The Nobel prize in physiology or medicine 1973 was granted jointly to Karl von Frisch (1886-1982), Konrad Lorenz (1903-1989), and Nikolaas Tinbergen (1907-1988) for their discoveries concerning organization and elicitation of individual and social behavior patterns. Three of them are the founders of Ethology, the scientific and objective study of animal behavior, especially under the natural conditions. Ethology is dealing with human character and with its formation and evolution.
It is well documented in the books, photos, and videos that Konrad Lorenz practically and scientifically had a long study on the behavior of geese and their goslings. Lorenz in 1935 published one of his famous studies, he showed that young ducks (ducklings) and geese (goslings) could be “imprinted” and virtually anything, from people to colored balls, during the first days of life. He discovered that newly hatched goslings would follow the first moving object they saw – often Lorenz himself. So, they follow the appropriate adult, providing them with safety.
Canada geese (Branta canadensis) need open water where they can swim away from land predators, as well as for food. Frozen Winter water doesn’t suit the birds. In the mild climate from southwestern British Columbia to California, some of the population has become non migratory due to adequate, open water, Winter food supply, and limited predators.
These geese will travel from 3,000 to 5,000 kilometers during the Winter if they can’t find open water, returning to their birthplace in Spring. Canada geese can travel about 2,000 kilometers per day if the weather permits and tend to fly around 60 kilometers per hour during migration, though that can increase up to 110 kilometers per hour if they catch a strong tailwind. Migrating in groups tends to have 30 to 100 geese.
We can learn about teamwork and fast learner from the Canada geese using the approach on Ethology:
The iconic flying V formation has been reported many times. The front position is rotated since flying in front consumes the most energy. Each bird, as it flaps its wings, is creating lift for their fellow birds, allowing them to fly further with less effort. When a goose falls out of formation, they quickly realize that it takes a lot of energy to fly alone. They will move back quickly into formation and work together in the group again.
Canada geese support each other when times are tough. When a goose gets tired, injured, or sick, two other geese will fall out of formation to stay with the goose and stay with it until it is able to fly again. When they head back out, they work together to catch up with the rest of the flock.
These geese sometimes can be hard honking loudly while they fly. Scientists speculate that this honking is a way to communicate with and encourage the flock on their long flight. It seems the geese encourage each other to maintain their speed, keep flying toward their goal, and cherish the progress. Their goal remains the same, move the flock from the North to the South to protect the flock from the cold and to find food in Winter. Then they are back in Spring to their birthplace for breeding.
Baby geese called goslings are impressionable and impressive little birds. They have been known to follow just about anything, from dogs to humans, mistaking the creature for their parents. The goslings mimic the adults, learning how to swim just 24 hours after hatching. At only one day old goslings can dive. Parent geese teach their young how to fly when the goslings are 2 to 3 months old. As they continue to grow and become more independent of their parents, they may group together with other young geese. The group called “gang brood” can consist of up to 100 goslings.
Due to the unpredictable weather (snowing and freezing in Autumn) and global warming (warm weather in winter), the Canada geese cancelled their long journey migration to the warmer places of America in early 2023. Sure that this human-made phenomenon caused by the global warming will influence their ancient genes for the survival of the fittest of their new generation. Not sure yet if they can adapt with the frequent unpredictable weather. Their “energy recession” in “comfort zone” can be fatal for the population.
The photo above was taken at Central Park, Burnaby last Summer. At least 3 families of Canada geese gather having “potluck” on the tracks in the early morning. They left a nice story behind about teamwork, friendly security, and a good time. They eat the greens, seeds, and minerals and leave an organic fertilizer to the land.
Most people will be happy seeing these happy families and never mind the organic waste produced during their journey. And the decomposers (beneficial soil microbes, earthworms and their friends) will do their job to support one of the most important cycles in nature, decomposition and nutrient cycling of their manure.