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Marvel in rise of the maligned Canada geese; Nature Notes.

Walking by the canal in Brindley Place recently, I passed a stately flotilla of Canada geese. Nothing remarkable you may think, yet in some ways it is wholly remarkable that these birds thrive in the heart of the nation's second largest city. There are, after all, few things more evocative of the world's lonely places than the honking of a skein of geese silhouetted against a winter sunset. Yet here are some amongst the shoppers and concert-goers.

The presence of the geese indicates just how adaptable some species are. In their natural state, Canada geese belong in North America, and many spend at least some of the year in the Arctic. People brought them here in the 17th century as ornamental birds; the first record being of some in Charles II's collection in St. James's Park London in 1665. The first breeding record in Birmingham may be that of a pair of geese in Edgbaston Park in 1885.

Introductions continued into the first half of the last century, by which time they were found all over the country. In addition, as flocks grew in numbers, landowners gave some of their geese to their friends on other estates. From the 1960s on, their numbers seemed to explode, rising from about 50,000 to just about 190,000 now. Canada geese are now very familiar everywhere, in lakes, park ponds, canals and reservoirs. Even without deliberate introductions, the Canada goose could still have become a resident British bird as individuals from wild populations across the Atlantic frequently turn up on our shores.

The geese are now considered a nuisance by many people. They despoil and foul the edges of ponds and pools, cropping the grass and leaving their droppings in picnic areas and on golf courses. This is hardly their fault - Canada geese are big birds and eat only grass and herbage. This diet is not very nutritious so they have to eat and process their own body weight every four days! They can live for more than 20 years, and share the care of goslings in the flock, making control difficult. In central Birmingham, they have found the canal system to their liking. During the breeding season there are stretches where there is one nest every 100 metres or so. Attitudes towards Canada geese vary: they have been described as 'the most loathsome bird in Britain', but there is a Canada Goose Conservation Society. I suggest that we should marvel at their resilience and adaptability rather than condemn them. As the diarist John Evelyn wrote in the 17th century (their presence) '. is a singular and diverting thing'.

I am indebted to Christopher Lever's The Naturalized Animals of the British Isles for information used in this article.

Read Peter Shirley's blog at blogs.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Nov 22, 2012
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