Resident geese descend on Helena for month-long summer molt

Helena resident Mary Lou Simms provides insight on the summer molt of Canada geese and tips on how to act around them this summer. (Contributed)

Helena resident Mary Lou Simms provides insight on the summer molt of Canada geese and tips on how to act around them this summer. (Contributed)

FROM STAFF REPORTS

HELENA–Helena resident Mary Lou Simms is currently working on a novel, “Almost human… the hidden lives of geese.” Simms also provides insight on the summer molt of the geese in Helena.

Every June, resident Canada geese begin arriving at Joe Tucker Park in Helena for the annual summer molt. The geese will be grounded for about a month as they replace worn wing feathers with new ones.

Many geese travel long distances to reach a favored molt location. A molt is a haven where they can rest and feed in tranquility, free from predators.

Last summer, 165 geese showed up for the molt in Helena, beginning with the arrival of Crip, a gander whose foot is mangled by fishing line. Crip and his group arrived a few days early on Memorial Day.

Every molt has its stars and the current one appears to be Stumpy, a goose that is missing a foot. She began flying in and out of Helena several months ago and she has also found a lifelong mate here.

It’s important that we remember to treat these vegetarians with patience over the next month, creating an experience that can benefit both humans and geese.

Use the molt to teach children respect for wildlife. Parents and grandparents can discuss the importance of keeping the lake water and the park clean for geese as well as humans.

This summer, there are two families with newborns. Over the next month, the parents will be teaching the babies to fly. Wings out-stretched, the goslings will practice getting off to a running start, in preparation for actual take-off.

Geese mostly eat grass and other vegetation but they also love the occasional treat: bits of wheat bread or cracked corn and other grains.

Throw small pieces of bread in their direction or spread corn near a lake or waterway. Geese can also get addicted to bread just as humans get hooked on candy or soda, so give in moderation.     

Do not allow dogs or children to chase the geese. There are at least half a dozen crippled geese at our lake this summer and more so than usual can not move fast enough to escape to the water.

Do not leave fishing line or hooks around. If a goose or duck gets caught in fishing line, it can also disrupt the lives of humans who must then spend days or weeks trying to orchestrate a rescue. Several of our winged visitors, including Crip, will suffer for life because of fishing line.