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February Honkers
by Damian Fagan

Damian Fagan's blog

You hear them long before the birds appear. That classic “ah-HONK” call that echoes through a flying flock like secrets through a small town. This resonant honking established one of the goose’s nick-names: “honkers.” And with the calls “passing through normal boundaries” this indicates another goose-oriented term – loosey goosey.

Photo of some Canadian GeeseGeese in Flight - In flight, geese communicate with each other via these loud vocalizations. Even passing high overhead, their unmistakable calls betrays their passage. These flying formations, known as “skeins,” are “V”-shaped to promote efficient flight minimizing drag or resistance. During migration, one of the older geese takes the lead, directing the others on their route.

Goose ID - The Canada goose’s “distinctive white chin strap” which contrasts with a black head and neck, easily identifies this goose from other species of geese. Size is another factor that separates the Canada goose from the snow or greater-white fronted goose. Common Canada geese weigh 6-10 pounds and have a 60-inch wingspan. Several varieties or races of the Canada goose exist and these are defined by body size, physical characters and distribution. Determining most races is a difficult task without the bird in the hand, but the cackling goose is the smallest of them all.

Canada geese are well designed for life on land or in the water. Thick legs are set forward under the body and this enables the goose to walk and forage on dry ground, more so than many other species of waterfowl. Their powerful legs and webbed feet also help propel the birds across the water’s surface during take-off.

Canadian Goose photoEven when Arctic winds bring cold February temperatures to the Moab Valley, it is not uncommon to see geese standingatop ice or snow. To keep their feet from freezing the bird’s veins and arteries are located close together within the legs and feet. This proximity allows oxygenated blood moving from the heart to warm the returning venous blood flow through convection.

Migration and Conservation - Although Canada geese are known for their high-flying “V”-shaped formations, not all populations migrate at the same time or the same distance. During the springtime northbound migration, birds may reach nesting areas as early as January. In the Moab area, the geese that nest on islands in the Colorado River have to get through their nesting cycle before the river rises with the melting snowpack. It is not uncommon to observe a parade of goslings and adults swimming in the river by mid-spring or in early summer.

Photo of a couple of Canadian Geese in the waterA common sight today, populations of Canada geese crashed at the turn of the 20th century. Their plight inspired numerous agencies and organizations to help the goose stage a comeback. The incredible success of those endeavors has led to goose control urban areas. Golf courses and city parks that favor wide open lawns and fairways are perfect habitat for these grass eaters. The “build-it-and-they-will-come” concept was not designed to attract the geese to these public areas, but “show up, they do,” Yoda would say. The goose droppings or “loose impediments” have even made it into golf’s rule book: “…a loose impediment may be removed without penalty.” Although there are issues with geese in suburbia, their presence in the wild is welcomed. Like the coyote’s howl or the great horned owl’s hoot, the honk of the Canada goose is an unmistakable sound of the wild, and one that inspires flights of fancy especially during the chill of February.

Damian Fagan is an accomplished writer who has published a number of guide books as well as numerous articles. If you would like to read more or find out what Damian is up to follow this link to Damian Fagan's blog.



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