Meet Darby- the goose

In the middle of preparing for yet another possible bush fire threat we had a happy event; one of the female geese started to hatch her four eggs. We are trying very hard to not let any of the animals breed this year as the cost of feed for them all is getting way too much. We have been picking up all eggs we find and carefully following ducks and chooks who wander off into the bush with the telltale nonchalant, meandering gait that includes quick glances over the shoulder to be sure nobody is looking (if only ducks could whistle). We have picked up every egg (or so we thought), until one of the female geese was discovered with a nest under the washing machine beds. We hadn’t even seen her sneaking off to lay.

As I am against late term abortion (at least in my house), and she had been sitting for a while by the time we found her (getting off to appear as usual with the flock when she heard us coming, it seems), we let her set the four eggs.

They began to hatch one afternoon and by the next morning there were two sweet little fluff balls. Mum stayed on the nest until a third baby was hatched and dry, then she got off, leaving only one egg unhatched.

My daughter bought the last egg in for me to see; it had a small chip through which a beak protruded and gave sad little squeaks now and then. We saw that the membrane around the baby was dried and tight, so we carefully chipped some of the shell away and wet the membrane a little, being careful to not get water in that little beak (chicks drown that way very easily). We gave the little goose frequent rests to get used to the idea of being born, but continued to chip the shell away in a circle around the egg. We were trying to mimic the pattern the chick follows when breaking out of the egg.

Eventually the new baby could push free from the egg. We were very careful to not rip any of the membrane that looked like it still had blood flow (you can see veins in it when it is still alive), and waited patiently for the baby to absorb the blood from the membrane and yolk (what was left of it).

We let her dry off and kept her on a soft towel for the night. Because she saw my daughter and I first (before seeing her mum), she imprinted on humans. This means she will be unlikely to breed in the future as she thinks she is human. She is also not happy away from people, again because she has the instincts of a goose, but the self image she has is people shaped.

Most animals that care for their young will imprint to some degree; mammals are pretty good at it, but water birds have a really strong imprinting instinct. Little Darby will be introduced to her siblings over time, but she will be an inside goose for a while yet. We need to introduce her to other goslings so she doesn’t decide to imprint so strongly that she wants to mate with a human. That scenario leads to really aggressive and dangerous geese who get so frustrated that they attack any human they see.

For the moment, she is one happy little goose. We will enjoy the baby stage with her, while making sure that she gets to see her siblings often. Then when the teen aged angst begins, we will look for another goose companion for her and see if we can move her to the flock (slowly and without rejection). I think that a lot of animals become angry and hurt when the family they thought they belonged with rejects them by making them sleep outside the territory (the house) and doesn’t spend time with them anymore. We try to make the moving away process a gentle one here, by giving the animal in question a new friend or set of friends and making it clear that they are still part of our family, even if their lifestyle has changed.

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