“Blame Canada”

Ok, everyone, it’s Canada week here on the blog.  Well, it’s at least “Canada couple of days”, but that doesn’t sound quite as good.  I started thinking about the tribute to Canada for two reasons:  1.  my little, loud buddies the White-throated Sparrows (they’re tomorrow) and 2.  the birds that I’ve been ignoring: the Canada Geese.  Their numbers in Freedom Park have been going down, but there are still a few around- and if I leave my windows open, I can still occasionally hear them flying overhead.

As I was listening to them the other day (and thinking about the fact that the Mallards got their own post), I started to feel bad for these poor neglected birds.  As I began to poke around in the literature to find something about them, I came across an old, fantastic article.  Now I’ve mentioned before just how much I like old scientific articles.  They’re just written in such a fun tone that doesn’t get published anymore.  Today’s article is another fine example of that kind of tone and description.  Additionally, one of the authors was a super guy.

Collias, N.E. and L.R. Jahn.  1959.  Social behavior and breeding success in Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) confined under semi-natural conditions.  Auk 76:  478-509.

The first author, Nick Collias, was an emeritus professor at UCLA when I began my graduate work there.  He was always found walking around with his wife Elsie.  Normally, they walked arm and arm through the hallways, partly for support and partly because they were just that cute together.  Long after other faculty retired and stopped coming to campus, Nick and Elsie kept going.  Normally, they both appeared as authors on their papers and together did a great deal of work on the Red Jungle Fowl (which he would repeat- often multiple times- is the ancestor to the modern chicken).  Additionally, Nick was one of the first researchers to do spectrographic analysis of bird songs, which entails converting the sound into an image that can be measured and evaluated.  The fact that I happened upon one of his papers in my goose search just brought back a bit of that nostalgia.

So, back to the goose.  First of all, the paper on the geese that I found gives some great background on the social and pairing behaviors of these birds.  They really do a walk-through of the behaviors associated with pairing up, courting, copulation, nesting, incubation and rearing.  It also provides a fantastic breakdown of the vocal behaviors of the Canada Goose.  Collias and Jahn list 10 of the vocalizations of these geese:  the hiss, honking, the short-distance call to the mate, the short-distance call to the goslings, as well as a series of vocalizations categorized as grunts and snores.   It’s actually fascinating to read the sections in their paper that describe examples of these vocalizations in use.

Now, it wasn’t just the fact that Nick Collias was one of the authors that drew me to this paper.  All of the above has been sort of an aside for what actually led me to this posting in the first place.  Around here (and in a lot of places in the U.S.), Canada Geese are viewed as pests in public parks.  They move into areas, poop a lot, chase people and are generally quite rude.  There is signage at Freedom Park describing how they are attempting to discourage large flocks of the geese from forming.  So the part of the paper that caught my eye was that Nick and his co-author were on the job to find ways to INCREASE numbers of Canada Geese.  Their entire set-up was a way to study the Canada Geese so that they could re-establish these birds in breeding populations in Wisconsin.  I’m going to go out on a limb and say that they may have done their job too well!


About thomasbiology

I'm an Associate Professor of Biology at Queens University of Charlotte with a background in animal behavior with an emphasis in bird song. I've got two secret goals with this blog (well, since I'm sharing them, they're not so secret): 1. To encourage people to look at the natural world around them- not just as a hiking destination, but to notice all the little things moving around them all the time; and 2. To show some of the science that relates to these little things moving around. There's some really fascinating research out there that so few people get to see.
This entry was posted in birds, communication, conservation, geese, mating, reproduction, vocalizations. Bookmark the permalink.

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