February 11, 2022 | ACTIVE LIFE | By Avery Colborn | Photo by Rikki Held
Just as seasons come and go in Colorado, so do geese.
The Canada goose has found places to call home all across the state. The Colorado College campus has proven to be no exception.
These gray and white, black-billed birds can be seen flying in their iconic v-formation across the sky, frolicking by ponds and streams, or congregating on one of CC’s many lawns.
A goose’s ideal habitat provides open spaces that allow them to spot predators, water features, and snow that doesn’t last for more than a day or two — making urban areas with parks and open spaces, such as a college campus, a perfect fit.
There is both a resident population of geese that lives in Colorado year-round and a migratory population that travels south for the winter and north for the summer. The migrant geese make pit-stops throughout the state, and in most parts of the country, along the way to their destination. These nine-pound birds can fly up to 1,500 miles in just 24 hours.
Canada geese typically travel in large flocks, and many of the individual members are usually related. More experienced members take turns leading the flock in a v-formation flight. Pairs mate for life, which spans up to 24 years on average.
While the more populous species of goose is the Canada goose, the cackling goose is also a regular visitor on campus, said Mary Rudolph ‘22, an organismal biology and ecology major who founded the Tiger Audubon Club in 2019.
“We mostly get two species of goose, a cackling goose and then a Canada goose,” said Rudolph. “They travel together, which doesn’t make identification any easier. And sometimes they do what’s called ‘hybridize,’ where the cackling goose and the Canada goose will get together and then have a little hybrid baby goose. For the most part, from what I’ve seen, it’s a pretty even split [between the two species].”
The Tiger Audubon Club, referred to more simply as “Bird Club” by its members, is affiliated with the National Audubon Society and has several ongoing projects on campus, such as a window collision monitoring program to prevent birds from colliding with windows on different buildings.
The club’s main goal, however, is simply to enjoy the many birds around CC and the greater Colorado Springs area, such as Dark-Eyed Juncos, Belted Kingfishers, and the occasional Great Horned Owl.
But, despite their impressive numbers on campus, geese can be easily overlooked in comparison to other bird varieties. Stories of being chased or hissed at by geese have become a sort of folklore among CC students, causing birds to be perceived as more of a nuisance than as wildlife.
While it is true that geese can have aggressive tendencies, it is most likely because they are simply trying to defend themselves and their territories.
“They’re not something you should be afraid of. If they do hiss and you’re a little weary about it, don’t turn your back,” Rudolph said. “If you turn your back, it thinks that you’re running, and it’s going to chase you, so just keep contact and keep walking.”
Though at first he felt the same disinterest towards the geese that many people on campus express, Julio Duno ‘23 recalled a recent experience where he learned to appreciate the geese.
“I was at Monument Valley Park when I saw a group of them standing on the frozen lake,” said Duno. “After about 15 minutes, the leader of the group started quacking and started making a movement with his head, and then the rest of the geese were communicating back with him. And right after, the birds took flight.”
Though it may have only been a short interaction, it goes to show what we can learn about these animals if we pay a little more attention.
“It was so crazy because they communicated what they wanted to do and understood it. They showed a great connection to each other,” said Duno. “At first we just see them being angry or just being on campus terrorizing students. And now I appreciate that they have a way of life… They’re just living with us. I like recognizing that they’re not just birds, but they communicate with each other and have a group, a community.”