THE PAIR BOND
This morning (3-11-08) I observed the formation of pair bonding between two Canada geese. As I went out to feed the horses I noted a flock of 11 setting alongside the river about 100 yards from the house. There was a strip of open water about 3 or 4 feet wide and some were in the water, the rest just next to it. The ice was shimmering and I thought it was puzzling, as how could ice shimmer. Then looking from a different angle from the barn I could see that there was a thin layer of water over the ice. With the light wind it caused the ice to look like it was dancing and glistening with thousands of little sparkles. It was a seldom viewed and unusual sight.
When I got back from feeding, I resumed watching and a group of four glided in and landed about 50 feet from the other flock. I noted that one was behind the other three. As they landed, the straggler landed about 20 yards from the other three. They stayed that way for awhile, then the three lifted off and flew about 50 yards and landed again. The loner stayed put for about 5 minutes, then lifted off and landed, again about 20 yards from the other three.
The trio then walked away, the straggler following, but maintaining the 20 yard separation.
This went on for about 20 minutes or so. By that time I could see one of the trio was larger, as was the straggler, so I guessed they must be males. Then the loner walked toward the trio, and as he got about 5 yards away, the gander of the trio stretched his neck out, spread his wings and went after the loner. The loner retreated and again took up his position at about 20 yards.
This was repeated several times and by then I was getting an idea of what was happening. The trio was most likely a pair from earlier years and the third member of the trio was a chick from the preceding year. That chick was still with the parents; maybe the only survivor or the others had already gone off on their own. The loner was a single male, most likely also a chick of the preceding year. He was trying to entice the young female to leave her parents and join him. Daddy goose was having none of this and kept chasing the young suitor off. The young suitor was persistent however and it didn’t look like he was going to give up.
Then the Mama goose took a hand in this little play. She started to walk off, away from the loner and that left Papa with a dilemma. Should he follow Mama, or stay and keep the young suitor away? Mama goose made some movements and sat down, then got up again. It was like as if she was indicating that she was in a mood to mate. Papa goose then followed, with the young goose not knowing what to do. She stayed put, the distance between her and Ma and Pa kept getting larger and then the young suitor moved in. Papa now started to go back to the daughter, then looked back at Mama and again chased after her.
The young gander now walked the other way and started putting on a display, stretching his neck up, and fluffing his wings. The young goose now made up her mind and started walking toward her admirer. She was hesitant and kept looking back to her family, but by now they were over 100 yards away. The young gander moved further away and again made his display. She would walk toward him, then stop, then walk toward him again. Finally she came all the way up to him and sort of squatted down, not a full sitting position, but sort of a coy gesture, which made him do an even more aggressive display. Now geese don’t kiss, I think, but at one brief point they touched beaks. At that point the young gander walked away but she stayed put. Then after about 4 or 5 minutes, she followed, but would stop about 5 yards away from him. That kept up for 15 or 20 minutes. He would walk about 15 or 20 yards, stop, then she would follow, but stop about 5 yards away. He kept walking the opposite direction from the older pair, who by now were about a quarter mile away. Finally, after the young gander had walked about 2 football fields, the young goose joined him. Then they walked away, with her at his side or a few feet behind. They got to the river about 50 yards from the earlier group, who were still sitting in the same place. The new pair then sat down side by side and it was obvious that they were a new pair. By mid summer the old couple will most likely have grand goslings.
It was a display not unlike human behavior, with a young man after a daughter and Daddy not too wild about it. Finally the suitor’s persistence pays off and Mama makes the decision that this youngster is ok for the daughter and persuades Daddy that it’s OK. Then the new pair bond and go off by themselves.
About the author:
Lee Sauer lives twenty miles south of Horicon Marsh, Wisconsin, on a property with long river frontage. The river makes a big horseshoe bend that encompasses about 300 acres with woods at the open end which is far enough away that the geese can see it well. This combination gives the geese security and so hundreds land in this bend across the river.