Mysterious case of geese making use of an osprey nest

Baby bird season has begun with the Canada goose goslings starting to hatch. There was a nest that I was driving past almost on a daily basis since April 10.

Canada goose hatchlings

Canada goose hatchlings

Baby bird season has begun with the Canada goose goslings starting to hatch.

There was a nest that I was driving past almost on a daily basis since April 10. A Canada goose was incubating her eggs up on a platform nest intended for an osprey. I would drive past, glance up and say to myself, “Yup, she’s still there.”

Things changed on May 10. I was coming past about 8 p.m. and when I glanced up, I had to slam on the brakes because I saw two heads up in the nest.

Actually, I didn’t slam on the brakes because I was on a highway with cars behind me. But I did go to the next road and turned off and then went back to the nest which had a pull off below it where I was able to safely stop and see what was going on.

Lo and behold, one of the babies had hatched. There was junior walking circles around mama.

I was really keen to watch the babies fall out of the nest. I’ve seen common goldeneye and bufflehead ducklings come out of nest boxes but I figured the goslings falling from that height would be even more spectacular. I also figured that they wouldn’t leave the nest until the next morning. I thought there would be more babies hatched in the night and they would wait till it was a bit warmer to leave the nest.

So I was back out there at 5:45 a.m., worrying all the way out there whether I had miscalculated or not. I was quite relieved when I got there to find mama still sitting on the nest.

When I pulled off the road, I was able to park so that I was sitting in the back of my car with my video camera set up and ready to roll. But then I saw the bad news. The baby that had hatched the night before was no longer alive. It was -2 C at the time so I figured it had been too cold for it overnight.

Mama got a failing grade from me. I couldn’t figure out why she hadn’t tucked it in underneath her to keep it warm.

About 15 minutes after I got there, another baby appeared and started walking around the mom. She paid absolutely no attention to either gosling. She just sat on her nest and every once in awhile she would reach underneath her and fluff up the feathers in the nest.

All the while, junior walked round and round her on the nest. A couple of times, the hatchling reached up and grabbed a feather that had stuck to mom’s beak but otherwise neither of them seemed interested in the other.

I assumed the rest of her eggs hadn’t hatched yet and that’s what she was waiting for. I also assumed that this scenario would play out the same as the ducklings I’d seen with mom leaving the nest first, calling to the babies and getting them to take the plunge.

I assumed wrong. After watching for two and a half hours, I saw the gosling move closer to the edge of the nest. I thought to myself, “Wow, that baby is close to the edge of the nest,” and reached over to turn on the camera.

As my finger touched the Record button, baby dropped out of the nest. Boom. Just like that. Mom started raising a ruckus and Dad (who was down in the river below) also was calling. Then, maybe two seconds after the baby left the nest, Mom flew down and joined Dad at the river.

Needless to say, I missed recording any of it!

I raced over under the nest and there was baby, peeping away, working its way down the cliff to get to Mom and Dad below.

I went back to my vehicle, thinking that this story wasn’t over yet. I thought that Mom would make sure that baby made it to Dad and then she would come back and finish up with the eggs that were still in the nest.

I was wrong again. She never came back. Where is a cherry picker when you need one? I really wanted to know how many eggs had been left behind.

That’s a question I’ll never get answered but really, the story didn’t end there. You see, all the while that I was watching the goose, I was also watching a pair of ospreys on a pole across the river, patiently waiting for the geese to vacate the premise.

They were actually quite entertaining. There were a few sticks on the pole with them and every once in awhile, the male would fly off and bring back another stick. Or he’d pick up one from the pathetic excuse for a nest and move it around.

All the while, the female just sat on the other side of the pole waiting. It was almost as if she was trying to keep him busy renovating the fixer-upper while waiting to move into their summer residence, which they did the next day and momma osprey began happily brooding her eggs in style.

Ospreys incubate for 32-35 days and usually the babies don’t show themselves in the nest till they’re a fair size so I have at least two months before this story will be concluded.

Judy Boyd is a naturalist with the Red Deer River Naturalists.

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