Snow Geese

I awoke yesterday morning to the sound of hundreds of snow geese in the farmer’s fields behind our home.  They show up every year to rest and to glean the leftover corn to fill their bellies before moving further north.  Ultimately, they will arrive at their breeding grounds in the Arctic tundra.  I look forward to their annual visit because they’re the only Arctic animal I get so see living here in Pennsylvania and because I’m amazed at the length of the journey they take every year, flying from the Arctic to the southern United States to winter in warm marshes, and then back to the far north every spring.  They arrived a month early this year.  Most years they show up in the middle of March, but spring arrived early here in Pennsylvania, and I knew that the geese, true harbingers of spring, would not be far behind.

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So after waking and caring for the dogs, I grabbed some tea and stood at the window watching the geese and planning on how I was going to approach them to take photographs without being seen.  I know from past experience that if they see me approaching, they will take off into the sky and may even leave the area before I can get a photo.  As I stood there watching, about half of the flock took to the air and landed in a part of the field I couldn’t see from the window.  The other half of the flock continued where they were, picking up leftover pieces of corn and honking at each other.  The sound of hundreds of geese is loud, very loud.  As I was considering if I should take a video so that I could capture both their movement and their noise, I noticed that some of the geese were taking off in pairs to join the rest of the flock and that made me wonder – standing there in my pajamas in front of the window – if snow geese mate for life so I promised myself that I would research that later.

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After watching them for a while, I headed upstairs to get showered and dressed.  While in the bathroom, I heard seven loud gunshots. I looked out the bathroom window and saw the geese in the sky, honking and flying away.  I ran downstairs and went outside – still in my pajamas – to see two hunters picking up dead birds and heading back to their vehicle.

I was stunned.  These geese have been coming here for years and as far as I know, they have never been hunted here.  The field behind our house does not belong to us, it belongs to a farmer who lives down over the hill and I have no reason to believe that the hunters did not have permission to hunt in the field nor do I think they acted illegally. Not only is hunting snow geese legal, the number of geese hunters may take has been increased because snow geese have made such a great recovery from their depleted numbers in the past that their breeding grounds are now being threatened by overpopulation.

Despite this, it saddened me, because it turns out that snow geese do mate for life and now some of them have to continue the journey to their breeding grounds without their mate.

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Needless to say, I did not take any photographs or video of the snow geese yesterday.  All of the photos here are mine and were taken on March 17, 2015.

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28 thoughts on “Snow Geese

  1. I’m a little ambivalent about hunting myself, although I realize that certain species, like our white tail deer, have become so numerous that culling by hunting is important — especially since their natural predators are being curtailed by the expanding suburbs. There’s nothing romantic about animals starving to death, or spreading disease.

    Even natural predation can be disturbing to watch. Every year, I watch the baby mallards disappear as the hawks, seagulls, and gar fish dine on them. But, as I finally figured out, if we didn’t lose some ducklings every year, we’d be up to our hips in ducks — so there’s that.

    Still, I grieve, whether it’s a bird legally shot or a squirrel who didn’t take time to look both ways. I’m just glad you got to see the geese — again! — and that you shared the story and the photos.

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    • I come from a family of hunters and I don’t have an issue with hunters who use what they harvest. And as you point out, some species are causing havoc, like white tail deer and Canada geese. I was shocked simply because I thought the geese were safe here. I hope they return next spring.

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  2. It’s bitter sweet, isn’t it – must be such an awesome sight to have them arrive, feed and rest on their long journey. Then there’s the ugliness… but as shoreacres says, controlled legal culling is a ‘kindness’ in a way too.

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  3. Interesting. I don’t think that the geese we see around here are snow geese. I did know that geese mated for life, but I suspect that hunters don’t care about such things. People around here seem to have strong opinions about geese, some seeing the beauty in their flight and lifestyle– others complaining about the noise and mess they bring. Your photos are lovely, btw.

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  4. I understand your shock about having the geese shot! Although I could never hunt (with anything other than a camera), I do understand that sometimes it is more humane that letting animals die of the problems that come from over-population. It’s just not something I would ever enjoy doing. I hope you see the geese again!

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  5. Lorrie – there is a beautiful short story by Paul Gallico called The Snow Goose, it was written in 1967 so might be hard to find. It is a lovely story that you would like!!!!!

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  6. Pingback: culling grounds – Susannah Hay

  7. Beautiful photos but a sad story. However, people who live off the grid and follow a sustainable lifestyle hunt for survival and I can understand that and respect their choice. I myself could never live that way because I don’t like the hunting or fishing part of it and it is a necessity. I did, however, enjoy your shooting. ☺☺☺

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