Studying geese and human like characteristics

Published 5:18 pm Monday, February 23, 2009

For those who regularly use the walking track surrounding the lake at Joe Tucker Park, many may have had less than noble thoughts when picking their way around the proliferation of goose poo that adorns the path, but the sharp eye of Mary Lou Simms is not fixed on that, but rather on the mobility and health of the geese themselves.

In her daily visits she is attuned to the possibility that webbed feet may become entangled in discarded fishing line or that hooks carelessly left behind may become embedded in a goose. At least one goose was euthanized after such an incident.

Because of her efforts, the city has now posted signs along the lake reminding fishermen to clean up behind themselves. Simms also suggests people not throw bread into the water unless there is a duck or goose waiting for it, as it otherwise pollutes the water. She said it is healthier to feed them a seed mix with cracked corn, which can be purchased relatively inexpensively.

Sadly, one of the most recognizable park residents, the Asian swan goose known variously as King or Old Granny, was recently found dead in the adjacent cemetery. Simms said two young goslings were nestled alongside his body — a comfort she believes he would have very much appreciated.

“Over the years, he had become almost an institution in Helena, a legend among geese who controlled both the lake and its inhabitants—human and otherwise,” Simms wrote.

King, Simms said, was likely male, and known to attach himself to geese families with new goslings as a ‘nurturing nanny.’ King was especially fond of cheese crackers (yes, junk food), which Simms brought just for him.

Simms has been studying the extended family of Canada geese for almost six years in preparation for a book, “Almost Human … the hidden lives of geese.”

“King will be missed in that respect,” Simms said. “He was such a celebrity and had become a major part of my research. The Canada geese adored him.”

“A community of geese has human aspects,” she explained. “They experience happiness, pain and sorrow much as we do. They romance their mates and raise their young.”

Geese are monogamous and generally mate for life unless one is killed.

Also in Simms’ plans is a Web site for which she is currently seeking grant money. “The Daily Honker,” will chronicle the adventures of the geese at Tucker Lake. Resident Canada geese are relatively new to urban environments so Simms is on the frontier of this research.

Read more about the Ziplog family of geese being studied by Mary Lou at: