Let Nature Take Its Course?
Some Facts: In the 1950’s the Giant Canada Goose (Branta canadensis maxima) was believed to be extinct because of over-hunting, and loss of their natural habitat. In the early 1960’s a flock was found wintering in Minnesota. Through controlled game laws and a concerted effort by many states the “hunting” populations increased. In 1991 the Canada geese were removed from the endangered list. Today, many states now consider them pests. There have been claims the geese are causing ecological degradation along with posing a threat to our health. Although, expert reports do not support either of these claims and have suggested “landscaping trends” as the primary culprit for the degradation. However, many states have incorporated extermination programs to limit the numbers of our unwanted pests. In some states, flocks of geese have been collected and thrown into gas chambers. Other states use chemical poisoning, which pose a threat to other animals such as the golden and bald eagles that eat these poisoned bodies.
I definitely do understand how the noise along with the goose droppings on our manicured lawns and golf courses etc can cause many of us to feel distress – so much so that we begin to entertain thoughts involving deplorable acts, but is this how we are supposed to be doing our part as the appointed stewards for life on this planet? The Canada geese did not ask us to raise them in captivity or to transport them to various states to establish new breeding areas. Our interference caused them to lose their ability to migrate, as goslings learn the flight patterns through their migrating flock communities. The geese were forced to learn a new way of life and adapt to our suburban way of living, but not without paying a price. Resident geese that do not migrate tend to inbreed, which contributes to birth defects and low resistance to disease. They are also subjected to very high levels of toxins like fertilizers, insecticides, and chemicals placed in our ponds and pools etc. Not to mention, large groups of geese congregating in one area for prolonged periods of time also subjects them to toxins from their own feces that they inevitably ingest.
There can be no doubt, human beings have put nature into a pressure cooker; therefore, it is human beings that must take a greater level of responsibility for the lives of those that we continue to mess with. We need to get a grip and come up with other solutions to deal with our urban wildlife rather than killing it when what we have set in motion becomes an inconvenience. What’s ironic is when an animal becomes endangered, folks jump through hoops, passing laws, and spending ridiculous amounts of money to save them without really understanding the very nature of the animal or its way of life. Although, when it comes to finding solutions that are more humane, we do not want to waste any money and resort to “Hitler” tactics to control the very populations that we were so intent on saving.
Bottom line – “Leave the animal and let nature take its course” is a phrase from the past that has absolutely no relevance in today’s world. We cannot have it both ways. We constantly interfere with nature and then flip the switch whenever it serves us to do so. We do not have the right to determine which species we will tolerate or when we will tolerate them or how many we will tolerate. Perhaps if we had not tried to play “God” and left nature alone then nature just might have worked it out. Could be the Canada Geese would not have become extinct and would have regulated their own populations. Contrary to what many ignorant human beings believe, all animals do feel. Therefore, maybe it is time for us to drop our consumer mentality and demonstrate some semblance of care and respect for intelligence that was not dependent on us.
Geese live in close-knit communities and Lucy was clearly isolated. Her family had not returned, which had me wondering why. It began to occur to me that Lucy might have been one of the goslings born to the pair of Canada Geese that come on an annual basis to raise their young, which meant she might not have any kind of company until the spring of the following year. She had no protection of a male (gander) and had to do it all on her own, which may have been a challenge for a first-year gosling, to say the least. As a solo goose, she ranked the lowest of all geese. I watched the others chase her off the pond. They also chased her off when it came to the daily corn feedings put out for all of the ducks and geese. I noted how she had managed to keep herself safe while living as an outcast. No other goose had injured her and she had also escaped becoming a meal for the fox even though she slept alone on the side of the pond closest to their den.
In my mind, the fact that this grounded goose had escaped our resident fox seemed to indicate there might be something extra special about this little spirit. I mentioned this solo goose to my neighbor friend, Ann, who feeds all of her birds before going to work in the morning. It still amazes me when I discover areas where I have remained so totally unaware of something that has been taking place right under my nose. Turned out, Ann had been aware of Lucy and had been feeding her away from the others whenever she saw her. My new awareness had me observing the dynamics more closely. It seemed a few other geese had figured out Lucy was getting a private feeding because there were many times when Ann was watched and followed closely. Ann is on a tight schedule in the morning and could not stay with Lucy who was usually chased off soon after she was fed. Therefore, I opted to appoint myself as her semi-protector.
