Ah, the Canada goose. One of nature’s most-maligned creatures, to be sure. If you’re a golfer, or a lover of parks, or an attendee of Zoos or botanical gardens or cycling trails or really any kind of outdoor activity centre, you’ve likely cursed these ubiquitous, noisy, fearless poop-machines. And I get that, I truly do. They really do seem to be everywhere with virtually no natural predator, although that’s far from the truth. And in places like the Toronto Zoo, where there is an outdoor food supply year-round, even the dead of winter brings no escape from these huge birds. You know, when I was younger and too smart to actually pay attention in school, I used to assume that migratory birds did so because of the colder temperatures in the winter months. When I began to notice more and more geese staying around Toronto in the sub-zero temperatures of January and February, I realized there was more to it and it was only then I came to understand that the real reason for their usual southward escape was simply to find food. Take away that reason and the flight seems much less worth it, I would imagine. So they stay. And huddle. And forage.
But the truth of the matter for me is this: geese simply do not bother me. When I drive into the Zoo’s parking lot, I patiently wait for them to cross the road. Sometimes I lean out the window and say, “You guys do realize you can fly, right?” but that’s just a running joke between us. When I exit my car and head into the Zoo proper, I find myself always saying “hello” to the nearest geese. And I worry about them in the winter; not to the point where I have ever fed them myself – I stop short of that – but on the bitterly cold days I do keep an eye out to see if any are particularly struggling. Why, with the help of a friend I even rescued an obviously orphaned gosling one day beside the creek that runs under the walkway into the Zoo. Hilarity ensued and I’d love to tell you that story someday… but not today. Trust me on this one.
See, this is easy for me to understand about myself. I just cannot see the point in traveling to a Zoo to spend time with the animal inside of the exhibits, but at the same time being mad at the animals outside of the exhibits – the obvious (to me) exception being the two-legged animals wearing clothes and yelling and banging on the glass. Those animals I can understand being revolted by. But look at that fuzzy little golden nugget in the top photo, strutting along behind its mom like it was on a mission, just happy to be alive and with its family on a bright, sunny day. ‘Fess up, now: when you first saw that photo in the calendar, was your first reaction, “ew, no, that’s a Canada goose, I hate those things?” Truly? Any of you? Because if you’re the kind of person who buys my calendars, I am going to call you on this one. That chick is adorable and you all know it. And I doubt very much that any of you would be the kind of person who would want to stop that cotton wad with legs from turning into an adult. Even the Zoo (I am told) will oil any goose eggs it can find in the nests around the property to keep from being overrun by the species, but I’ve yet to hear tales of anyone on staff taking away the goslings once they are born and euthanizing them as a regular cause of action. The simple truth is this: they are animals, and they are survivors. And I, for one, give them a lot of respect for that. Anyone with depression and anxiety knows just how tough it is to last anywhere you feel like a social outcast. I feel like I understand the goose, in some ways.
And really, when you get right down to it, what is the real reason for the sudden explosion of the Canada goose population? It’s because the more we humans expand into the territories of all of the native animals of our regions, we push back or eliminate virtually all of the natural predators of the geese. And the geese themselves have proven remarkably adaptable to living in the new environments and habitats we are creating – urban communities, man-made lakes, wetlands – so they have begun to thrive. If we witnessed an animal being this adaptable so quickly in any other type of introduced habitat – a beaver pond, for example – we would be impressed and fascinated by its survival and likely even celebrate it. But because they have “invaded” our neighbourhoods (which is preposterous as they have been here millennia longer than we have) we consider them to be pests, much in the way we consider raccoons. Well, count me out. I can sit quietly for a very long time watching the intricate, dedicated, and devoted family dynamics of a goose family as it waddles past me, or plays in a puddle, or browses for food, or whatever it happens to be doing at that moment. And I find their lack of fear to be quite a boon in this, as they will get quite close to me if I remain even just relatively still and watch them calmly and quietly. This pleases me greatly both as a photographer and just an observer of nature.
If you’ve ever watched a very young child react to the sight of a family of geese waddling across the path, you must realize that we don’t start out being revulsed by these creatures; rather, we have to be taught it (or learn it on our own) over time. The next time you’re sitting calmly somewhere, in absolutely no hurry, on a beautiful day, in a park or field, and you see a goose family come into view, swallow your first reaction and just watch them for a while. See if maybe you can reshape your opinion just a bit. Maybe you can’t; maybe you’re already there and I’m preaching to the choir. But I think, in general, we have all become too “hard” as a species; too ready dismiss as “pests” any animal that may cause us an “inconvenience” and which won’t readily be scared off by our own perceived sense of dominion over all the creatures. And any little ways we can change that are, in fact, not such “little” ways at all. Empathy for all other living creatures should be much more prevalent in our society and I will state this opinion loudly to my dying breath.
And for goodness sake: stop feeding them from your picnic tables. Leave them be. Stop encouraging them to view us as a food source. This is the biggest root of the problem of all of them.
All right. Here endeth the lesson. Please enjoy this video of a little family calmly crossing my path one fine sunny day last summer.
And here is a video I posted on Facebook of a slightly older family having a ball in a puddle near the Indian Rhino House at the Zoo.
And finally, a shot of the Canada Goose statue at Wawa, Ontario along with the sign explaining the significance and how the community got its name.
Ok, that’s it for this month. Sorry for the delay in posting this! I don’t know what happened but I clearly completely spaced on creating this before month-end. Next month – on time! – please come back for the story of a species that lives at the Toronto Zoo in rather large numbers, but the photo of which I actually captured at Parc Safari. And, as always, thanks for reading!