Photo: SONDEL 2010, Flickr Creative Commons
We found out this weekend that the pair of wild geese who had been herding their gaggle of goslings back and forth between our pond and that of my aunt apparently ushered their entire brood into maturity. Back in the spring it was the two large parents hissing and hurrying their fuzzy little ones into the pines at the slightest sign of danger. Now, it's hard to tell which birds are the parents and which are less than a year old. It's probably an evolutionary advantage to mature quickly when your only form of self defense is the power of flight.
I'm pretty impressed. I'm down to one chicken, although the ducks have done okay by themselves, but then ducks sleep at water's edge with one eye open and slip into the water when things aren't going well. Chickens don't like the water. In fact, I'm pretty sure they'd drown if they tried to swim. At times I feel the urge to buy a few birds to keep my lonely Dominique hen some company and maybe help her to repopulate my flock, but between the plague of respiratory illness that wiped out most of my flock a couple of years ago and the foxes that finished off the rest, I'm a bit burned out as a pastoralist. Besides, I hate being home and animals are another anchor forcing me to plan ahead and feel guilty for being away.
This hen is a bitch, though, so maybe she deserves to be alone. Twice now I've found her clutch of eggs weeks after she had started laying them. By that point I had no way to know which eggs were fresh and which were probably rancid so dozens of eggs this year have gone to feed the dogs or were just tossed into the field next to my house. I've been searching almost daily for the new nest since the last clutch was tossed into the tall grass and I've yet to find a sign of a single egg. Of course that was the way it was the first two times. I don't find the spot until there are so many eggs that they start to spill over the edges of the shallow bowl she wallows into the sandy soil. She probably doesn't understand the principles of biology, so I guess I can't blame her for trying to protect her eggs so carefully, but there's not a rooster anywhere to help her give those eggs a viable genetic future.
If only I could convince those two geese to stick around and take care of my birds. If they can walk a brood of tiny goslings over a mile a day between ponds and fresh grass for grazing in an area full of red foxes and hawks and dogs that have never known a pen then I'm sure they could keep my chickens whole. The geese don't give a rat's ass about me though. I've never shown them anything other than respect for their space and they still flee at the first sight of me.
If only they knew that I am the provider of the corn. Maybe then things would change.