Possumhaw: A goose and a gander



Shannon Bardwell



"It's Christmas time, so let us drive dull care away. For we have got a Christmas goose. So, cook it well, I pray." 


William Topaz McGonagall, Scotland (1825-1902) 


"The world's best worst poet" 




The Canada geese are back in the fields and edging along the lakeside; sometimes venturing into the lake, drifting leisurely, foraging for food or avoiding visitors. It is quite possible our geese are not migratory. Ours skip from pond to pond but rarely leave the area. Sam said he thought there were non-migrating geese so I checked geese facts with reference.com, American expedition.com and geesepeace.com.  


In earlier times hunters actually used live Canada geese for decoys. The geese were caught, domesticated and tethered to the ground. Other geese would fly in, attracted by the tethered geese and wham bam, hunters landed a goose for dinner. The live geese decoy technique was so successful that it decimated gaggles of geese.  


As numbers dwindled, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state agencies made live baiting illegal and began to collect eggs, hatch goslings and release them onto refuges. Oddly enough, geese born in captivity, something like salmon, return to their birthplace to nest and bear their young. Thus, these geese do not migrate and rarely travel more than 100-200 miles from their birthplace.  


Geese form strong family bonds and choose a mate for life. If a mate dies, they will sometimes choose another, but not always. Because of the longevity of geese relationships there's not a lot of exuberant dating rituals like with some other birds.  


The practice of collecting Canada goose eggs and introducing them into the wild stopped sometime in the 1990s. Currently, numbers of Canada geese have remained steady as they have found safe places for food and molting. Canada geese lose their flight feathers and must wait undisturbed while they grow in.  


Other reasons for the birds not choosing to migrate are the lack of predators, the abundance of food supplies all year long, and the fact ponds in Southern climates rarely freeze over. Add a little deer corn into the mix and there's no wonder the geese chose to stay, not to mention grazing grasslands for pecans and acorns, as well as bountiful aquatic plants, small fish, insects and food filtered from silt in ponds. Within 24 hours goslings can swim and dive. Geese can dive as much as 30 feet deep, whereas our pond may be 5 feet max -- easy pickin's for food sources.  


The Canada goose, being the largest goose in the world, can weigh 20-25 pounds. In the wild they live 10-20 years, a few 30, and one in captivity for 40 years. Mississippi's hunting season for migratory game birds, including the Canada goose, remains open until Jan. 27. Should you choose to have a Canada goose or three (the bag limit) for Christmas dinner. Be sure to check with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks for regulations regarding locations, licenses and waterfowl stamps. 


As for the Bardwells, we'll watch the geese, wait for deer sightings and enjoy something a little tamer for Christmas dinner.


Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.


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