the heron and the goose

This is a story of nest defense.  The other day I was out at my favorite local marsh watching a Great Blue Heron forage along the shore.  One time the heron ventured too close to an incubating Canada Goose female, and the male goose immediately flew over and drove the heron off.  I watched this entertaining interaction with amusement, but was too far away to get any decent photos of the birds.

Minutes later, the whole scenario was repeated, and this time I was a little closer. Here’s how the action went:

Great Blue Heron gets too close to a Canada Goose nest

When the Heron got just a little too close to the nest, the male Canada Goose immediately swam over to confront the heron.

Great Blue Heron gets too close to a Canada Goose nest

Wait — why is the goose honking at his mate instead of the heron?   Meanwhile, the Heron proceeded to walk even closer to the nest, blithely undisturbed by the whole situation.

Great Blue Heron gets too close to a Canada Goose nest

Silly goose — he’s taking out his aggression on his partner, instead of the heron. Heron still very unconcerned by the whole incident.

Great Blue Heron gets too close to a Canada Goose nest

Having scolded his mate into submission (note lowered head of the hen), Mr. Goose can turn his attention to that busybody heron.

Great Blue Heron gets too close to a Canada Goose nest

Finally, the unperturbed Heron takes the hint, and delicately steps away from the bad-tempered male goose.  (Click on this photo for an up-closer look at the birds’ heads and expressions.)

I’m not sure it’s a wise idea for the goose to threaten a taller bird that carries such a wickedly sharp, pointy beak.  I mean, they stab fish with that weapon.  Who says they wouldn’t use it to thwart aggression from bad-tempered Canada Geese?

14 thoughts on “the heron and the goose

  1. I enjoyed the goose story. Really appreciate your ability to observe birds and then create a story out of it. Great motivation for beginners in birdwatching like me. A big thank you.

  2. I , too, have been observing a nesting pair. The female has her head flat to the ground at all times while on the nest. I think this is their way of hiding the nest from predators. I wonder if this was the male’s complaint?

    • I noticed that too — the female looks like she is dead she is so still with her neck outstretched and head flat on the ground. I have no idea why that male was honking at his mate — she had her head raised for quite some time before the heron showed up or walked over to the nest.

    • Thanks, Shannon, I worked hard on that one because it was one of the images I included in my last album for critique — more on that later.

    • I would love that — they are so darn shy though, and it’s always a rare treat to get one to step outside the protection of thick cattails and show itself (to my camera).

  3. I’m nodding my head here! Yeah, those geese can be pretty nasty. I monitored a Canada Goose nest one year for nestwatch and almost got bit several times by a lunging female and protective male. Seems they didn’t want me to look at, much less count, the number of eggs.

  4. Ha, how very natural for a threatened male to prove his worth by demonstrating his dominance over a female!
    We don’t have blue herons here (apart from the occasional stray migrant) but our grey heron looks almost identical to my untrained eye. They may be slight but they can wreak havoc on a brood of goslings, or even cygnets. Although I didn’t witness it myself, I was told by a reliable source that one pair had accounted for the loss of most of a brood of mute swans on our local river last year.

  5. We have observed families of Canada geese for the past 15 years. Once the goslings begin to graise, Lady Great Blue Heron often attends them from the edge of the pond. It looks as if she’s babysitting while Mom Goose graises alone or joins Dad for a lunch date. What do you think of that?

    • Interesting observation — I’ve never really observed heron vs goose interactions before this. I just assumed the geese didn’t tolerate the herons with their sharp beaks and all. It would be such an easy meal to reach over and grab a gosling, but I guess heron tastes run only to fish!

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