Thursday, March 24, 2011

Spring Music

Nature Watch

By Susan Thurn,
Cable Natural History Museum

I couldn’t stop smiling this morning. I heard the familiar sound of a honk as I left my house for teaching today. I looked out across the field, and saw a Canada goose flying by the house. Its honk called to me, reminding me of migration and warm weather and spring!

Here are some fascinating facts of a very versatile bird:

The further north we live, the smaller the geese are. There are eleven subspecies of geese. One of the subspecies is named the cackling goose, and lives in the very northern parts of Canada.

Canada geese tend to choose a mate of a similar size. This is called assortative mating, which may help ensure better reproductive success. Pairs mate for life and remain together year long. During most of the year the geese stay together in large flocks that are often related to each other.

Every spring when the geese land in the field, I watch them circle, and then a small group peels off before landing. Around goes the remainder of the group in flight, while another group alights. When Canada geese migrate, they stay in these family groups, and it is these same family groups that land each time.

During our spring, geese feed mostly on grass and sedges, which allows them to do well in a variety of habitats. They also eat a more elusive plant, the skunk cabbage. Geese have become more successful due to agricultural practices, feeding on grains, as they are very adept at removing corn kernels from the cobs. Fall and winter is a time when they rely more on seeds, berries and grain. Their ability to eat crops and grass has opened up both rural and urban environments, decreasing their migratory habits and allowing them to stay in many areas year round.

When a flock of Canada geese get ready to take off in flight, they join together in the chorus of loud honks in which we are all so familiar. Geese also have loud calls when threatened or excited. In addition to their calls, geese apparently have a host of body moves that are worth observing when one gets a chance.

Spring has sprung. Take time out to enjoy the outdoors, listening to the easily identified honking as it spills down from the skies. Look for the “V” of migrating geese along the horizon. Acknowledge the hallmark of a new cycle of life. Enjoy these pleasures in our own north woods back yards.

For over 42 years, the Museum has served as a guide and mentor to generations of visitors and residents interested in learning to better appreciate and care for the extraordinary natural resources of the region. The Museum invites you to visit its facility and exhibit, On Lake Owen: The Art of Walter Bohl, in Cable at 13470 County Highway M. Discover us on the web at, on Facebook, or at our blogspot, to learn more about our exhibits.

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