Migratory geese in flight

The Underrated Bird

Guest post by Curt DeVoe, Board President

Geese are underrated – they really are incredible birds. Other than migrating cranes and a very rare visiting swan, they are the biggest birds around. Even a bald eagle looks a little smaller compared to a goose, or at least a flock of geese. Watching geese fly in long “V” formations has always fascinated me.

Geese also are tough – they adapt and survive even in urban environments.

I live on Eagle Creek Reservoir, and we have lots of geese. This time of year, as the reservoir freezes and the areas of open water become fewer and smaller, the geese congregate in large groups along the shrinking edges of the open water. In the past few days, as the reservoir has frozen over almost entirely, it seems like all the geese on Eagle Creek have crammed themselves along the small area off the end of my neighbor’s dock, which stays open through the winter.

To land in that small area of open water, the geese need to descend pretty much straight down, which they manage to do gracefully and beautifully, tails spread wide and wings arched and held back, looking a little like a Concorde jet in its iconic landing formation. My house is high on a bluff, so I watch this beautiful spectacle at eye level. The geese seem to be flying right at me until they quickly decelerate and start their landing sequence. The graceful approach of a goose contrasts sharply with the ducks, mergansers, and other smaller waterfowl, which approach at hyper speed like bowling pins with wings and then drop abruptly and awkwardly as they try to find a landing place not already occupied by the geese.

The constant honking and squawking of geese sings me to sleep at night, and wakes me in the morning. The geese are equally beautiful as they fly off into the distance in late morning to search for food.

As I watched the ice expand over the past several weeks, and as the areas of open water contracted and then disappeared, I thought about how loss of habitat has affected geese and other birds. But that tiny opening in the ice next to my neighbor’s dock reminded me that even small, isolated areas can support an incredible number of birds.

A few days ago, I counted over 150 geese crowded around that little semicircle of open water. Small areas can be particularly beneficial to wildlife if they are strategically located along a flyway or body of water, or in relation to other undeveloped areas – or if they provide particularly good habitat, resting or nesting sites, or food sources. That’s one of the main missions of Central Indiana Land Trust – to identify, conserve and manage places, large and small, where geese, other birds, and other fauna and flora can best flourish.

Watching all those geese around the tiny open water area outside my windows confirms the importance of conserving and managing those high value areas.