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2011-01-27

Canada Geese - Bandera's true snowbirds

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Two weeks ago, Bandera Park Supervisor Joe Frazier called the Courier to let us know that several "Canadian" geese had been spotted gliding placidly in the Medina River.
Years ago, after I made the same identification error, a woodcarver on Maryland's Eastern Shore informed me - rather huffily, as I recall - that, while geese from Canada may indeed be deemed Canadian geese, the decoy I was examining was a "Canada Goose." Well, excuse me ...
Like their fellow Winter Texans, this trio of Canada Geese was a long way from their home in the northern reaches of their fair, but cold, native country. In the United States, they are found in states that border Canada. However, Texas seems to be a favorite spot for a wintering Branta Canadensis.
Not surprisingly, Canada Geese are often hunted, particularly in the Texas Panhandle. However, state hunting regulations require hunters looking to bag migratory game birds to be certified in the Harvest Information Program. The letters "HIP" must appear on the hunting license. The Canada Goose is considered a migratory game bird.
A flock of them must be lazing in a lake off Ridge Route Road. About this time of year, especially when walking the dogs early in the morning, I often hear a distinctive "honking." Craning my neck skyward, I'll catch a glimpse of the flock's signature V-formation on their way somewhere. My only problem was, I had no idea if the big birds were coming or going.
Researching this article has clarified that somewhat.
Once lakes and rivers begin to freeze over and food becomes scarce in the uppermost reaches of North America, Canada Geese congregate into flocks of 30 to 100 birds and wend their way to warmer climes. The fall migration normally occurs in September or October.
After learning the migration routes from their parents, in subsequent years, they travel the same flight corridors called "flyways" every fall to southern parts of the United States and northern Mexico. The flyways follow coastlines, rivers and mountain ranges.
The trip to the wintering grounds is a quick one, since in ideal weather conditions, Canada Geese can travel an amazing 1,500 miles in 24 hours. The geese generally fly 40 miles per hour, but can reach 70 mph with a good wind, at altitudes between 2,000 feet and 9,000 feet.
After reaching their winter destination, the birds set up shop just about anywhere with a water source.
They also make themselves at home in yards, park lawns and farm fields, as well as on the edges of airport runways and by water traps on golf courses.
The northern migration of Canada Geese starts in the late January, February and March as they follow the melting snow line to their nesting spots back home.
This trip is a slower go, however, because the geese make more stops along the way to feed and rest before reaching their breeding grounds throughout Canada.
A Canada Goose is an impressive bird with a body that measures 20 to 50 inches long with a wingspan that reaches from 50 to 68 inches. They can typically weigh from 6.6 to 19.8 pounds. Undeniably, these are some beeeeg honkers.
Canada Geese are easily identified by their long black neck, black head, crown and bill with contrasting white cheek and throat areas. Their undertail coverts are white. Their back, upper wings and flank are dark brown with a lighter brown - sometimes, nearly white - breast and belly. They have a short black tail and black legs and, not surprisingly, black webbed feet.
While Canada Geese are famous for their life-long mating, a "widowed" goose will usually find herself another honey. Interestingly, Canada Geese stay in family groups when traveling. When a large flock of geese come in for a landing, different family units can be observed peeling off in smaller clusters before hitting land.
In the past, over-hunting and destruction of wetlands had driven the Canada Goose almost to extinction.
However, improved game management practices and extensive re-introduction programs stabilized the subspecies and it is currently thriving - so much so that Canada Geese are sometimes considered nuisances in urban settings.
"Don't feed the geese" has become a common sign along rivers, ponds and lakes, especially in the Northeast.
However, in Bandera, at least, it's considered good etiquette to offer our Northern visitors a slice or bread or two before their long journey back home.
Sources: www.allaboutbirds.org, www.kidzone.ws, www.gpnc.org, www.ducks.ca, www.ehow.com and www.texasbirds.org


Pictured: Photo by Carolyn B. Edwards

A trio of Canada Geese enjoys a float down the Medina River.