Musings on snow geese and grain-based diet
While out with the pups just now, we witnessed the largest flight of geese of the season. Literally thousands of birds forming hundreds of "V"s across the sky. The massive flock above us was aiming toward the salt marsh of the Ramsar (international wetlands protection treaty) site a couple of kilometres from our house. In the distance, I could see other groups heading in from other directions. There must be a major convention going on at the marsh today!
These birds fly from the arctic tundra to wintering grounds on the eastern seaboard or points south every fall and return every spring: that's 3000 to 4000 kilometres each way. They can commonly travel 500 to 1000 kilometres without landing. They draw on their fat reserves to fuel the hours and hours of non-stop flight.
The marshes along the St. Lawrence are a staging area for them, where they feed up (carbo-load) before heading on to the U.S. They also feed in the surrounding fields where wheat, barley or corn have been harvested, having adjusted their diet over the past 50 years to include grains rather than just the roots of marsh plants. They have been keeping pace with the increasingly high carb SAD. In their case, it seems to be resulting in a population increase, as it is easier to lay down their required layers of fat reserves on a high-grain diet.
Kind of makes you think: unless you are planning a major migration twice a year, maybe all those grain-generated fat reserves are not really necessary.
When I read the title, the first thing that popped into my head was the Canadian geese that lived on the pond on my campus at work. They hated me. My vegetarian friend did not have nearly the same problem with them hissing at her while she was walking. Possibly because she didn't think "dinner" when she looked at them . . .
Isn't it amazing what animals can do? A lot of us used to be migratory, too. Wouldn't it be nice if that were still an option?
Mr. Light and I are not hunters, but if we were it would be very easy pickings. One of my friends has a B&B that is always packed during hunting season, and plenty of our neighbours hunt everything under the sun.
We do fortunately have a local producer of range-fed fowl and we have occasionally gotten a couple of ducks and geese in the past. We should start doing that again, now that it is no longer considered a forbidden food.
My family has the migratory gene, but we have always migrated by motor power not muscle power.
Up here in Alaska, where millions of snow geese spend the summer raising goslings, they get no grain whatsoever. They eat tundra grass and mosquitoes, and whatever else they can find, but no grain. Maybe a little seeds if they find a berry patch later in the summer. You should see what they do to the tundra vegetaion, though. It looks like a herd of feral swine was there. They are literally eating themselves out of a place to breed.
I hate Canadian geese- they destroyed our little pond growing up and are generally disgusting. But they'd make a good dinner. I'm not a hunter- yet- but goose is on the list to learn how to hunt.
Hey Otzi! I was wondering what the repercussions were going to be. A burgeoning population makes hunters down here happy, and most biologists like to see healthy populations, but what is supported in the south is likely unsustainable in the arctic. From what you say, they are heading toward a classic population boom-crash cycle from Ecology 101.
I suppose it should not come as a surprise that the residues of farming something which is not particularly good for humans or livestock is resulting in potentially negative effects for wild species as well.
drssgchic -- We get Canadian geese here, too. They also like to forage in the fields. Fortunately they have abundant natural habitat and farm fields and stay out of people's yards and the neighbouring city's parks, for the most part.
I have to say that I was glad to be back at the house and under the porch roof when the geese flew over. I have been "blessed" by them in the past and it is not a pretty sight. I think I will start wearing my broad-rimmed hat on my walks for the rest of the migration season...