They were distant. I could just hear them. But as I stood, listening, looking to the sky, their talk became louder and louder and after a few minutes they flew directly over me. They were low and even in the darkness I saw them in a long, lopsided V beneath the sky and the stars. I couldn’t see any markings but I knew from their calls, their formation, their size and shape they were Canada geese.
When I was young to see, even just to hear a flock of Canada geese, was a thrill. It happened for me where I lived in northern Iowa only in spring and fall and not every spring or fall. They nested far to the north, or it seemed far to the north to me though some nested in Minnesota, and they wintered far to the south.
In the years since I was a boy and a young man Canada geese have increased greatly in number. As they’ve increased in number they’ve expanded their nesting range. They nest now around lakes in my home area of Iowa and around lakes in Nebraska and Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. The northern limit of their nesting was, and is, the Arctic Ocean but the southern limit of their nesting range is now northern Alabama and Mississippi, Arizona and New Mexico, even southern California and northern Florida. Canada geese have become more common, more numerous, and more widespread during nesting than mallards, perhaps the most common wild ducks.
Not everyone is pleased with the increase in number of Canada geese and expansion of their range. I’ve heard many lakefront home owners complain about flocks of geese on their lawns and what the geese left behind. I’ve heard farmers complain of flocks of geese pulling up and eating the seeds of sprouted corn.
I had a golf course proprietor call one summer and ask me how to keep geese off his greens. “Scare them,” I told him. “Chase them off.”
“I have,” he said. “I’ve had everybody who works for me chasing them. But when they’re chased off one green they just go to another. I know they’re protected except during hunting season but can’t I get a permit and shoot them now?” He couldn’t. But because of his and others’ complaints Canada goose hunting seasons have been lengthened and, in Indiana, there is now even an early Canada goose season established not only to harvest geese but to get resident geese, those that are raised and nest in the state. As for the golf course proprietor, I recommended he invite all the goose hunters he could to come to the golf course when the goose season was on.
As for me, I don’t have a home on the shore of a lake, I don’t plant corn, I don’t manage a golf course. I still like Canada geese. I still get a thrill out of hearing them, seeing a flock of them, a flock called a skein in the air, a gaggle on the ground. I was doubly thrilled at the flock I saw fly over that dark night for I could hear that they landed in the marsh on our property. Early the next morning I was out to see them on the water, then watch them take off and fly, wild and free.