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Recent snowfall has Canada geese migrating south to feed

SUN-GAZETTE FILE PHOTO A gaggle of Canada geese gather on a field in this 2014 photo.

Several weeks ago, I wrote scientists say no two snowflakes are alike. Mary Alice believes this could not possibly be a true statement. After shoveling out last week’s snowfall, of three to four feet, I agree there had to be at least two identical snowflakes.

While shoveling snow, I heard a flock of Canada geese going over. I looked up and saw the geese in the familiar “V” pattern and they were flying quite high and moving fast. I wondered why these geese were going south so late. Within the next hour, I heard and saw six large flocks of Canada geese winging over. The next day, while still shoveling out, I heard geese again. This time I observed five flocks of geese heading south.

Once back inside, I checked some past diaries and was surprised to see that on December 18, 2007, I wrote “Saw a big flock of Canada Geese winging south.” This was the latest date that I had written in my diaries for seeing geese migrating south.

In checking, I found lately Canada geese have begun to migrate rather late; migration begins near the end of September and possibly into late December. The reason given was when water does not freeze, the geese can still find food and are not pressured to migrate. With the recent deep snowfall, the geese were enticed to head south.

At one time, the breeding grounds for the Canada goose were chiefly on the mainland of Canada and to the north and west of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Today, these big birds are nesting in Pennsylvania where we maintain a year-round population.

PHOTO PROVIDED Canada geese sit on the bank of a body of water. Recent snowfall has forced the geese to begin migrating south.

In 1969, wildlife officers in the southern part of the state were beginning to receive complaints on Canada geese. In 1997, I wrote in my diary we had Canada geese beginning to nest here in Bradford County. Today, it is not unusual to see their young goslings here in Northern Pennsylvania.

The population of migrating geese has dwindled in recent years. However, the population of resident geese has been increasing to the extent it has become a problem.

At one time, the game commission had special teams responsible for the trapping and transferring of nuisance geese to other states. In order to alleviate this problem of resident geese, the commission set a special goose season which opens before the migrating geese from the north arrive. This enables the hunters to hunt only our resident geese.

Today, the commission is doing an intensive study on local geese. Since geese eat mostly green vegetation and grain, they can cause quite a bit of damage in cultivated fields, especially if the flock is large and stays for any length of time. Geese also eat insects and snails. Unlike a chicken, a goose has no crop. However, it does have a widening in the throat which works similar to a crop.

Our word goose is old English and goes back to the prehistoric Indo-European word ghans, which probably originated as an imitation of the honking of geese. Our name for a male goose is gander, which comes from the Germanic word gaint or ganot; a young goose is called a gosling, which comes from the Old Norse word gaeslinger, literally meaning little goose, and a female goose is called a dame.

SUN-GAZETTE FILE PHOTO A pair of Canada geese fly overhead in this 2014 photo.

We have many sayings connected with geese. Probably the most famous saying is “to cook one’s goose.” There are three theories about the origin of this saying, with one being several hundred years ago the people of a besieged town hung a goose in a tower to insult and show their contempt for the besiegers outside the gates. In reprisal, the enemy burned down the entire town. In this way, the cooked goose became a symbol of defeat.

Another theory is the expression is in reference to the fable about the goose which laid the golden egg. To cook one’s goose would be to cut off one’s source of income or to halt one’s defeat. The most likely source for the expression could be the English custom of eating a goose at Christmas time. Such a goose would be raised or purchased with great care and high hopes. To steal one’s goose and cook it would be to frustrate one’s holiday plans.

There are also weather proverbs connected with geese. All is well when the goose hangs high, meaning that when the goose flies high in the sky the weather will be good, and a low flying goose signifies bad weather. The Native Americans thought a severe winter could be expected if the wild geese went south in August. A goose downer is heavy rain, and when the old woman is plucking her goose, it is snowing.

Geese make good watchdogs. A flock of geese were credited with saving Rome when the Gauls were invading. One night a detachment, in single file, quietly climbed up the hill to the capitol, with the foremost man reaching the top without being challenged.

While striding over the rampart, he scared some geese, and the cackling awakened the garrison. Marcus Manlius rushed to the wall and hurled the fellow over the precipice. To commemorate this event, a Roman procession carries a golden goose to the capitol every year.

The Canada geese passing overhead in their familiar “V” pattern in both the spring and fall excites everyone, whether you’re an outdoor person or not. The sound of this big bird makes me stop and look skyward. To me, the honking is the true “call of the wild.”

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