A False Swan Sighting and an Appreciation of Canadian Geese

Sometimes you get so excited about seeing wildlife, you can miss the tiny details that separate truth from fiction.

When I saw these swans at my workplace property, I was careful to take a photo from the shadows of a building so I wouldn’t disturb them.

plastic swans on grass
A “swan” sighting captured by the author.

While Tundra swans migrate through my state, I had never seen any here before. When I went back to my office, I had to tell the first person I saw in the hallway, my supervisor.

“Those are fake. They’re supposed to deter the geese,” he said.

I remembered the swans hadn’t moved but thought it was because I was careful not to disturb them. I couldn’t believe my eyes deceived me.

Canadian geese are a problem here as they are in many places in the U.S. They defecate on sidewalks, block traffic, and are aggressive to people.

animals bill ducks farm
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

But wait, I argued, we have a huge center, lots of grassy areas and I’ve only seen the swans here. How is that going to deter the geese?

The groundskeepers have to rotate them to different areas, he said.

So after mowing the grass, they rotate the swans?

Supposedly, the fake swans seemed to be working to keep the geese away, but we had a limited supply of them.

A Canadian Complaint about Canadian Geese

I can’t think of Canadian geese without remembering a Canadian coworker whose office was next to mine, years earlier, at this same workplace.

She liked to rant about all things American, so I was surprised when she targeted a particular waterfowl named for her motherland – Canadian geese.

“The Canadian geese here have become so Americanized,” she said

I thought she was joking.

“They’re so lazy. They don’t even fly in proper formation.”

Then, she explained that in Canada, the geese fly in the V-shaped formation, but not in America. Had I ever seen them fly in the V formation, she wanted to know.

canada geese flying in cloudless blue sky
Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

I admitted that I usually see them fly in a single diagonal line or sometimes in what looks like a long check mark. But I had never heard this particular complaint about the geese. Especially her criticism that the geese somehow became undisciplined after they crossed the border into U.S. airspace.

Respecting and Appreciating Canadian Geese

According to a Canadian government website last updated in May 2019, an estimated 7 million Canadian geese live in North America, a dramatic increase from 30 years ago.

Growing up, in my area of Upstate New York in the 1970s, I didn’t see many geese, even though we lived near a lake.

In the South, they seemed to be everywhere, and I learned to respect them quickly. A goose chased me into the road once, first hissing, then squawking and charging, when I tried to pass her on the sidewalk with her goslings nearby. She was on the grassy area about 10 feet from me, but that was too close for her.

They are intimidating when angry. With up to a 6-foot wingspan, a 2 to 4-foot-long body, and up to 18 pounds, it’s not what you want to see running at you with a 3-inch bill.

photograph of a black and brown goose
Photo by Altaf Shah on Pexels.com

Another time, I was walking around a lake in my neighborhood and a goose came flying out of the water to charge at me. After escaping to a safe distance, I looked back and saw she was tending to a nest at the base of a tree that I had been near. Since then, I’ve learned to stay far away from geese.

With all their nuisance behaviors, they are beautiful to see and hear in flight. Sometimes when I’m out walking, they make their descent above me to a nearby lake and they fly low enough and quietly enough for me to hear the rhythmic flapping of their wings. The air hums beneath them.

brown and white bird flying over the sea
Photo by Andrew Patrick on Pexels.com

When it’s a March evening and I see them take off and honk together overhead, I imagine that they’re taking roll call and cheering each other on as they begin their long flight back North. But the fact is that not all our Canadian geese are migratory, many are year-round residents.

And I suppose I want to forgive all their brazen behavior and idealize them the way I see them in art. After all, I have had a print of Bob Timberlake’s painting, “Winter Flight” hanging on my wall for years. In it, the geese are forever flying in proper formation up into the night sky, over a tree and fields, as heavy snow falls and covers the grass and wooden fences.

Great geese in flight (1925 - 1936) by Ohara Koson (1877-1945). Original from The Rijksmuseum. Digitally enhanced by rawpixel.
Great geese in flight (1925 – 1936) by Ohara Koson (1877-1945). Original from The Rijksmuseum. Digitally enhanced by rawpixel. by Rijksmuseum is licensed under CC-CC0 1.0
Wild geese flying
Wild geese flying by Rijksmuseum is licensed under CC-CC0 1.0

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