I was working outside this afternoon, putting our water hoses away for the season and listening to the chatter of Canada geese from a pond about a half mile away. I couldn’t see the pond from ground level, there is a railway line between here and there that is built up high enough to block the view. When a flock of a hundred or more took off, I thought that was probably all there was.
A minute or two later there was a thunderous roar as at least 500 geese lifted off. After that, I could still hear the sound of geese from the pond. Then another flock of a hundred or so left and a little later another group the same size. Finally about fifty more took off and then all was quiet. They will go and glean in the harvested fields around here and probably return to the pond for the night.
Jack Miner had a very high regard for the Canada Geese, they mate for life and the gander is an exemplary father. In 1907 one old goose at his bird sanctuary became too weak to sit on her nest so Jack Miner and several other men fought off the gander , who he had named Jack Johnson because he would fight anything that threatened his mate and nest. They took the eggs and gave them to a Plymouth Rock hen to hatch. All six eggs hatched and the goslings accepted the little black and white hen as their mother. When they were five weeks old, Jack Miner led them to one of the ponds and left them there.
“But I hadn’t got five rods away before my whole body and nerves were all shaking at seeing and hearing old Jack Johnson coming from the north pond, flapping and honking like a creature that had gone completely mad. I turned and ran back, fearing he would kill every one. But he beat me there and thank God he did. For instead of killing them as I feared he might, when he got within about six feet of them he stopped, and with his head and neck straight in the air, his beautiful chest just heaved, and I am not exaggerating in the least when I say that his honks could have been heard a mile and a half. What he said I don’t know, but each gosling lay flat on the ground and he put his head on each, apparently caressing and loving them. In turn each got up and flapped its baby wings.”
The old sick goose heard the call and staggered over the bank of the pond as fast as she could, with Jack Johnson running back and forth between her and the goslings as she came.
“I don’t want any reader to ask how it was that this old pair of beauties knew their young. I only know they did know them; that is all. There I stood, bare-headed and bare footed at the most beautiful time of the day. The whole earth seemed to be transformed into a rainbow of God’s love, with both ends pouring out upon this one spot; for to see this dear old, broken-hearted father and their sick mother united and knowing their six loved ones which they had never seen, or, in other words, standing and witnessing the reunion of this broken family, caused my brain to fairly whirl in thought, until I melted down, like a little child.
“Finally, the eight of them all started for the north pond. But Jack looked and saw the hen following; so he just stepped back and gave her one blow with his stub wing which sent her moulting and screaming with terror toward the chicken house. . . . The goslings came back after their step-mother, Jack following them. I succeeded in coaxing her out and he saw her family salute and caress her, as they uttered volumes of baby talk, apparently expressing their sympathy. The old gander never touched her afterwards, and the hen lived out at the pond with the eight geese until the snow drove her in. No other fowl on the premises dared venture near her, for the gander guarded her as one of his family from then on.”
[Excerpted from Jack Miner and the Birds, by Jack Miner. Copyright 1923 by the Jack Miner Migratory Bird Foundation.]