Birds of a Feather?

I’m no longer so sure that birds of a feather flock together. Today as I drove past a farmer’s field, I saw several different kinds of birds sharing lunch.

The usual Canada geese were there in pretty big numbers, as were some trumpeter swans that have taken up permanent residence there.


??????????But in the foreground I noticed what I thought at first might be four domestic geese. On further investigation, I’ve discovered that they are white-fronted geese. Here they are close up, enjoying a bit of sunshine on a very chilly day.




And here is one with an itchy head.


When migrating, they fly very high overhead, usually at night, and make a lovely high-pitched cackling (laughing) sound. Whitefronts are not seen here on Vancouver Island in great numbers as are the Canada geese, but there are some that spend time here, perhaps because of going astray during the long migration south in the fall, on their way to California’s Sacramento Valley.

In the spring they fly back north to the tundra to nest. A man named Hersey encountered a family of white-fronted geese on the Yukon delta. Here is a description of that event by Arthur Bent (1925!) taken from F.H. Kortright‘s book, “The Ducks, Geese, and Swans of North America.”

On the edge of a little pond on the tundra about 5 miles back from the mouth of the river I found a pair of these geese and a brood of five young. The birds had been resting under a clump of dwarf willows, and on my approach the old birds came out into the open and attempted to lead the young away over the open tundra. The young, although not more than a day or two old, could run as as fast as a man could travel over the rough ground. I had to remove my coat before I could overtake them. They did not scatter, but ran straight ahead, keeping close together, one of the parents running by their side and guiding them and the other flying along above them and not more than 3 feet above the ground. The young kept up a faint calling, and the old birds occasionally gave a low note of encouragement.”

I’m sure Mr. Hersey just wanted to say hello to the birds, but I felt a little bit sorry for the unnecessary stress the geese must have felt. On the other hand, it was a good “dry run” mock emergency  practice for them.

I was touched by the way both parents cared for the goslings. Most of us don’t even consider that this kind of good parenting goes on among geese. After I read these notes in Kortright’s book, I had a new appreciation for the four lost geese that I had photographed by the side of the road today.

19 thoughts on “Birds of a Feather?

  1. This is what I would call a “bird rich environment”, one of those I love to find, one can creep up and get so much closer as the birds seem to have a false sense of security in their numbers… love the story of Hersey chasing the young geese, I have often done it with Blue Crane, I feel there is no stress, they do it all the time as an exercise as an escape from danger,
    Having been attacked many times by parent birds in my bird egg collecting days, I have a healthy wariness of them. Hersey was lucky one of the parents didn’t turn on him, a goose can give a nasty bite and a slap from a wing is not to be smiled at…


  2. I hope it isn’t too cold. I’ve been worrying about your robins since we’ve had our own return to the deep freeze! I’ll have to pay more attention to the geese when they arrive. Great post and pictures!


    • There were robins in the yard yesterday and I thought it was cold for them. This morning it’s only minus 8 C.!!!!That’s cold for here. In a few hours we’ll get some sun, unless those clouds thicken and in that case it will snow. The weatherman says it will get worse before it gets better. I’ve become such a wimp since leaving the north!


      • That depends whether it’s a dry cold or a damp cold! Sunshine makes all the difference. Here it is grey and snowing little blurry snowflakes, and whirls of snow are blowing off rooftops. Looks like February 😉


          • Maybe it seems worse because we’re closer to the end? Yes, people will be ready for their “spring break” – about six weeks somewhere else so it’s warmer by the time they get back 🙂


  3. Is it not a wonderment how we see the mother taking care of the child in every species on this planet? Yesterday on National Geographic, I was watching this ‘ parent protecting child’ behaviour getting enacted in the Brazilian rain forests…..

    Great pictures.



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