Foam Lake Birding No. 16

No. 16
At this time of the year many of the sights and sounds of our summer birds are no longer with us. Most are getting ready for fall migration while some have already migrated. A few, such as the Purple Martins and Yellow Warblers, are already gone; others, such as Crows and Robins, are preparing for migration by gathering in large flocks. This flocking usually occurs in September, in rural areas, away from the proximity of man. In my many years of bird hunting, I have, on occasion, been pleasantly surprised, upon entering a stand of poplars, to see the entire bluff teeming with Robins. The scene is almost eerie in that, except for the constant rustling of leaves, the Robins are on the ground feeding frantically, but very quietly. Crows congregate on stubble fields to feed on late fall insects, especially those that have been injured in harvesting operations, thereby, providing “easy pickings”. Once frosts become frequent and general, most birds fly south to a more plentiful food supply.
Of all migratory birds, probably, the most noticeable are the geese. The large noisy flocks are hard to miss. Even though they look a lot alike, geese and ducks are quite different. Overall, geese are considerably larger, even though some small geese are about the size of a large Mallard. Male and female geese are identical; male and female ducks are unlike. Care of goslings is shared by both parents; care of ducklings is handled by the female alone. Geese graze; ducks do not. Identifying geese is quite easy, because there are only three species as compared to the dozen or so ducks, and the species are quite different from one another.
Prior to the Europeans coming to America, apparently, geese were not nearly as plentiful as they are today. The clearing of land for agriculture has provided an abundant source of food for migrating flocks, as most farmers can attest to, thus ensuring higher survival rates. Agriculture, together with regulated hunting, has resulted in a dramatic increase in some goose populations to the point that there is growing concern with over population. In any case, the migrating flocks are a delightful sight and a sure sign that spring (or fall) has come.
One species of goose that is congregating for fall migration, locally, is this week’s featured bird and our national bird emblem – the Canada Goose. Yes, the Canada Goose is Canada’s national bird emblem and not the loon as many people believe. Close up, the birds with their grey-brown bodies, black necks and black heads with white “chin straps” are unmistakable. Migrating Canadas are usually easy to identify in flight because they fly in distinct “Vs” unlike other geese that fly in loose lines. Canada Geese are only moderately migratory. They fly south only as far as the first open water where they will stay until that body of water freezes over, then, they move further south until the next open water, and so on. In the spring, they reverse the procedure. The birds in this week’s picture are a flock of local Honkers resting in a shallow slough just north of Don and Edith Halyk’s house.
Canada Geese are extremely variable in size from the three pound Cackling to the ten pound Common (Honker, as it is known locally). In fact, there are six distinct groups of Canadas all even having their own names! They are: Cackling, Aleutian, Dusky, Richardson’s, Lesser and Common. (Recently, the Cackling Goose has been categorized as a distinct species.) Three of them, Richardson’s (5 lb.), Lesser (6lb.) and Common (10lb.), are all found here, with only the common being resident during the summer. The weights are only an average. The biggest Commons can reach twenty pounds or so.
Having traveled in Europe a little, I was surprised and disappointed by the almost total absence of large birds there, especially waterfowl. Streams and lakes had some gulls and wading birds, but few, if any, ducks, geese, coots and so on. In comparison, we are overrun with wildlife. Here. A flock of geese is so commonplace that it is usually ignored. However, I still find myself looking up at a flock of Canadas (or anything else for that matter) and appreciating the abundance of wildlife that we have in this great country of ours.