I started visiting because my Yugo-sized dog Crowley is obsessed with birds of every kind.
In a neighborhood that’s on our walking route, there are a few retention ponds. Ducks and geese can usually be found in the largest one. When we go for a walk, we take a short detour to look for the water fowl. When the winter came to an end, two couples; a pair of Canadian geese and some mallards decided to stay and set up housekeeping.
A female mallard lays eggs the same time she and the male molt which grounds them temporarily. Then male stays close to protect the nest and care for the female.Once the eggs hatch though, and the male regains the power of flight, he’s history.
Canadian geese are very different. At approximately three years old, it’s time to start a family. There are elaborate mating behaviors by the male, and the female chooses her spouse by how much she enjoys his dancing and how well she thinks he can protect her and her brood.Then the geese mate for life. The female makes a nest and lays four to nine eggs. She sits on the nest with the gander nearby. They also molt now, and for the four weeks the eggs take to hatch, the female doesn’t get up, eat, or drink.
There’s deep affection within a goose family. There is no sibling rivalry among the goslings and youngsters are very respectful to their parents. Most of the children stay with their family until they choose a mate. Geese are celibate until they pair bond. Often unattached males will help care for the children of their siblings.Crowley and I visited the pond every day. Soon five tiny ducklings and four little goslings made an appearance. Like a scene out of Robert McClusky’s Make Way for Ducklings, tiny fuzzy birds walked in straight lines with parents both leading the way and bringing up the rear.
One night our walk was delayed until nightfall, so we didn’t visit our aquatic friends.The route we use takes us through a field, then out onto the sidewalk of a busy road about fifty yards from the pond. As we came around, I noticed something in the street that looked like a tree stump. As I was trying to convince myself it must have fallen off the back of a landscaper’s truck, we got closer.
That’s when I got a good look.
It wasn’t a stump, but a large goose that had been hit and killed by a car. Even though there are many geese in the area, I got a really, really, bad feeling.The next morning, I hurried to the pond.
Standing on the pond’s causeway, surrounded by her four children, Mrs. Goose searched the skies. I stood there and cried as she called for her missing mate with a series of slow, plaintive honks. But because she couldn’t leave her flightless babies, she’d never know what happened and where he was. It was heartbreaking. My best guess is the male made a test flight to try out his regrown feathers which weren’t quite ready, and he fell into the path of a car. But he was a good mate and a good dad.
He’d be very proud of his family. The goslings are big, healthy, and almost old enough to begin flying. But there’s a gander-shaped hole in that little family.
And, there always will be.
So, to every kind of dad out there; to my dad, to The Kid’s dad Petey, and especially to the ones who want to be with their kids but can’t anymore: Happy Father’s Day.Thanks for your time.
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