Friday, June 27, 2014

What's Good for the Gander - is a Goose

Canada and domestic goose family (c) John Ashley
Canada Goose (dad?), domestic goose (mom?) and their offspring

While I was in Helena about a month ago, a birder friend directed me to the local (Bud Ballard Memorial) duck pond to check out an unusual goose pair. A Canada Goose has paired with a domestic goose, and they hatched a handful of fluffy, yellow chicks. This sort of thing happens from time to time, and it reminds me that while the big concept of "species" is easy to understand, it can appear rather muddied at times.

With Canada Geese at least, the female leads and the male usually swims along behind the family. This makes me to think that the domestic goose is the "goose," as it were, and the Canada Goose is the "gander" or male. Canada Geese also tend to mate for life, and they nest where the female was born. The young birds stay with their parents for the first year, which means these guys should be around long enough to watch them grow up.

When these cross-pairings happen, the youngsters can look very different from their parents and each other. So if you're in the Helena area it might be worth taking the time to swing by the duck pond and check this family out. These youngsters will probably be unlike any geese you've ever seen, or will see again.

Sandhill and Whooping Crane flying together (c) John Ashley
Whooping (top) and Sandhill Cranes flying together
Side note - we saw something similar last winter, down on the Texas coast. Small groups of Sandhill and Whooping Cranes winter in the area of Goose Island State Park, where we were camped. On a foggy morning as we watched for cranes appearing and disappearing in the mist, a flock of three Sandhills and one Whooper flew past us.

Now we've got a mystery on our hands. Like the geese, cranes also live in family groups. Does this Whooper live with the Sandhills? Is it paired? Where did they come upon each other? It always irks me to leave with more questions than I arrived with.