Paddling along from last week’s Duck! blog, let’s have a look at a close relie of our quakers friend – the goose.
By the way, the word goose is actually what the female of the species is referred to – with the male of course being the gander. There are two main categories of true geese: grey/white geese – think of the sparkling white Snow goose; and black geese: the infamous Canada goose springs to mind.
Geese are of course waterfowl and belong to the same family as ducks and swans – they tend to have longer necks than ducks and are generally larger birds (with the biggest tipping the scales at an impressive 20lbs (9kg)). They are social birds, who like to flock together (a group of geese is rather appropriately called a gaggle) and they tend to get along not only with other geese, but their fellow creatures too. Geese are incredibly loyal and will help and support each other, showing concern for any ill or injured fellow birds. They’re also great peace advocates and will do their best to calm down any ruffled feathers that might occur amongst them.
They also have the reputation of being quite feisty fowl and it’s believed that the Romans liked to use them as guard dogs. Due to their territorial nature, they will quickly foist a hullabaloo of honking onto any intruders and their acute hearing, razor sharp eyesight and equally sharp bills make them exceptional guardians.
As well as being great sentinels, geese have long been appreciated for their grass grazing and insect control abilities (they enjoy a varied diet, mainly plant based, but with a sprinkling of bugs for good measure!) Geese also provide eggs (which are rich and great for baking) feathers and meat (ssssh!) Indeed, it wasn’t so very long ago that the traditional roast bird for Christmas day was not a turkey, or even a chicken, but in fact a goose.
As well as gracing our fields and farmsteads, geese also form large wild populations, favouring the more northern and artic / tundra regions. Although these birds don’t stay put all year – they have definitely got the travel bug and many species embark on annual migrations, flying south to more clement climes for the winter. Forging forth through the skies, the geese form that iconic V formation (which is actually an efficient shape as the geese take it in turns to move to the front to take over the helm and even out the workload). It’s believed that the geese use the earth’s magnetic fields to help them to navigate the thousands of miles many of them travel on their yearly passage south. That said, not all geese venture forth, with some Canada geese, for example, preferring to stay put.
One of the most incredible geese migrations is performed by the Bar-Headed goose, which manages to fly across the Himalayas reaching altitudes of up to 7,000 m (an unbelievable 4 miles high) (where oxygen is scarce) and achieving a total journey length of up to 5,000 km (an amazing 3,000 miles) – that’s really reaching new heights! It’s just as well that geese are strong flyers and can achieve speeds of up to 40mph (64 kph).
Whilst we class them as water fowl, geese like to spend the greatest chunk of their time on land, where they seem to be able to waddle around tirelessly – put this together with their aeronautical and naiant abilities and you’re looking at very versatile birds indeed.
When it comes to romance, wild geese tend to favour mating with their chosen partner for life; although their domesticated cousins, fly in the face of such faithfulness and like to change partners!
Geese are very house proud and one of their favoured pastimes is to collect various adornments (leaves, twigs etc) to smarten up their nests, which they like to keep spruce as a goose!
Young geese are called goslings and these little lovelies have a strong bonding instinct, which can mean that they will bond with other animals rather than their own feathered friends – it’s basically whatever they see moving when they first open their eyes. This might explain why so many cute internet videos feature young geese being best pals with dogs, cats and even humans!
It’s true that geese have paddled into popular culture – think of the well-known Christmas pantomime – Mother Goose and stories such as The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg and the Snow Goose. Then there are sayings like “what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander” and “your goose is cooked”, “a wild goose chase” or being a “silly goose”. It’s evident that these admirable fowl have established a long relationship with us. They’re definitely worth a gander!