Friday, April 26, 2013

The Season of Depression



Most people welcome spring with joy, hope and the promise of renewal.  For Kali and me spring (in part) signals something else altogether.  It's the time when vulnerable baby animals appear.  At one time, more than 25 years ago, our organization provided wildlife rehabilitation services.  Though we haven't accepted orphaned or injured animals in a quarter century, many people still remember us a place where they brought broken wildlife.  Other people simply don't have a clue about where to go with an animal in distress, so they come to "the nature center."  There are two rehabilitation clinics within an hour's drive of our location, but many people are unwilling to make the drive.  So, guess who gets to make a late evening drive when someone drops off an animal after work?

This year's season started out more personally.  On Tuesday evening, the pair of Canada geese that had been brooding eggs on the tiny island in the pond below our house showed up at our bird feeder with six adorable goslings in tow.  We had been feeding the parents earlier in the year (before the female committed to sitting on the nest, day and night, for three weeks), so the geese knew where to get a quick handout - and we were happy to oblige.  Though the world does not need more Canada geese, the goslings are irresistibly adorable, and we were happy to shell out some millet.

On Wednesday, the family failed to appear, and I suspected something had happened.  This pair of geese has (regrettably) used the pond for nesting for the last three years.  (We can tell; the female has a distinctive limp.)  The first year, the water in the pond rose above the level of the nest for several days and the eggs drowned.  Last year, something (likely a snapping turtle) picked off the goslings one by one until there were none.

Last evening, Kali and I went down to the pond and found the adults cruising the surface alone, with no goslings in sight.  Something picked off six goslings in a period of less than a day.  Kali was heartsick; she literally couldn't sleep last night for thinking about the waste of life.  The season of depression has officially begun.

11 comments:

Carolyn H said...

Spring can be a tough time. The phrase "April is the cruelest month" is often literally true. And geese and other animals don't always pick the best locations for their nests either. I have my eye on one that could easily be taken by a mower, a fox or a raccoon. No protection at all except by the vigilence of the parents. Sometimes new babies just don't get a fair shot at life, and it isn't fair.

packrat said...

Scott:

Dr. K and I often feel the same about the crueler aspects of nature as do you and Kali; sometimes nature does seem "red in tooth and claw." We've taken more than our share of injured wildlife (birds, rabbits, etcetera) to members of the Chihuahuan Desert Wildlife Rescue in our area, and it's always heartbreaking when the animals don't survive. We've had a couple of good experiences, too, when rehabilitators have succeeded then brought the animals back to our corner of the desert to release them.

Just this morning, though, I was feeling very sad about a cruel reality of nature. I watched a mama White-wing Dove sit on a nest for over two weeks in one of our mesquite trees, and when I went out before sunrise I found a broken egg beneath the nest and the mama gone. Not much of a reward for that kind of altruism.

:(

John Gray said...

My Canada goose is doing well here although I would love to know just how your sex them..... I still do not know what sex he/she is.......

Jain said...

The loss of so many babies is sad. I wonder how the tragedies affect the parents and feel bad for them, too.

It's not a "waste of life," though. Whoever took them, a snapper or raccoon, coyote or hawk, maybe with hungry babies of their own to feed, needed sustenance.

I did wildlife rehab for many years, too, and had to come to terms with how to think about the Life/Death thing. The goslings live on in the form of other creatures.

robin andrea said...

That is such sad news about the goslings. It is always a heartbreak to see the predators and prey in spring. We have a family of coyotes that live fairly close by. The squirrels and jackrabbits are always so cautious. Yes, it is the season of depression. I understand Kali's sleeplessness.

Scott said...

Carolyn: You'd think that, after three failed years, these geese would "wise up," wouldn't you? The pond looks really attractive--a small island surrounded by a deep pond, and a ready source of food nearby (e.g., Kali and me feeding the parents). Viewed from a long perspective, these geese's genes will be eliminated from the gene pool, so perhaps it's nature's way of "wising up" despite how cruel the whole scenario is in the short term.

Scott said...

Packrat: I've been following the nesting saga of your White-winged Dove, and this resolution is truly sad. Do you think the egg came out of the skimpy nest and then the mother abandoned it, or do you suspect something more sinister?

The prognosis on most of the animals we take to rehab is usually not good, and it's very discouraging. I suppose it's to be expected, though. If the animal is in bad enough shape that it can be captured, it's probably not going to make it.

packrat said...

I suspect something more sinister, Scott, though it is possible the egg was blown out by the wind. It's been awfully windy of late, and, as you point out doves seem to build the flimsiest of nests.

Scott said...

John: I can only determine the gender of my geese by comparison. The female goose is smaller (shorter, as well as less robust) than her mate. She also has a distinct limp, so when one of the pair moves to the nest to incubate the eggs and the other patrols the edge of the pond guarding the brooding animal, I can see that the "guard goose" does not have a limp and is the male. This won't help you in absolute terms (i.e., if I had only one animal, I'd have no way to determine the animal's gender just by looking at it).

Scott said...

Jain: I know (in my head) that the goslings are feeding other animals and "living on" through them, but we find it sad nonetheless.

I also imagine that the parents are mightily perturbed by the immediate and complete loss, though I can't tell by looking at them. They're swimming around in the pond and grazing on the shoreline just as they normally would do.

There's a healthy flock of Wild Turkeys here at my preserve. One year, the stupid farmer who used to cut our fields for hay chopped-up a whole brood of young turkeys. I'll tell you--that hen was visibly in despair for days after that incident (which ended the mowing of fields for spring hay once and for all).

Scott said...

Robin Andrea: Though I'm really sympathetic (and actually like to watch squirrels), coyotes taking a few of the squirrels around here wouldn't be a bad thing. We have way, way too many squirrels, and after my last incident with a chewed fuel line in my car, I wouldn't mind if the population went down quite a bit.