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Monday, September 14, 2009

Where's Mommy?

Four years ago a Snow Goose crash landed in Green-Wood Cemetery. Its right wing looked badly broken and we didn't know if it would survive. I emailed a few biologists and conservationist friends for advice. They all suggested leaving it alone and letting nature take its course. She survived the ordeal and actually seemed to thrive.

Marge would make periodic visits to check on the small goose and bring her cracked corn to eat. She would make sure that "Mommy" got enough to eat by chasing off the local Canada Geese who would try to steal the food. A couple of years later three juvenile Snow Geese appeared at the Sylvan Water. One of the juveniles had a mangled foot, which eventually fell off. Mommy now had some friends and the three youngster quickly bonded with her. Marge had four wayward Snow Geese to keep an eye on and bought a lot more cracked corn. Amazingly, the injured young goose survived the loss of his foot, but was bullied by all the other geese. A waterfowl pecking order quickly became obvious at the Sylvan Water; Canada Geese bossed around everyone, Mommy bossed around the three juvenile Snow Geese, and the two healthy Snow Geese bossed around "Limpy". The poor physically challenged goose was frequently seen alone, leaning up against a pine tree next to the pond (he needed to lean to give his stump a rest). Finally, having had his fill of fowl temperaments, he joined a passing Snow Goose flock during the next migration period. Snow Geese are a lot smaller than the aggressive Canada Geese, but "Mommy" tolerated their bullying and seemed to have accepted her non-migratory existence, especially since she had two buddies. After a time, she began to recognize Marge's car and would run the entire length of Sylvan Water, honking, whenever her car pulled up. One would think that Mommy would become habitualized to humans, but she never did and remained a very wild bird.

Zugunruhe hit hard during last fall's migration and the overwhelming urge to leave became irresistible to the young Snow Geese. Marge was present when the two youngsters began circling in the air above the pond, preparing to leave. Mommy started honking frantically for her friends to come back. They returned to Sylvan Water that day, but shortly after took off for good. She must have been very upset. Marge gave her extra cracked corn to help drown her sorrow.

Mommy would never let anyone get close enough to touch her, but I was convinced I could persuade her to eat from my hand. Three weeks ago I decided to test my theory. With an opened handful of cracked corn, I sat down near the edge of the pond. Mommy walked over, but stopped a couple of feet short of my outstretched hand. She kept honking at me and motioning her head towards the ground. After about 5 minutes she slowly approached my hand, opened her bill, then bit my middle finger. It wasn't painful, so I just sat motionless, with my hand opened. A few minutes later, she stretched her head towards me, then quickly snatched up a mouthful of corn. I guess she realized I wasn't going to hurt her and she plunged her head into the palm of my hand, gobbling up the corn until it was gone. While this was happening, Marge was busy chasing off the Canada Geese, who, given half a chance, would have mugged me, not just for the food in my hand, but also the 25 pound bag in the trunk of her car. I went back a week later to see if she remembered me. She did and cautiously took the corn from my hand.

In recent weeks. Mommy had been seen wandering farther and farther from the safety of the Sylvan Water. She also seemed to be flying more than in the past. Her right wing still had an awkward crook and we never saw her ascend more than about 6 feet. We also never witnessed her traveling by wing anymore than the width of the Sylvan Water, so I was baffled by the latest news from Marge - Mommy was missing! She wasn't hanging around with the local Canada Geese at the Sylvan Water, nor was she at any of the other ponds in the cemetery. Both Marge and Tommy, one of the cemetery security guards, had been looking for the small, white goose, but she seemed to have vanished. Could she have finally regained enough strength to migrate? The timing is right for the southbound trip, but I never thought she would be able to compensate for her misaligned right wing.

It has been a week since Mommy has gone missing. The landscape crew of the cemetery has been asked to keep a look out for her. I still find it difficult to believe that she had the ability to fly across the cemetery, let alone the long distance migration to the southern United States or Central America. It might explain her voracious appetite the last couple of times I saw her - she was planning her prison break. I really hope that she made it and that nothing bad has happened to her. The cemetery is nearly 500 acres, so it is possible that she is just wandering around in one of its many hidden dales. I'm also hoping that she didn't settle down in the cemetery's Dell Water where this monster Snapping Turtle was lurking in the mud.


Starz723 said...

As of today in the cemetery, there is no sign of Mommy and the Canada Goose population has greatly diminished. I truly believe she just followed the flock that decided to leave. My great concern is that I doubt she could sustain a real migration, after seeing how compromised her flying was, and would fall out somewhere that was not a safe haven. I always said that she could not have come down injured in a better place than Green-Wood Cemetery's Sylvan Water. It was truly a secure and safe refuge and gave us the opportunity to see her thrive and heal. She/He was very special to me and I would check up on her on every visit to Green-Wood. There were times in the dead of winter, when the pond was frozen over and there were no other waterfowl except for Mommy with her blazing white feathers. Yes, she ran over to me and knew my call for her as well. She will be sorely missed by me. After witnessing the departure of the juvenile snow geese and her apparent agony over not being able to join them, I understand the call of the wild. I will hold a good thought for her safety. I never thought she would ever fly away. My field notes on Mommy have now come sadly to a close, but I learned alot. Nature finds a way and will prevail.

Marge Raymond

Pamela said...

oh dear. Let us know if she shows up.

There was a snow goose traveling with a group of Canadian Geese that I watched last year. There were hundreds and hundreds of them -- and the one young snow.

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