Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
September 23, 2000 - Issue 19

The Eagle and the Goose
Native American Lore

The wintry winds had already begun to whistle and the waves to rise when the Gander and his mate gathered their half- grown brood together on the shore of their far northern lake.

"Wife," said he, "it is now time to take the children southward, to the Warm Countries which they have never yet seen!"

Very early the next morning they set out on their long journey, forming a great "V" against the sky in their flight. The mother led her flock and the father brought up the rear, keeping a sharp lookout for stragglers.

All day they flew high in the keen air, over wide prairies and great forests of northern pine, until toward evening they saw below them a chain of lakes, glittering like a string of dark-blue stones.

Swinging round in a half circle, they dropped lower and lower, ready to alight and rest upon the smooth surface of the nearest lake.

Suddenly their leader heard a whizzing sound like that of a bullet as it cuts the air, and she quickly gave the warning: "Honk! honk! Danger, danger!" All descended in dizzy spirals, but as the great Eagle swooped toward them with upraised wing, the goslings scattered wildly hither and thither. The old Gander came last, and it was he who was struck!

"Honk, honk!" cried all the Geese in terror, and for a minute the air was full of soft downy feathers like flakes of snow. But the force of the blow was lost upon the well-cushioned body of the Gander, he soon got over his fright and went on his way southward with his family, while the Eagle dropped heavily to the water's edge with a broken wing.

There he stayed and hunted mice as best he could from day to day, sleeping at night in a hollow log to be out of the way of the Fox and the Weasel. All the wit he had was not too much whereby to keep himself alive through the long, hard winter.

Toward spring, however, the Eagle's wing had healed and he could fly a little, though feebly. The sun rose higher and higher in the blue heavens, and the Geese began to return to their cool northern home. Every day a flock or two flew over the lake; but the Eagle dared not charge upon the flocks, much as he wished to do so. He was weak with hunger, and afraid to trust to the strength of the broken wing.

One fine day a chattering flock of Canadians alighted quite near him, cooling their glossy breasts upon the gently rippling wave.

"Here, children," boasted an old Gander, "is the very spot where your father was charged upon last autumn by a cruel Eagle! I can tell you that it took all my skill and quickness in dodging to save my life. Best of all, our fierce enemy dropped to the ground with a broken wing! Doubtless he is long since dead of starvation, or else a Fox or a Mink has made a meal of the wicked creature! "

By these words the Eagle knew his old enemy, and his courage returned.

"Nevertheless, I am still here!" he exclaimed, and darted like a flash upon the
unsuspecting old Gander, who was resting and telling of his exploit and narrow escape with the greatest pride and satisfaction.

"Honk! honk! " screamed all the Geese, and they scattered and whirled upward like the dead leaves in autumn; but the Eagle with sure aim selected the old Gander and gave swift chase. Round and round in dizzy spirals they swung together, till with a quick spurt the Eagle struck the shining, outstretched neck of the other, and snapped it with one powerful blow of his reunited wing.

Do not exult too soon; nor is it wise to tell of your brave deeds within the hearing of your enemy.

Print and color your own goose picture:


Name Giveaway

Here is a poem entitled "Name Giveaway" by Nez Perce tribal member Phil George about the non-Indian names that white teachers gave him. It is being used in the Idaho Skylights program putting poetry and art on school buses.

That teacher gave me a new name ... again.

She never even had feasts or a giveaway!

Still I do not know what "George" means;

And now she calls me "Phillip."


Must be a name too hard to remember.

Lessons from Geese

FACT 1: As each Goose flaps its wings it creates an "uplift" for the birds that follow. By flying in a "V" formation, the whole flock adds 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew alone.
LESSON: People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going more quickly and easily because they are traveling on the thrust of one another.
FACT 2: When a Goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of flying alone. It quickly moves back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front of it.
LESSON: If we have as much sense as a Goose we stay in formation with those headed where we want to go. We are willing to accept their help and give our help to others.
FACT 3: When the lead Goose tires, it rotates back into the formation and another Goose flies to the point position.
LESSON: It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership. As with Geese, people are interdependent on each other's skills, capabilities and unique arrangements of gifts, talents or resources.
FACT 4: The Geese flying in formation honk to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.
LESSON: We need to make sure our honking is encouraging. In groups where there is encouragement, the production is much greater. The power of encouragement (to stand by one's heart or core values and encourage the heart and core of other) is the quality of honking we seek.
FACT 5: When a Goose gets sick, wounded or shot down, two Geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with it until it dies or is able to fly again. Then, they launch out with another formation or catch up with the flock.
LESSON: If we have as much sense as Geese, we will stand by each other in difficult times as well as when we are strong.

Canada Goose

Species: Scientific name : Brata canadensis Common Name: Canada Geese
(Other Common Names: Canadian Goose, Canadian honker, honker goose)

Canada Geese are web-footed birds which are 35-43 inches long and weigh 3-10 pounds. A male is referred to as a gander and a female a goose. The young are called goslings. Male and female geese look exactly alike although the female may be smaller than the male. Geese have a grayish brown coat and white patches on its cheeks. The head, neck and tail are black and the under parts are gray. Six of eleven breeds live in North America.

