Saturday, 13 February 2010

Greylag Geese watching

 In the last couple of weeks, a small flock of a dozen greylag geese has started to come to the local Park. Greylags are one of the most interesting local birds to watch. Once they land, the orderly formation breaks and pairs separate and noisily settle scores before starting their feeding with ritualized neck posturing. Despite being in a flock, pairs are usually quite easy to spot, they follow each other and the gander is slightly larger than the goose. When showing aggressiveness, one of the pair members lowers its neck and shows the beak to its opponent, with the partner following close. On quiet times, where no people are feeding the ducks, greylags head up to the large grass spaces of the park to feed. These are no wild geese, if you show some interest in them, they are likely to come closer to check if you have scraps, or even come right to you to demand some depending on their personalities. To watch them doing what if comes naturally to them you need to feign indifference. Today I watch six of them grazing.
Konrad Lorenz, the Nobel prize, carried out long term behavioural studies on hand-reared greylag geese to allow close approximation. His geese - which were individually named - lived free but did not migrate, so he could study them year round. Lorenz describes geese behaviour in detail in his book 'Here I am - where are you?' Lorenz first discovered the phenomenon of imprinting on geese, by which newborn birds attach themselves to the first moving object they see after hatching. The description of his first, serendipitous, realisation of imprinting is quite moving: 
'After the first gosling had hatched and dried, I was unable to resist the temptation of removing the delightful creature from under the foster mother and taking a closer look. As I did so, it gazed at me and soon began to utter its single syllable lost calls [...] I answered with a few comforting sounds. [...] Eventually, however, I had enough of this babysitting and placed the gosling back under the wings of the brooding domestic goose and started to leave. I should have known better.' 
The gosling started making distress calls and when Lorenz starts moving away, it follows him. Lorenz did a lot of babysitting from then on! 

The Greylag goose triumph ceremony (from one of Lorenz's papers on the behaviour of the Greylag geese).

1 comment:

  1. “Francis,” who I have come to learn is a Domestic Greylag Goose has taken up residency on our dock on Lake Lanier, GA. She (or maybe he) showed up in our marina about 4-5 weeks ago. She is the only one of her kind we have ever seen on the lake. We boat weekly, if not daily at times, so we see her often, - every time we go to our boat. I wondered if you could tell me a few things about this type of goose:
    - Will she mate with the nearby Canadian Geese?
    - Will she survive the winter in Georgia, - sometimes chilly and icy?
    - She must have been dropped or abandoned by a personal owner, or escaped from being a pet - - will she be able to find food for herself when we are not there to feed her?
    - She is very tame and friendly – frequently walking right up to you while on the dock and eating out of your hand, - she has even sat on a few laps (seriously)!
    - I am worried that she is constantly honking (a true honk) as if she is looking for a “mate.” (??) Can she survive solo?

    Thanks for your time. I hope you have a few moments to reply, - KA