. It makes for a long summer of shoveling poop and sharing the pond with our feathered friends. In all fairness, they really were here first.
New feathers in place, bellies full from a summer of eating seeds/vegetation around the pond, Bonnie and Clyde head south. Finally.
It’s freezing cold. Day 580 of winter.
28th B&C arrive – very early! They inspect their nest site for a while and leave.
Still freezing cold. Rinse and repeat ad nauseam. Day 792 of winter.
24th Our resident pair visit again. More nest inspecting. Yup. It’s still there.
Major flash flooding at the creek, temperatures in the 40’s and 50’s. A miserable month on many levels with a global pandemic, quarantine, and no shortage of fear and uncertainty.
14th Four geese are at the pond. Lots of nonchalant socializing happening. Until… Bonnie and Clyde swoop in like apocalyptic screaming banshees. Violent attacks on water and terrifying pursuits on land. The intruders scramble to flee the scene in a flurry of feathers and mass confusion. Afterwards, Bonnie checks on her nest. It’s still there.
Freeze advisories the first three weeks of the month. Day 1,412 of winter?
15th– B&C visit long enough to take a quick swim.
30th – We reach the conclusion there will be no geese nesting here this year.
Spring has finally come to Pennsylvania.
20th– B&C arrive with 3 young grey goslings! We’re glad to see they again nested successfully elsewhere and then brought their offspring home.
23rd Clyde shows the goslings how to bathe in the pond. Lots of adorable flapping and attempts at aquatic somersaults. You really haven’t lived your best life until you’ve seen a baby goose doing an awkward somersault in the water! Over and over!
25th The goose family has left. Though we miss their antics, it was starting to get smelly around the pond! I’m secretly hoping they come visit occasionally.
3rd A horrible commotion at our property line where our woods border the surrounding fields. B&C burst vertically straight out of the trees, crashing into branches, honking frantically, and flying in separate directions. They reunite at the pond, in distress. I run to them to see what is going on. The pair are beating their wings , pacing, and vocalizing loudly. This goes on for more than one hour. They are alone. No goslings are with them. We assume the worst has just happened. As time passes, they fly away.
9th B&C are back with one gosling! It somehow miraculously survived whatever happened nearly a week ago! We can hardly believe it! The parents are plenty protective and we keep a very wide berth.
12th B&C are molting. The unbelievable amount of large feathers scattered in the grass each morning makes it look like we are butchering geese at the pond (I reassure all visiting guests that we are not). I get out my 5 gallon bucket and shovel, preparing for the long game.
14th The gosling has many feathers now. Due to my frequent walks and hours of gardening around the pond, the parents no longer mind my presence. They continue grooming, feeding, and lie down when I am only ten feet away. A new record. Any closer than that and I get a few sharp head bobs. “This far, and no farther.” Duly noted.
15th My youngest son gets the honor of choosing the gosling’s name. Henry Hen Henny. “Henry” for short. I think it sort of sounds like a Beatrix Potter character.
17th Bonnie, Clyde, and Henry have left. It’s been a tumultuous few weeks! We’re not sure if they’ll be back to visit in 2021. Though, as history has a habit of repeating, itself I’m fairly certain we will see them again.