Instinct is a strange thing. As the days in October start to get shorter and cooler, many of the birds found in New Jersey know it is time to fatten themselves for the long trip south to their wintering territories. They will come to feeders, flit around trees for insects and take advantage of the longer nights to travel hundreds of miles. A wind out of the north will be a big help to them, too.
Some birds, however, do not feel the need to go anywhere because life is good for them in New Jersey.
Consider the Canada goose, the unofficial lawn ornament on most of the state’s homes and office parks. Canada geese can be long-distance travelers that leave their breeding territories in the far north of Canada and head as far south as the U.S. gulf coast and northern parts of Mexico, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. On a cold October dawn, it is an awesome sight to look up high after hearing distant honking and watch hundreds of Canada geese flying south in a long V after rising from wherever they spent the night.
Then there are those lookalike geese you find on the office park lawns. They don’t have to go anywhere. As with that other New Jersey pest, the white-tailed deer, we’ve created the perfect conditions. Our clipped lawns welcome the geese, allowing a place for them to graze while watching for predators. (Want to keep geese off your lawn? Let it grow really long and high. But most won’t do that.)
So unless you want to hire one of those services that sets dogs on the geese to force them off your property and over to your neighbor’s, the adult pair, which mate for life, will produce a yearly clutch of two to eight eggs. The family will stay together in a large group. The goslings look cute until they start messing up your property or walk in front of your car as you’re driving. It’s not uncommon to find “Goose Crossing” signs along New Jersey roadways.
Canada geese, whether migrant or local, are protected by federal law. Shooting them is illegal. So is ramming your car through a flock. Threaten one and it could break your arm with its wing and then you get hit with a charge of animal cruelty.
By the time breeding season is done and the young fuzzballs grow big and look like their parents, it is late summer. The Canada geese sense the shorter days and their instinct tells them they must be moving. They become restless in their groups. They honk more. They fly off, circle around a few times and land someplace nearby. All the while they are eating and leaving green droppings everywhere.
They know they should be heading somewhere but they don’t know where. So they will continue cropping and fertilizing whatever grassy areas they find until a heavy snow forces them to seek greener pastures.
This is a contributed post from one of TLC-NJ’s members, Margo D. Beller.