Lucy could not fly so foraging for her was limited to grounds that get picked over by the many flocks coming and going throughout the day. Her small frame seemed to indicate that she might need a little extra fuel to get her through the coldest months of winter, and especially an arctic blast that was scheduled to hit our area within a matter of days. She was immediately placed on a high protein grain diet.
For those who are not aware, geese are relentless when it comes to food and it is only the flocks with the most dominant males that prevail. Lucy had a better chance with me standing in as a guard at least 2 times per day. Although, this still did not stop the other geese from trying to get to her food, and many “goose chases” went down during her feeding times. Lucy’s expression and posturing during the first couple of days of my protection were priceless. She watched me very closely and probably wasn’t sure whether she should stay or run away with the others. Although it did not take her long to realize what I was doing and she seemed to welcome my presence. Whenever she heard my voice, her little head popped up and she would spring into action. It warmed my heart to see her run in a wide circle around the other geese or shoot right on through the open spaces within the flocks as fast as her little legs could carry her to get to me. But watching her dodge the hissing and nipping attempts from the others had me yelling at many a goose.
The arctic weather struck. I worried about Lucy - I was not sure she had the physical stamina to make it through the bitterly cold night. I also felt a bit guilty that it took so long for me to become fully aware of her circumstances. Before climbing into bed that night, I opened my window and called out to her to let her know she was not alone. I told her to stay strong and stay alert. I put a prayer up there for her safety and slept very lightly. My window flew open several times during the night to listen for any sounds indicating trouble. First thing in the morning it flew open again and my eyes quickly scanned the far side of the pond. My heart sunk when I saw Lucy's spot vacant. I quickly bundled up and rushed out to check the grounds. I was very happy to see one goose resting on the outskirts of the gathered flocks.
The cold weather had definitely taken a toll on her – she seemed tired. At that moment as I stood looking down at this determined little creature, my initial call to help became a compelling force. I would do whatever I could to make up for the lost time. The ground was frozen solid and foraging was not possible. Her high protein feedings were increased to several times per day, and I nearly froze to death while standing guard because she ate oh so very slowly. (Note: unlike white bread and other junk foods that can cause harm, corn serves to keep geese and ducks warm.)
During a feeding one day around dusk, more flocks than usual were present and the “goose chase” was really on. While standing guard and trying to distract myself from the numbing cold that was rapidly turning my hands and feet into ice cubes, my attention was drawn to one particularly large male. I zoned in on him and began a one-way conversation. I noted that I seemed to have his full attention and his eyes remained fixed on me. Not one goose moved while I spoke to him. It seemed as if he along with all the other geese might actually be listening. I decided to appeal to him/them in a very logical and rational way about the way all had been treating Lucy. I pointed out she had been born here, which meant they were visitors in her home. I relayed many things but my primary message was to inform him/them that they were not exempt from doing their part in world healing - they too had to learn to accept every other goose which also included those that were different. After I expressed all that was in my mind, I thanked him/them for their consideration and said a little prayer for all concerned. Shortly thereafter, Lucy finished eating and walked towards the pond, and I quickly headed for the warmth of my house as a few geese descended on her feeding area.
Approximately one week later, I came home and saw all of the geese on the far side of the pond. My eyes scanned the grounds searching for Lucy who was resting in front of my house waiting for me. I tried to feed her discretely but one goose on the other side of the pond caught on. This goose honked, flew across the pond and began walking up the slight incline towards my house. I walked down the incline towards this oncoming goose to present a barrier. Within a couple of minutes, another goose began to honk with what I thought might have been the "food honk" which got others honking before several flew across the pond. I was ready to do the goose chase. However, the other geese landed and just stood by the edge of the pond honking. They seemed to be yelling at the first goose that came across because this goose changed course and went back towards the flock. Not only did this happen, but the lead goose seemed to reprimand this one goose and ran after him/her and did that nip at the tail thing. My conversation with the flock one week earlier immediately flashed into my mind. I wondered if it had anything to do with the change in behavior. I was not certain but did look up to the sky and gave thanks. I also began to pay closer attention and it did seem as if more tolerance and acceptance towards my Lucy was being demonstrated.
