Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Listening for Spring

In springtime, I hear the geese above my house. It's warming up and they're going home again, northbound. It's early in the morning, and I'll hear them. Throwing the covers off me, I scramble out of bed and run out the back door, craning my neck to see them before they fly out of sight. Standing there in boxers and bare feet, it's chilly but so worth it to hear their calls, the honking of the Canada geese in flight. A song of spring.
In December I went walking along the riverbank of the North Platte. Everything was covered in snow. Everything was white. Except for the lovely black head and neck of a Canadian goose lying dead in my path. I kneeled in the fresh snow and stared at her for awhile. Then I touched her. She was still warm. I found the bullet hole, the trickle of blood.
Whimpering in the snow, on a winter's day, I closed my eyes and apologized for her suffering.
Then, I gently tugged a handful of the softest feathers from her warm body, and with my free hand, covered her with a blanket of snow. I held on tightly to that fistful of grey feathers on my way back to the car.
For days I couldn't stop thinking about that goose. I read articles from the Coalition to Prevent the Destruction of Canada Geese and the more I read about the behavior of geese, the more heartbroken I became. I was full of wonder about the life of that single goose that I encountered. I found out that others had the same questions as I.
<< Behavioral Questions About Geese >>
Question: I know that geese mate for life but if something happens to one, will he (or she) eventually find another mate or stay single the rest of his (or her) life? If they do not mate again, will they ever be accepted into another group or spend their life by themselves?

Answer: As you correctly noted, Canada geese (and swans) do mate for life. Mated pairs not only raise and protect their young together, but also look out for one another over the course of their lives. One mate will stay by the other's side if injured or dying, even if the rest of the flock is moving on. They are extremely devoted to one another.

It is certainly possible that when one goose dies, the survivor will find a new partner. However, as with people, every goose is different. Whether or not a goose decides to pursue a new mate involves a number of factors, many of which we don't fully understand. Members of pair that have been together for many years are probably less likely to take a new mate than had the situation involved a younger pair -- but it is still up to the individual bird.

Canada geese are very social creatures, so the lone goose will always have a flock to be associated with when he or she chooses to socialize again. (Sometimes geese in mourning will stay by themselves.) It is possible that the goose will become a loner, but it is impossible to generalize. Again, it depends on the specific goose's "personality."

Question: If one goose of a mated pair dies, does the mate mourn? A goose on our lake died yesterday and last night and all this morning, his mate has been swimming around the lake calling out in what sounds like despair. It is a loud sad short honk, and he/she just keeps circling the lake doing this.

Answer: Those who have spent time observing geese will tell you that they are, indeed, very emotional creatures. There is little doubt that geese deeply mourn not only the loss of their mates, but also the destruction of their eggs. The behavior you observed is most certainly what one would expect of a mourning goose. It is hard to say exactly how long they mourn; certainly, longer over the loss of a mate than for the loss of eggs. Geese in mourning will often stay by themselves for a while.


To me, the Trumpeter Swan is one of the loveliest creatures. Compared to Canadian geese the swan is larger with pale plumage. Geese have shorter necks and longer legs. A swan's bill is twice the length of a Canada goose's bill. They sound the same. Sort of. Being migratory birds, they all fly in a V.

Still, there is something so graceful about the pure white bird. Swan. Even the name evokes a gentleness. You think ballet. Poetic. Love.

~ Mary Oliver

Listen to the *calls* of the Trumpeter Swan.

Just like the geese that I wait for, they too sound a lot like spring.

(Image borrowed)



  1. animals are amazing, eh?
    there is so much we can learn from them....

    beautiful images. heart-stirring post.

    1. Thank you.
      More and more I am learning from the animals and have come to the realization, more than ever, that they are not so different from us.
      I'm so glad you felt something from this post, Bernard!

  2. Beautifully written as always and what lovely photos too - I love the changing of the seasons and watching geese fly home is always a comforting sight to me. Love the poem and the story you shared too - animals are just lovely. - Tasha

    1. Hey, thank you Tasha!
      Happy spring to you. :)

  3. I'm sorry for the suffering - for the goose and for you. I'm really saddened to hear this. I can't stand the thought of it…. :(
    Thank you for sharing all the loveliness on geese and swan.


    1. Oh, I know... It's so terribly sad, isn't it!
      I've been hearing and seeing the geese charging to the north lately.
      Every morning there they go! Honk. Honk.
      Love you!

  4. The story of the goose was so sad, it took me some time to think of something to say. It's heartbreaking to witness the cruel things thoughtless people do to our wildlife.

    The beauty in the story is the way you honored the goose.

    1. Sagey, thank you for the lovliest words.
      So much sadness in the wild. ;(

  5. Thank you for the wonderful comments lovely - you always put a smile on my face. Hope you're doing well! - Tasha

  6. Amazing that we live so far apart but have the same experience. Our pink footed geese are making their way back up north to go home now that spring is on its way. They are amazing (and very noisy). I was told of a swan who waiting by his mate, mourning because they had hit an electric wire and refused to leave his dead mate. I also fear for our geese because the government want to build a wind farm on their flight path. I'm all for sustainable energy but not at the cost to our wildlife.