Calls/Displays: the following calls are used by Canada Geese:

  • Hissing: a sharp, sibilant sound directed against intruders and apparently signaling threat and alarm nearby.
  • Honking: a cry characteristically used by both male and female as (a) a territorial advertisement and warning, (b) a long-distance call or answer to the mate, © part of the greeting ceremony when mates come together after having been separated, (d) an alarm call, and (e) during flight or preceding take-off.
  • Short-distance call of the mate (or to goslings): a low, short, rather soft grunt, given repeatedly, about once a second: kum! kum! kum!
  • Special greeting call for the female: a rather loud, prolonged, snoring sound peculiar to the male and directed only to his mate..
  • Scream of pain: an outcry usually heard when a bird is unexpectedly bitten.
  • Distress call of adults: a loud oh!-oo, oh!oo, sounded by birds separated from their mates or attacked by dominant birds.
  • Distress call of goslings: a loud peeping that young birds typically give when lost.
  • Contentment notes of goslings: a rapid series of light, soft notes- wheeoo, wheeoo- made by goslings to denote relief at being found.

When a flock of geese fly in a “V” formation, the geese honk to encourage those up front to keep up their speed. In flight, the upper and lower tail forms a white crescent just in front of the black tail.

Taxonomic affiliation: Canada Geese are one of the most popular water game birds. The complete classification is as follows:

  • Kingdom: Animal;
  • Phylum: Chordata;
  • Class: Aves (Latin for birds);
  • Order: Anseriformes (Latin for goose);
  • Family: Anatidae (all web-footed birds with lamellate bills which includes the duck and the swan);
  • Genus: Branta; and Species: canadensis (Latin for Canada).

Range: The Canada Geese are natives to North America. They range from the Arctic coast of northeastern Asia and of North America to lower California and Mexico.

Diet: Geese find much of their food on land, since they are largely vegetarian. They enjoy eating roots, leaves, grains, and vegetables. They also love eating new shoots of grass and new buds of corn from fields. Wheat, corn, rye, barley, rice, sorghum, and oats are very important to their diets during the fall and winter.

During the spring, they enjoy eating sprouts.

Habitat: The geese are mainly found in marshes, wide stretches of water (lakes, ponds, and streams), and (corn) fields. The Canada goose builds its nest in marshes on mounds. The nest is made of grass and leaves and lined with feathers (down). Six of eleven breeds live in North America.

Seasonal Activity: Migrating geese in Canada have been known to let smaller birds on their backs for transportation. By flying in a “V” formation, the whole flock adds 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew alone. As each goose flaps its wings it creates an “uplift” for the birds that follow. When a goose falls out of the formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of flying alone, it quickly moves back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front of it. When the lead goose gets tired, it rotates back into the formation and another goose flies to the point position. When a goose gets sick, wounded, or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with it until it dies or is unable to fly again. Then, they launch out with another formation or catch up with the flock. A flock of geese either contains a family, single mated pair, or groups of family, depending on the time of year. Some flocks contain up to 1,000 geese. They can fly day or night, all kinds of weather, 40-50 miles per hour. In spring, most birds return to northern lands to nest and raise their broods before heading south again to warmer climates. They can fly in altitudes of 1,000-3,000 feet and 12,000 foot mountain peaks. In late June to late July, geese lose their flight feathers. Scientists don’t know how they find their way back to a place year after year but maybe either by: memory or topography, carry some kind of compass that is linked to the Earth’s navigation, and or by the use of the sun and stars.

Daily Activity: Geese feed throughout the day. Canada geese stand and watch the flock until one would “relieve him/her from their duty.” Often the flock will stay in the pastures and cornfields late and will not arrive back to their settlement and water site until moonrise. In late March, as the sun sets, the gander with his new mate behind “take off.” He will breed in the north. The gander will take the lead in the V. They will leisurely fly north and stop and feed at fields and sometimes beside busy highways. They need to build up fat for the bitter cold in the north. After arriving to their destination, they are so tired that they rest on the water before looking for food. The gander soon takes his mate to look for a nesting-site.

Breeding: Breeding usually happens in larger numbers along streams, lakes, and ponds. In early spring a pair of geese pick each other as mates. Geese mate for life, and grieve to death at the loss of their mate. The female makes a nest out of grass, feathers, twigs, and/or weeds on a low mound on a marsh. The eggs are pale green, yellowish, buff-white. The average number of eggs are 3-6. A gosling comes out of an egg after a month and can instantly walk. Goslings can swim and dive without being taught and can fly when they are two months old. They are devoted parents and never leave their goslings unguarded. Goslings live with their parents until about a year, when they mate. Geese are usually only aggressive to humans when they are protecting their young.

Population status and trends: There is a little chance of getting a bird over five or six years old, most of those that are killed are much younger. There is an average winter inventory of 172,000 and an estimated average kill and crippling loss of 128,000. Together, there are approximately an average of 300,000 southward migrants. The estimated winter population of Canada geese is approximately 1,700,000.

Interactions with humans: “The annual kill of Canada geese apparently had little effect on their population during the white man’s first two hundred and fifty years or so here”, according to Wormer. There were many different methods that were used to kill geese. Sometimes, hunters would soak grain in whisky and scatter it on the ground. The geese would get drunk and the hunters would pick them off the ground. Another hunting method used most of the time “now-a-days”, is using decoys and geese calls.

Conservation concerns: One concern is located around the Atlantic Coast because of man’s attempts for development advantages. Another concern is the management problem because waterfowl and men/women need the same basics to survive. From fall to spring, there is another concern because many birds die from lead poisoning (a delayed result of hunting). Geese feed off of the bottom of lakes and marshes and sometimes, pick up a “spent shot”.

True Geese of the World
The Story of Knothead
The Museum of the Canada Goose

A couple of Canada goslings
Photo courtesy of William Stifler
A family of Canada Geese
Photo courtesy of Nicole Reggia



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