Over the course of several days, I began to observe the symptoms connected to her right wing while directing healing energy into it. It did droop slightly but only occasionally. It also twitched at times when she was resting on the ground. The wing did not seem to be broken because she could open it but only so far. My sensing was the twitch may have been related to a stressed nerve when the wing was in certain positions. I learned that dislocated shoulders were quite common with geese, but I was not certain this was what was up for her. I remembered I went through a slight twitch and it took a long time for my rotator cuff to heal after it was severely strained during a heavy workout at the gym. I wondered if her wing condition might have been nothing more than a severe muscle or tendon strain still in the process of healing? I made a mental note to do some research for alternative remedies. Although, having a clear medical diagnosis for treatment was the first step.
Several calls were placed to a local wildlife center – no return calls came. I then reached out to a center that worked with Canada geese in another state. However, if Lucy had been born with a birth defect and her wing could not be rehabilitated this center would kill her. Additionally, their state law would not allow them to give her back to me. This information caused me to take a step back and evaluate the situation on a deeper level. Supplementing her diet was one thing but taking a chance that my interference might cause her life to be cut short was a completely different story. Lucy seemed to be in good health even though she couldn't fly. I opted to let nature take its course. If she was going to die then she would do so in the only home she had ever known. I decided I would continue caring for her and try to locate someone that would help her rather than kill her if she was unable to fly.
The next arctic blast was moving in. I went to survey the small pool of open water on Lucy’s side of the pond. It was in the process of being transformed into ice. While looking around the pond, I noticed a solo goose resting on a bank on the other side. This new goose had shown up a couple of times in the last month - I wondered if he had come to be with Lucy. The ice had me very concerned because her safety depended on having easy access to the water. I researched what could be done to keep the pond from freezing. A water heater would be a great expense and was not something that could be obtained quickly. Salt was another option but was not good for ducks or geese to ingest. Therefore, my only option was to send out an email and ask all within my circle to put a thought/prayer up there for one little goose. This request seemed to open a magical door. The other geese that had been staying on the pond throughout the night suddenly began to leave a night or two before the cold really took hold. This allowed Lucy to have complete access to the pond. She would not have to sleep on the ice on the far side close to the fox den - she could remain in the open pool of warmer spring water flowing into the pond from my house.
The temperatures were dipping very low as the sun went down. I had just come out of my house to check on Lucy and caught the arrival of two very healthy looking foxes on her side of the pond. I froze in my steps to watch - what they were up to? One fox walked out onto the ice and crouched down on his/her belly while the other crept around the pond towards Lucy. She had wasted no time getting in the water after the other geese left. She was enjoying a bath and seemed to be completely unaware of the danger, but I saw it. I ran down to the pond yelling at the fox - they sped off at high speed for the woods..
I decided it might be good to break the ice all the way around the pond which would provide less access to Lucy. I found a fairly heavy piece of wood lying on the ground and used it like an ax. It held up. With the exception of two places, all ice had been broken around the pond. Before leaving Lucy for the night, I told her she had to stay in the water no matter what went down. I put a prayer up there and asked her nature spirits to watch over her and said good-bye just in case. I also spoke to the fox wherever they were and asked them not to eat her.
While walking back to my house, it occurred to me that maybe offering them an alternative meal (a bribe) might be the way to go. In the past, I had occasionally left a meal out for another fox in the dead of winter that had two kits one year. I have not heard from this fox for several years but did wonder if these two may have been her kits. Needless to say, I slept very lightly and maintained an awareness for just about every sound occurring throughout the night. The first thing the next morning, my window flew open and I saw my girl there big as life with three of her early morning duck friends. I was not certain if the fox had actually eaten the food left for them, but there was no doubt in my mind some magic was working here. “Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you” was my mantra for most of the morning.
The new solo goose returned again a little earlier than usual. He approached Lucy and she did not seem to mind – she probably welcomed his or any goose company! They spent most of the afternoon together. Although, his influence over her was not something I was sure I liked. She was in the process of coming to me when he honked something. She stopped dead in her tracks and turned to look at him, and then back at me. She took a few more steps towards me, but he honked several honks in a row that had her changing course and walking back towards him. I definitely had some work to do to gain his trust.
