By Naomi Klouda
A Canada goose has joined a sandhill crane flock, probably a situation of imprinting that apparently occurred early in the goose’s life.
Nina Faust and Ed Bailey of Kachemak Crane Watch received calls all summer from crane observers spotting the unmistakeable black neck mixed amongst the graceful ruby crests of the cranes. He ate corn when cranes ate corn. He bathed in ponds where they bathed. He flew in their flock when they took flight.
The Canadian landed at Inspiration Ridge Preserve with crane flocks this weekend and earlier as well. Faust caught him with his adopted flock on video last week and posted it on YouTube. It can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xjGmT3iZDYI.
The question now is whether the goose will migrate with the cranes to Oregon and California farm fields when they take off any day now.
“We think there’s been a partial migration of maybe one-third of the flock,” Faust said Monday. “About 100 cranes left from here (to Inspiration Ridge Preserve) on Sept. 9, but it didn’t look like a true migration.”
The Kachemak Bay crane population may be as many as 200 individuals, Bailey added.
“It appears 40 might have already taken off because on Sunday, only 60 came back from the flock of 105 that had been staging here,” he said.
As for the Canada goose, Crane Watch started getting reports at the beginning of the summer that a goose was hanging out with cranes. Callers said, “Hey, there’s seven cranes and a Canada goose is with them. What’s up with that?”
The lone Canadian was featured with about 90 cranes when Faust filmed him.
“The cranes tend to leave him alone. He sits in the middle and everyone is dancing, eating or moving around him, often encircling him,” Faust described. “If a crane comes too close, he pecks or hisses at it until it backs off. He walked all the way across the field with the flock, and he was down in the pond bathing with them. He does everything with them. When they make sounds to indicate danger, he pops his head up just like them, and flies off with the flock.”
Cranes make a certain call that tells them all to turn to face one direction when it is time to go roost or migrate. “And then the signal is given and they take off,” Faust said.
Faust has heard the goose sound out his native honk. He also murmurs in contented Canada goose as he eats, she said. But he understands the language of cranes.
Gary Ivy, a crane expert who is cooperating with Kachemak Crane Watch on a three-year nesting ecology study to answer a number of questions about the Kachemak Bay cranes, was consulted on the Canada goose matter.
“He said he had seen a snow goose amongst a flock of cranes once. He thinks at the beginning of the nesting season, just before cranes lay their eggs, a goose may have wandered in and dropped an egg in the nest,” Faust explained.
The practice of “nest parasitism” may be at work here. That’s a means of reproduction by laying eggs in the nests of other birds and leaving the nest owners to provide parental care. Sometimes it occurs with other species, such as cowbirds, Bailey pointed out. The phenomenon is also called “strangers in the nest.”
If this is the case, the goose chick likely hatched before the cranes’ own colts. The danger of this is that the cranes might then abandon their own eggs.
“That’s not favorable to cranes’ reproduction,” Faust and Bailey pointed out.