PAGE-LAKE POWELL, Ariz. – The Canada geese are finally here. Better late than never.
A small flock was seen Monday afternoon grazing and roaming the Lake Powell National Golf Course near the Courtyard by Marriott.
“I’ve been checking the golf course for the last two months,” said a birder who did not want to be named. “They’re finally here, but it seems like not many of them showed up.”
The big, black-necked Canada geese (not “Canadian” geese) with their signature white chinstrap mark are a familiar sight every year in this little lake town. John R. Spence, senior scientist in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, has said these Canada geese are part of the community.
About 600 or so Canada geese usually arrive here just before winter, as opposed to millions that migrate south each year, filling the sky with impressive and aerodynamic V-formations, according to Spence, who was unreachable for an interview due to the partial government shutdown.
Their honking from above crescendos as they reach town, signaling winter is on the way.
“They come back every year because they like the area,” Spence said in an interview with this reporter last January. “Then they head south for the winter because they can’t survive the snow on the ground.”
Spence added, “There are places – golf courses and parks – where they’ve become so used to people that you can walk up to them. But they’re wild animals and they won’t let you touch them.”
But there was silence at the golf course and at the John C. Memorial Park late last year because of their absence, which brought about the question: where are the Canada geese? Is climate change to blame for their slow arrival?
The answer is no because these grassland-adapted birds are adaptable to many habitats and may thrive wherever grasses, grains, or berries are available, but they cannot eat if there is snow on the ground.
The Canada geese are one of the best-known birds in North America. They are found in every contiguous U.S. state and in every Canadian province at one time of the year or another.
Many Canada geese have altered their migrations because of changing weather, farming patterns, and settlement. This means some are not going as far south in the winter as they used to, said Spence.
Typically, the Canada geese summered in northern North America and flew south when cold weather arrived. Spence says some northern populations have shortened their flight to traditional wintering grounds, such as the Grand Circle, the southern U.S., and Mexico.
“And they’re becoming more and more commensal with humans as we’ve altered the environment … to more parks, more green spaces, more golf courses in suburban areas where there is food rather than out in the desert here where they would normally never be,” Spence explained. “They’re part of the community now.”
And they’re always on the lookout, said Spence.
“They always have a couple of birds out there watching for the rest of the flock, to see if there’s danger,” he added. “And they consider humans a threat.”