Make Way for Goslings in Morningside Park
(This post is part of Watery Wednesday, a weekly nature blog compilation.)
For weeks, the mother goose in Morningside Park has been spending her days hunkered down on a hidden nest on the little island in the pond, while the father patrolled the area, fearlessly chasing away big dogs and warning humans to keep their distance.
Canada geese mate for life, and return each year to nest in the same area. Assuming, that is, they ever leave the area. Geese are increasingly staying through the winter in northern regions that once were used as breeding grounds or migration stop-overs.
After an absence of four days, I returned to the park on Wednesday, but couldn’t find the geese. I feared the worst: something had destroyed the eggs. And then, from around the far side of the island, the entire family appeared: mother, father, and four fuzzy-headed, yellow goslings.
The mother seemed to be bursting with energy, and desperate for a good bath. While Dad stayed close to the babies, she repeatedly submerged beneath the surface, leaving only choppy white water to mark her presence.
She’d emerge in a great spray of droplets with an exuberant flapping of wings. She rolled around and even somersaulted in the water.
Finally, after swimming vigorously in circles, she shook herself out like a dog and rejoined the family with much wiggling of her tail feathers.
She spent several minutes preening.
Meanwhile, the babies practiced their diving skills. Buoyant little fluffballs, they bobbed up to the surface after each dive like tiny boogie boards held forcibly under water and then released.
Today, two days later, the babies already look bigger, stronger and more adept, and the parents, while always alert, appear almost serene.
A gaggle of talented pre-school artist-naturalists sketched and painted the landscape and animals,
while the goose family hustled across the path
to graze on the lush grass
Geese are precocial birds; unlike altricial songbirds, which hatch naked and helpless, goose babies hatch fully feathered and ready to rumble. They walk almost immediately; within a day, they’re swimming, diving and feeding themselves.
Since the babies are immediately mobile, it’s important that all eggs hatch at almost the same time. Most birds, including geese, lay one egg each day until the clutch is complete. The eggs of altricial birds hatch in the order they were laid, so the first baby to hatch may be several days older than the youngest. This gives the first-hatched bird a tremendous advantage in competing for food and a higher survival rate. But geese wait for the entire clutch to be complete, or nearly complete, before they begin incubating the eggs; the babies hatch on the same day and develop at the same rate.
Goose kids stay with their parents for about a year before striking out on their own. Even then, they’re not ready to settle down, but spend another year or two learning the ropes of adulthood and, like young humans, experimenting with relationships. Some geese pair up as yearlings but these relationships rarely last. Most pairs don’t settle down to breed successfully until the age of three or four, by which time they have both eaten and sowed a few wild oats.
Morningside’s goslings have a long way to go.
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