Fall is a unique time for a town that depends on tourists for much of its economy. The summer visitors have left and the winter skiers have yet to arrive.
However, one population chooses Durango every fall without fail. The crispness in the air each year is accompanied by darkening skies and the distant honking of our annual autumn tourist, the Canada goose.
As other bird populations head south with the cooler weather, the Canada goose arrives
from the north. For them, the cold weather of Colorado is a reprieve from the colder climate of Canada; they’re completely indifferent to the cold as they sleep at night on frozen ponds and patches of the Animas River.
They deserve a nice vacation after all they have been through over the last six months. The female goose takes more than a day to lay five to seven eggs, while the male stands guard. The baby geese, called goslings, incubate in their eggs for about a month before they break out of their egg with a special “egg tooth,” located on the end of their beak. This process is grueling, taking about two days to complete.
Goslings are born with the ability to dive 30 to 40 feet underwater in search of their food, which consists of aquatic vegetation, roots and sprouts, grasses and sometimes insects and crustaceans. The young goslings must eat almost continuously after they are born in order to learn how to fly at 9 weeks old and prepare for their first long migration south.
Like many seasonal visitors to a beautiful and resource-abundant area, some of these visitors decide to abandon their birthplace and make Colorado home. We do have many Canada geese that reside permanently in Colorado, as demonstrated by the goslings that can be seen on the Animas River in early spring. The Canada goose is one of the most identifiable and well-known species of waterfowl in the area. The male and female are similar in appearance and markings, however they do have different calls. They range in size from 7 to 12 pounds, with the female only slightly smaller than the male.
Like any tourist town, locals often struggle with an influx of out-of-towners. So it is with the Canada goose. Because they travel in such large numbers and are highly adaptable to human presence, they have become a nuisance in many places as they take over large parks, fields, golf courses and other public places. They favor newly sprouted lawns in urban areas, and corn from rural farmlands.
However, these beautiful geese, whose familiar V formation represents the changing of the seasons and the freedom of travel, will continue to visit year after year. The sense of nostalgia they bring with them is probably well deserved. Geese mate for life and the younger geese learn their migration routes from their parents. We are probably witnessing the relatives of the geese we have seen in our childhood, or that our parents have seen in theirs, when this beautiful fall resident arrives each year in Durango.