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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Duck. Duck? Goose!

The apartment complex where we used to live had a pond with a fountain, which was surrounded by an expanse of grass and some trees. During the time we lived there, we saw some varied and interesting waterfowl pass through on their way to other places. Although some of the more exotic visitors moved on, we did have some regular residents. Almost every spring and summer, two or more mated pairs of Canada geese would move in to hatch and raise their goslings. And there was usually a family of Mallard ducks in residence.

Having these birds as my neighbors gave me the opportunity to see them fairly close-up, and in ways that I hadn't had the chance to see them before. When we drove in and out of the complex, we would see the families swimming and diving in the pond. I started carrying my camera so that I could slow down and shoot a few pictures of these lovely moments. On one occasion, Trent and I were waiting near the pond for our friends to pick us up. A young couple had been walking next to the pond, holding hands and being romantic. Until Papa Goose chased them off, that is. I knew from my cousin's farm animals that geese are among the best watchdogs. They will hiss a warning. If it isn't heeded, they will attempt to bite with their serrated-edged bills, and beat at you with their large and very strong wings. I got a bit of a sadistic chuckle out of seeing the couple run, shouting and squealing, to get away from the pond.

Naturally, the very next day I decided to grab my camera and a loaf of bread and go feed the geese and try to take some pictures. I calmly and quietly sat down on a large rock across the pond from their nesting area, and waited to see what would happen. I was hoping there would be no goose violence, as I have problems with my legs and really can't run very fast. I threw a few pieces of bread down near the water and waited to see if the geese would swim over. The geese started swimming toward me, followed by the ducks. This was when I learned that geese will chase ducks away when there is free bread involved. The goslings, who still had their baby-down feathers, started to nibble on the bread under their parents' watchful eyes. To my great surprise, and joy, the adults allowed their youngsters to come up and take the bread out of my hands. They kept an eye on the situation to make sure I behaved, but it was a lovely time. Soon I was in the middle of this gaggle of geese who, aside from eating the bread, were almost acting like I was one of their own. In fact, some of the adults started to cross the drive behind me to get to  another lawn for some grazing. I am convinced that one of the adults I passed walking back to my apartment said, "See you later, be careful crossing the street!"

During the next few summers, I saw lots of new geese and ducks being raised at the pond, and took lots of photos. When the geese were otherwise occupied, I was even able to share some of my bread with the Mallard family. A couple of summers ago, when I went for my usual visit, there were about five adults with a group of nearly full grown young. A few of the adults were babysitting while another pair took a break. Across the pond, I could see the mallards getting in the water. The pair of geese started to swim back across the pond and I thought, "Hey, be nice, they aren't taking anything from you from over there!" To my great surprise, the geese were swimming toward a lone duckling, one who had not been with the rest of the group. They escorted her across the pond, and shared some of the bread I had thrown in the water with her. Some of the juvenile geese swam over as if to bother the tiny duckling, but all of the adults chased them away. Little ducky had dived and swam underwater to get away, but the geese went back to escort her to where the food was.

These rough, tough, duck-chasing Canada geese had adopted this duckling as their own baby. All of the adults were acknowledging her as a family member and would not let her older siblings pick on her. I was touched by the beauty of this family bond between two different species. But it also made me terribly sad. We humans, as the more highly intelligent species, can't seem to get along with each other. Differences of race, faith, political beliefs, gender, and sexual orientation are enough to drive us to hate or hurt or even kill one another. Yet these geese, with their supposedly limited brains, saw a baby that needed protection and nurturing and gave it freely. Perhaps humanity would be improved if we could learn more from the examples of these creatures, and swim together like the duck and the goose.