©Jane A. Simington, PHD.
My early morning spring adventures beside the lake have given me numerous wonderful opportunities to witness Canada Geese nesting and introducing their goslings to the world. Each morning my observations cause me to ponder how their behaviors mirror for us, their teachings of great loyalty and devotion to their mates, children and extended families.
Through research into their life-patterns, I learned that Canada Goose family groups remain together until mating season. Mating begins at age 3-4 years of age. Once mated, the pair stays together for life, demonstrating strong emotional bonds for one other and their off-spring. Mated pairs or family members who have been separated for even a short time greet each other with elaborate displays that include loud honking, head rolling and neck stretching. If one of a mated pair or family member is injured, a goose will stay beside the injured goose until it recovers or dies. If a mate is lost, the surviving goose will mourn for a long period of time, even up to three years, before a new mate is selected.
In early April I witnessed a goose standing over a lifeless mate.
She lay beside him, nudging softly, waiting… but nothing came.
For many mornings she stood her ground, honking…honking a mourning sound.
She and I found it hard to comprehend how this pair joined by nature to be as one
Would no longer travel together through storm and sun.
The emotional ties between mates, strengthened during mating and nesting, extend to the goslings early in the hatching cycle, and appear similar to the process of emotional bonding that takes place for human beings. Goose parents communicate with their not-yet hatched goslings and the goslings communicate back. The calls from the not-yet hatched goslings are limited to greeting “peeps,” distress calls, and soft trills signaling contentment. Once hatched, their parents are highly nurturing of them. The female will often lift her wing slightly and let them gather underneath it for warmth, protection and security during their rest times, both day and night. A gentle sound from their mother indicates the goslings are being called to safety and they quickly scurry beneath her wings while the gander stands guard protecting his little ones and his mate. While both parents, especially the male, vigorously defend their young, I often observed the drake standing proudly over the brood, his strong neck raised high as he looks about in all directions, demonstrating his strength and ability to guard and protect them all. The protective behaviors of both parents diminish once the young geese are able to fly.
Flying practice begins even before the goslings have flight feathers. Lined up along the shore the goose parents use a variety of honking sounds and body movements to encourage wing-strengthening exercises. The first flight of any gosling is a family affair. When each gosling in the brood is ready for their first flight from the lake, the female makes the first honk, her mate and their young pick up the sound and in unison honk as if to encourage each other into the new behavior of being airborne.
Once airborne, Canada Geese fly in V-formation. The V-formation flying pattern allows them to fly farther and sustain flight longer than does flying alone, for the V-formation allows them to take advantage of the lifting power of the birds in front. Flight in the V-formation also allows for a rotation of positions. When the lead goose tires, that bird moves back into the formation and another goose flies to the point position.
My morning encounters with Canada Geese families offers numerous hours of enjoyment as I witness the beauty and rapid growth of the goslings. Each morning I am also gifted with observations of behaviors causing me to marvel at the poetic and symbolic images of family life and values being revealed. In 10, 000 Dreams Interpreted Pamela Wall notes that symbolically, “The goose represents watchfulness and love.”