A whistling, whooshing sound sometimes punctuates our early mornings these days. It means the wildfowl population control people are doing their job, setting off sound bombs to scare nesting geese and ducks into abandoning their nests. It’s one of the sad things about living in a city, our insistence that the previous occupants must cede their homes to our ever-encroaching development.
It wasn’t like that on Pioneer Ranch in Cariboo, where the annual winged migrations seldom stayed around long enough to raise their young. They were headed for warmer climes. Maybe that’s why one goose couple that decided to stay on and raise a family met such a violent end. They were a tempting dinner for predators, and we had the gamut: coyotes, bears, wolves, cougars.
Whatever the case, on a wander to inspect one of our hayfields, my husband found a nest, feathers, blood, and two warm eggs. They would have made a good meal for some passing wild creature, but he scooped them up and brought them to the chicken house.
Our flock was pretty small by then, thanks to other predators such as hawks and weasels, but we still had a handful of hens and one rooster. Bonnie was my favourite, a broody hen who loved attention. Her way of getting it was a little embarrassing. She would crouch down, in a pose any rooster would recognize, until I picked her up and gave her a cuddle.
Nothing pleases a broody hen more than a clutch of eggs to tend. When Richard tucked the two monster eggs into her nest, she didn’t hesitate for a minute. She hopped up and settled herself onto them. Personal comfort be hanged. She had a job to do, and she clucked contentedly as she balanced precariously.
For the next thirty days, unless she was taking a break for feed or water, Bonnie sat on those eggs. Then two little goose-billed, fluffy chicks peeked out from under her wings, and the mothering began.
Neither hen nor goslings cared they were different species. Bonnie taught her foster chicks to eat grass and whatever other delectable bits she pointed out to them. They followed her everywhere. At night they snuggled under her warm wings.
Within weeks they were as large as she was. One day they wandered near the pond. Perhaps some mysterious scent drew them forward. They scrambled down to the water and swam, with Bonnie squawking warnings from the shore.
As soon as they were fully feathered, the goslings began making short flights. Poor Bonnie was beside herself each time they lifted into the air. The young female made perfect landings right from the start. The male was another story. He would skid to a somersaulting halt or plow into a fence and honk until we rescued him.
By September the goslings were magnificent adults, but chickens were the only family they knew. Questions about nature versus nurture rolled around in my head. Our cold Cariboo winters were too severe for wild geese.
As days grew shorter, the first vees flew over overhead, heading south. Bonnie ignored them, but her two fosterlings gazed skyward, adding their own honks to the passing cacophany.
Occasionally a flock landed on the stubble of our hayfields, filling up on feed and water, resting for the next leg of the journey. The call of wild relatives wafted from the fields and into the bones and blood of Bonnie’s geese. One morning they were gone.
We wondered how they fared in the flock of strangers. Next spring we found out. One of the flocks migrating north stopped for the night in our hayfield. Before they settled in for the night, two of them walked right up to the barn. I fed them a scoop of grain. They gobbled it eagerly, then rejoined the flock.
We never saw them again, or if we did they were so thoroughly integrated into their wild life we no longer recognized them. I figure we were lucky. Anything could have happened that wild goose summer. Predators might have made a quick meal of the goslings. The connection with barnyard poultry and human caretakers might have kept them from fulfilling their real destiny as wild geese.
But nothing untoward did happen, and I will always be grateful for the summer we had the honour of living so closely to two wild geese.