To the late Charlie Sherman, a longtime Twin Oaks resident, the two geese among his front pond’s hundreds of birds were more than just beautiful creatures of nature.
They were a love story.
“Nine years ago a few Canada geese came over and landed on the pond,” said Sherman, a longtime local banker and loan officer. “They all went north again except one. I guess he just fell in love.”
Ah, love; sweet love.
The Canada goose Sherman called Harley because “every once in a while he’ll fly around the pond like a Harley Davidson,” met and apparently fell feathers-over-webbed-feet in love with Hazel, a large white domestic gander.
“I call her Hazel because she quacked a lot and reminded me of a girlfriend I had in London,” said Sherman, a retired savings and loan official. “Harley will not leave her day or night. I guess it’s just the nature of geese to mate for life. The eggs don’t hatch because the Canada goose and domestic goose don’t make fertile eggs. Hazel will sit there, and sit there, on the eggs and he’ll watch out for her. They don’t hatch and the two holler a lot.
“But he picked Hazel,” Sherman added. “And no matter where she goes, he’ll be right there with her.”
Local Audubon officials said it had to be a very uncommon pairing.
“I’ve really never heard of anything like that,” said Wayne Pray, president of the 600-member Palomar Audubon Society, based at Escondido.
“Mallards, they’ll breed with anybody,” Pray said after a pregnant pause. “But Canada geese? That’s a wild bird mating with a domestic house goose, a farm animal really. I’d say that’s a story.”
A lot of ducks cross-breed and that can be a problem for wildlife conservationists, said Doug Gibson, executive director of the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy. But a Canada goose and San Marcos home-bred gander?
“Canada geese should all be gone by now,” Gibson said. “I don’t know if I could point to an example of that.”
But there they float, Harley and Hazel, apparently together forever.
Wasn’t always smooth sailing at first
The Canadian visitor tried to get Hazel to come north with him the first spring he met her, Sherman recalled. He steered her down the Sherman’s private road known as Easy Street.
“He took her all the way down the road but then she chased him back,” said Sherman, who lives on a 7 1/2 acre hillside estate. “He recognized he had to stay and wouldn’t leave after that.”
Even if she wanted to head north, the domesticated Hazel can’t fly. So now, the two geese in love frolic and follow each other on Sherman’s idyllic pond that houses wild egrets, herons and several varieties of ducks.
And a little bit of Harley rubbed off on Hazel as habits sometimes do between lifelong mates. Once docile and people-friendly, Harley’s wild ways changed Hazel a bit.
“She used to come real close to people, but he made her wild,” Sherman said. “He would stick his neck out and push her away from people.”
Hey, it was a love affair. What else can you say?
What’s good for the gander — is a goose
While I was in Helena about a month ago, a birder friend directed me to the local (Bud Ballard Memorial) duck pond to check out an unusual goose pair. A Canada Goose has paired with a domestic goose, and they hatched a handful of fluffy, yellow chicks. This sort of thing happens from time to time, and it reminds me that while the big concept of “species” is easy to understand, it can appear rather muddied at times.
With Canada Geese at least, the female leads and the male usually swims along behind the family. This makes me to think that the domestic goose is the “goose,” as it were, and the Canada Goose is the “gander” or male. Canada Geese also tend to mate for life, and they nest where the female was born. The young birds stay with their parents for the first year, which means these guys should be around long enough to watch them grow up.
When these cross-pairings happen, the youngsters can look very different from their parents and each other. So if you’re in the Helena area it might be worth taking the time to swing by the duck pond and check this family out. These youngsters will probably be unlike any geese you’ve ever seen, or will see again.
|Whooping (top) and Sandhill Cranes flying together|
Side note – we saw something similar last winter, down on the Texas coast. Small groups of Sandhill and Whooping Cranes winter in the area of Goose Island State Park, where we were camped. On a foggy morning as we watched for cranes appearing and disappearing in the mist, a flock of three Sandhills and one Whooper flew past us.
Now we’ve got a mystery on our hands. Like the geese, cranes also live in family groups. Does this Whooper live with the Sandhills? Is it paired? Where did they come upon each other? It always irks me to leave with more questions than I arrived with.