Thursday, 18 October 2012

Honk if you love geese

This post has a soundtrack!

So it seems the intro to my last post brought up some questions about geese. Good ol’ Branta canadensis. A true Canadian icon or a true Canadian pest… I guess it depends on how you feel about goose poop.

But no one can deny that the Canada Goose migration is iconic and a clear sign of fall. And it’s hard not to notice, what with all that honking and all. The CAGO (that’s its nickname in the birding world – all birds have a four letter code) has its distinctive V formation and coupled with their need to communicate during flight (click here to hear them!) and you have a sight that often stops us in our tracks to stare upwards. The wing-whooshing as they pass over is pretty cool too.

The geese are headed to the southern US, much like my in-laws, and can travel more than a 1000km a day, also much like my in-laws (family groups with goslings take longer to get there though, probably because they have to stop and pee a lot.) However I’m pretty sure my in-laws don’t feel the need to honk at things the whole way. At least I hope they don’t.

So why do the geese?

Simply, communication. They need to tell each other where to stop, changes in speed, direction – they are simply keeping everyone updated of the plans. Geese are one of the most vocal species out there - starting even before hatch. Research has shown about 13 different calls – ranging from “hey there” to “holy crap run!” to “this grass is seriously awesome, no seriously, try this patch here.” (Yes, I make up voices for birds when I’m watching them). No one wants to be the guy who took the wrong turn in Mississippi and missed the cornfield party. The V-shape is linked to communication too – everyone can see everyone, sound travels easily and changes are done quickly.

And you know that weird taking turns being the leader thing that cyclists do? (It always confuses me – you are leading, why are you letting the other guy just go ahead? It’s a RACE!) Anyway, they didn’t invent that – geese have been doing it for years. Scientists (aren’t they awesome) think that the V creates a drafting effect where the geese in behind take advantage of the air currents. Plus the geese aren’t racing, so taking turns on the hard job makes sense, unlike cyclists (seriously, you are racing guys).


For anyone who wants more goose information here’s a link to another Canadian icon – Hinterland Who’s Who.

Dooo doo doo doo doo doooooo. 

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