Chris Petrak

Pond starling

Not everyone loves, or appreciates, Canada Geese

My column last month was about the family life of the Canada goose. Some of the column referred to the friendly relationship that many people have toward these geese, bordering on the pet-like. This month is the flip side on the Canada goose, which used to be the forerunner of winter and the harbinger or spring.

No more.

Edward Forbush in “A Natural History of American Birds” (1955), described the reaction of people to the “flying wedge” of Canada geese which “brings to all who see or hear the promise of another spring. The farmer stops his team to gaze; the blacksmith leaves his forge to listen as that far-carrying clamor falls upon the ear; children leave their play and eagerly point to the sky where the feathered denizens of the northern wilderness press steadily on toward the pole, babbling of the coming of spring... Coming after the long, cold winter, not even the first call of the bluebird so stirs the blood of the listener.”

Forbush wrote at a time when most Canada geese still migrated to and from their breeding grounds, and when those breeding grounds were mostly north of our border with Canada. He described it as “a distinctly American bird.”...

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The family life of Canada geese

Precocial hatchling, and the comings and going of the flocks

I watched as my friend scattered corn for the family of Canada Geese. There was Mom and Dad and five goslings already approaching their parents in size. Jokingly and flippantly, I said something like: “Fattening up the tender goslings for your Christmas dinner.” He shot me daggers! He did...

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A welcome summer resident

Rose-breasted Grosbeak is stunning and sounds like a robin who has taken voice lessons

John James Audubon, French-American ornithologist, naturalist, and painter, began his account of the rose-breasted grosbeak with these poetic words describing his night encounter: “One year, in the month of August, I was trudging along the shores of the Mohawk River, when night overtook me. Being little acquainted with that...

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The day that spring came

At my home in South Newfane, spring came on April 8. There are many different ways by which people determine that spring has arrived. For some it is the first daffodil that blooms. Others hurry spring's arrival with the first blooming crocus. Ice-out in the West River might be the arrival of spring, or ice-out on the Retreat meadows. Fishermen opt for the opening of trout season; skiers the closing of a favorite ski area. Birders, of course, look for...

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Winged tiger of the woods

I overheard a conversation some time ago. A woman was lamenting the disappearance of her cat, who went outside at night and never returned. In the woods near her home, she had seen the tracks of a fisher. With a wavering voice, she concluded that her beloved tom had been taken by the fisher. The out-of-doors can be a dangerous place for all manner of animals. A house cat out-of-doors is a predator. A recent study has significantly raised the...

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Bird irrupted

Watching birds can do lots of good things for you, including expanding your vocabulary. Or at least, it has expanded my vocabulary. Until I had the time to pay attention to seasonal changes and movements of birds, I did not have the word “irruption” in my working vocabulary. I knew “eruption,” which involves something bursting out, like lava from a volcano. Irruption refers to something bursting in, or surging up. It is the word used by ecologists to describe a...

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What’s in a name?

My wife's elderly aunt clips newspaper articles about birds and sends them to me, sooner or later. One arrived and opened an interesting subject: How do we refer to numbers of birds? The newspaper clipping began with: “Many of us know that it's truly bad form when among birders to blurt out, 'Oh, look at that big bunch of crows!'” “'It's a murder of crows!' a prism of bonafide birders will promptly advise you with blood in their eyes. And...

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Where are all the birds this winter?

During the winter months, it is not uncommon to hear the question, “Where are all the birds?” A flip answer would be, “They've gone south.” Which they have. Most of the birds that fill our landscapes during the summer are tropical birds which return to the tropics in Central and South America during our winter months. Most of the warblers, vireos, thrushes, and flycatchers fall into this category. Many other birds move to the milder climate of the southern states.

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