These are strange times, indeed.
A Chester County woman is not only being told to stay at home by a governor named Wolf, she is being held prisoner by a pair of nesting geese.
Donna Saul first noticed the pair of Canada geese roaming about her fenced-in Malvern backyard in late March. They would sit in the water that collected on her pool cover, and one seemed particularly interested in rooting around a large flowerpot Saul had left out over the winter.
They also began to chase her when she ventured into the yard to shoo them away.
It wasn’t until one goose began sitting almost full time in the pot and adding straw that Saul had put out in her yard that it dawned on her.
“I grew up in Philadelphia. I’m from the city,” Saul said. “I didn’t know what nesting looked like.”
In 2015, there were about 5 million Canada geese in North America. The birds are not universally loved, since the fowl will foul yards, pool decks, and sidewalks. They love to munch on lawns, hiss at passersby, and have even flown into airplanes. Thanks to our continent’s abundant golf courses, parks, and Leave It to Beaver neighborhoods with suburban landscaping, the birds don’t often migrate. They like to stay put, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
And they’re lovebirds of sorts, since they mate for life. During the spring, couples break from the flock to consummate their love, usually when they’re about 4 years old. At that point, they will defend their nesting territory by hissing, flapping wings, and fighting.
The geese taking over Saul’s yard could just be a sign of the times: As people around the planet retreat inside to avoid COVID-19, animals have crept out into the open. A herd of goats has been seen running through Llandudno, Wales; buffalo have taken to using empty highways in India; a mountain lion was caught napping in a tree in a Boulder, Colo., neighborhood; and coyotes are flouting San Francisco’s shelter in place order and meandering through downtown.
As for Saul’s dilemma, she turned to a local game warden and to social media for advice from those with more bird experience. They explained what the geese were doing and how to adjust. She decided to just let them be. As she watched their behavior, her heart began to soften.
These two geese had to be new parents, Saul surmised. They both naively left their eggs at night only to return and find the nest had been raided by either foxes or raccoons. They lost the first egg, then the second, and then the third.
Each time, the mother goose frantically dug into the pot, looking for the eggs.
“It was heartbreaking to watch her,” said Saul, a business consultant and general manager at WCHE 1520AM radio station. “You could see she couldn’t understand.”
Finally, the geese seemed to get with the program.
The male would jump into protective mode when anyone or anything came near the fence. He’d flip out and run over, honking and flapping his wings. If the female joined him in the attack, he would stop and drive her back to the nest.
“This went on five times until she got the hint,” said Saul. The female has been sitting on the pot ever since.
The geese eventually declared a truce with Saul, and she was allowed in the yard as long as she kept her distance.
That’s when it came to her that the pair needed names — Rosie and Beauregard. Sticking with the flowerpot theme, the eggs — there are now three again — are Violet, Petunia, and Sweet Pea.
If they turn out to be a gander or male goose?
“They will have to adjust, I guess,” she said. “Man up.”
While intently watching her new yard mates, Saul began to notice more about their behavior. When it’s warm, Rosie will get off the eggs, which are covered in loose feathers, to let the sun warm them. In the afternoons she will feed on her lawn.
“Now I am looking at these two geese and about the importance of community and how to coexist with nature,” she said. “Humans ruin everything.”
The pot with the nest is only feet from Saul’s back door. Watching the geese has helped her deal with the solitude that comes with the coronavirus shutdown.
She figures, based on the incubation period, they’ll be in her yard for about 30 days before the goslings hatch and then leave to rejoin their flock.