Around dusk, I checked the pond and borrowed an actual sledgehammer type of tool to break the ice again. However, my arms were already tired from using muscles not normally used the night before. I only made it halfway around the pond before the tool was almost lost for a second time. I opted to quit because my friend would not have been happy if his expensive tool ended up on the bottom of his pond. I noticed the solo goose had not left with the other geese. He chose to stay and spend the night with Lucy for the first time. She would have company and would be able to rest more easily. He would stand guard during the night and alert us of any danger.. Although his big mouth around dusk made me feel a little uneasy, especially since I knew that our fox residents would prefer a fresh goose meal over the canned cat food bribe I was providing, He seemed to be intent on telling the entire world he was here. Before leaving both for the night, I told him that he might want to follow Lucy’s lead and be quiet unless he wanted to the fox to come. He did not seem to care!
The above photograph shows "LC" (Lucy’s companion) standing guard while she eats but he is keeping his eye on me. He remained with Lucy for most of the following day before leaving sometime in the afternoon. After he flew out, I found myself thinking about goose relationships. Most geese are monogamous and mate for life. However, his departure seemed to indicate they might not just jump right into relationships. They might actually date – or maybe he was a Casanova type with another female somewhere else - who knows! His presence indicated that my initial thought about a companion coming for her might not be that far off after all. Lucy was left alone on the pond for several nights before LC returned with another “female” goose which had me revisiting the Casanova player aspects again! I initially thought this other goose might have been the mother but Lucy seemed to have more rank which meant this was not her mother, nor did she seem to be a sibling. I gave up – only they could know who she was. All three spent several hours together before LC and his female friend flew out for the night. Several days passed before LC returned but he did not stay very long before taking off again.
I was just beginning to feel a bit more relaxed about Lucy being alone on the pond until my “double trouble” fox team began to sound off all around my house. One sounds much like a little pup but the other has a voice that sounds like an animal kill. This killer voice was the first one to break through the peaceful silence of the night. Any illusions about my relaxed state were totally shattered. I nearly jumped out of my skin and scrambled over to open the window to get a birds-eye view of the pond. All was quiet – too quiet. I used a particular whistle used to call my dog and the mother fox years ago. This stirred some movement. I heard the fox team’s feet on the ground and the rustle through the woods. I was feeling a bit anxious about their presence but knew there was nothing I could really do if it was Lucy’s time. I began to think about the mother fox. It was not uncommon for her to be around my house. I used to think she was either coming to thank me for a meal or ask for one. I wondered if her kits were doing the same when another thought crashed through to remind me that dried and canned organic cat food in no way compared to a fresh goose meal. Although, having an easy meal was probably their preference, and as long as they were not hungry then Lucy would probably be safe. "Probably" was the operative word here because no one can ever be certain about anything and I had another night of light sleep.
With the exception of geese like LC who has a distinctive voice, most sound pretty much the same. However, all geese have distinguishing markings which can take time to discover. Lucy had been fairly easy to spot because she had lighter markings on the back of her neck. However, her bath time after the other geese left reflected that her markings were nothing more than dirt. And, I had to locate something very quickly to distinguish her from the others, especially when every goose began to respond whenever they heard me call her!
Another little surprise was discovering that she knew my car. I came home one day and saw all the geese lying on the ground beside the pond. I noticed one get up and walk towards me while parking – it was Lucy. This level of awareness reflected an intelligence that changed my entire perspective. This little goose seemed to know more about me than I knew about her!
LC continued to come and go for a few weeks before moving in permanently. I am very thankful that Lucy has company and his protection and for now, it is safe to assume that she will make it through the winter. Although he is a piece of work! He has a very big mouth and seems to like creating trouble that has put her right in the middle and would not be my choice as a mate but I'm not a goose!
It is still my hope to get her flying. In addition to supplementing her diet, all I can do is continue to send healing energy into her right wing, which I also invite any who may be reading this to do as well. It is all up to the forces that be. If her wing heals and she becomes a mother then, there is a good chance that she will help her babies with their flight school training. Should this occur then, she will probably take flight with them and live up to her full name and become "Lucy in the sky with diamonds," which was the song that sang through me when I was thinking about a name for her. As long as there is breath, there is always hope this will be so.
Update: Lucy is flying! She and LC spent several months on the ground together before both made their ascent into the sky. Additionally, I have since grown very fond of the big mouth. There was a reason he drove me crazy. He was training me. I can hear his distinctive voice coming from a distance whenever he and Lucy fly in with the other flocks and very much appreciate his arrival notice now.