I wasn’t sure exactly where they were, but their voices carried through the crisp morning air with a clarity that allowed me to pick out individuals from the fugue. I turned to the east, squinted against the brightness of the sun as it lay close to the horizon, and finally spotted the family of Canada geese as they moved down into the valley.
Now I hope you noticed that I referred to these birds as “Canada” geese and not “Canadian” geese. My wildlife biology professors would respond to the improper use of Canadian with near-apoplectic spasms and although I have mellowed over the years I must admit that I, too, will feel my eyes rolling if the usage is wrong.
If you think I’m being too picky, you might want to think about the names of things that you are more familiar with.
I imagine that you would encounter problems if you went to the city of brotherly love and ordered yourself a Philadelphian cheese-steak sandwich. You might actually risk your life if you tried to walk into a New Yorkian Rangers game with the improper usage of the name on a jersey. Just the thought of it gives me the shivers.
So while it may not result in a hockey stick being broken over your head, the use of the improper name “Canadian geese” will result in a grumble or two from the devout birder. The funny thing about the name is that it actually seems to be a bit antiquated. The behavior of this species has changed dramatically in the last hundred years and we can congratulate ourselves for that.
Not everyone’s fave
Canada geese are pretty much everywhere and this has created a little ill will from their human neighbors. I’ve heard terms like “air rats,” and “lake rats” used when the geese are being discussed and though I can completely understand the sentiment, I still find it rather sad.
You see geese, unlike most of the ducks, are pure vegetarians. Mallards and black ducks spend a great deal of their time searching for insects and other animals in the shallows of lakes and ponds, but geese have a whole different idea when it comes to fine dining. Pondweed is a succulent treat for them, but it turns out that the American lawn is also quite a delicacy.
Any place where large lawns come to the shores of lakes, rivers, or ponds must be very exciting for geese. A huge buffet is laid out right next to the safety and security of water, not to mention the fact that water is also something that geese need to digest all of that food. So geese are attracted to the ideal habitats that we have so generously provided for them.
As a result, the migratory nature of Canada geese has been affected over the years. Geese that fly north in the spring find plenty of suitable habitat long before they have to head up into Canada. So, as anyone else would surely do, they save themselves the trip and stop early. Winter snows still push them south again in the winter, but not as far south and not for as long.
Still, there is something truly primal about the sound of Canada geese calling from the sky on a perfect autumn morning. It stirs the blood to hear the birds in a flock calling back and forth, but I wonder how much of that chatter is the younger birds asking “are we there yet?”
Bill Danielson is a professional nature photographer and author living in Altamont. Contact him at www.speakingofnature.com.