2023 RRP Highlights: Make Way for Goslings!

We’re looking back on 2023’s favorite things! In my experience, watchers either love them or loathe the Canada Geese. I grew up around geese and understand why some people don’t like them. But I’m in the heart-eyes-emoji camp! These geese are nesting in an abandoned bald eagle nest that we call N2B. Mom and her mate DM2 last nested here in 2020. After they left to build a new nest, N2B sat empty until a pair of geese adopted it in 2022. They returned to nest again this year and hatched six goslings.

It’s been really enjoyable to watch and compare precocial geese to altricial eaglets. Eaglets hatch unable to feed or care for themselves, and spend about 70 to 80 days in their natal nest. Goslings need parents to keep them safe from predators and learn the finer points of water control, but they are born ready to eat, swim, and run around. However, they aren’t born ready to fly! Within 24 to 48 hours of hatch #1, the family leaves the nest, which means that the goslings have to jump – a drop of 70 feet in this case! How do the goslings survive? They are very light – about three ounces – and have a lot of chondroid bone, a springy skeletal tissue intermediate between cartilage and bone. Their light weight and springy skeleton lets them bounce, which dissipates the energy of their landing without breaking their bones. More here: https://www.raptorresource.org/2023/04/21/your-questions-answered-the-goslings-and-the-leap-of-faith/.

When we think of conservation success stories, we often think about bald eagles, peregrine falcons, sea otters, and other charismatic, elusive megafauna. But Canada geese – those pesky flockers that live in cities and poop on everything! – are also a conservation success story. The Clean Water Act was passed in 1972 because people were tired of rivers catching fire, trash and sludge, inedible and missing fish, and undrinkable tap water. As we cleaned rivers up, species that relied on them began to increase in number. Ten geese, twenty geese, forty geese…and 17 generations later, you have 1,000,000 geese. Sorry, property managers!

Is it common for Canada geese to nest in a bald eagle’s nest? We haven’t seen it very often, but when bald eagles disappeared, their nests went with them. Since researchers documented geese nesting in bald eagle and osprey nests as late as the 1950’s, I suspect this was once a relatively common behavior. We didn’t know about it until bald eagles rebounded in sufficient numbers to have abandoned nests in prime goose territory! The jump isn’t without risk, but tree nesting keeps eggs and hatchlings safe from ground-based threats like dogs, cats, raccoons, humans, coyotes, and anything else that might disturb a nest.

Thanks to chat mod O for bringing up the geese! When the geese are nesting, you can watch them live here: https://www.raptorresource.org/birdcams/decorah-goose-cam/. The footage of the leap from outside the nest was taken by filmmaker Neil Rettig: https://neilrettigproductions.com/.