Mother Goose

She is quite the sight, a twelve year-old and twenty-pound Pomeranian as Mother Goose to fifteen Saxony ducklings. She is in her element as guardian, head up searching for predators and effectively sending off all challengers.

She is the last of her breed on our farm. The last of what was once a large flock of forty of this impressive, handsome and tasty bird. Even in a large flock she stood out as a big girl. The first season we had her we assumed she was a gander from temperament and bearing. Even when she crowded onto a nest and pushed out other geese we assumed “he” was just helping out, a willing domestic partner, if you will.

When she stayed on the nest and hatched out a dozen or so goslings we realized our error. Her partner, they mate for life, was a beautiful gander and fierce protector of her, the goslings and the farm.

Nothing is more impressive than seeing twenty breeding pairs of geese turn in unison as an act of protecting their babies and charge the UPS man. Flapping wings, honking at decibels so loud it must be heard to be believed, they are an intimidating presence. The UPS man agreed. Agreed that he would remain in the truck and we would come to him if we wanted our package. He was only the latest in a long line of visitors so convinced.

As the years have progressed we gradually sold or ate our remaining flock of Pomeranians (an old German breed). For the last six years only the lone pair remained; the big girl and her man. They had become pets, lawn ornaments, a comfortable and expected presence around the barnyard.

Each January for the past twelve years she laid a clutch of eggs. And as the years progressed and fertility decreased the number of eggs and the viability of the hatch decreased.

Finally, two years ago, the gander disappeared after confronting coyotes invading the farm. I found his remains in the woods a month later. She spent the next few months forlornly honking for her mate. It is not an act of anthropomorphizing to say that she was mourning her loss. It was heartbreaking to watch.

For the past two seasons she has continued to lay eggs, not fertile of course, in the barn. We let her set for as long as she will. Usually the dogs will steal the eggs from her so that the last couple of weeks she is sitting on nothing. But she doggedly persists in this act of maternity.

This year during what would have been her last week before a normal hatch we bought ducklings from a nearby farm. Cindy and our farm guest Hannah installed the ducklings in the brooder about twenty feet away from the goose on her nest. The next morning the goose had abandoned her nest and had taken residence in front of the brooder. What a miracle it must have seemed after several fruitless years to wake up and find all of her babies hatched and in a nearby pen!

She did not leave the side of the pen for three weeks. Hissing and flapping her wings at any who came near. Sitting inside one evening a month back we heard her unleashing some Holy Hell out at the brooder. Cindy went out to check and returned moments later to let me know a large black-rat snake was eating a duckling. The goose was franticly trying to get to the snake through the wire of the pen. I dispatched the snake with my 410 and the girl and the flock settled down, albeit a bit deafened.

Cindy turned the ducklings out after three weeks. Since that day the goose never leaves their side, maternally herding them together or away from danger. She is quite the sight with her big frame and all the smaller ducks clustered around her moving across the barnyard or pasture; a mother again, after all these years.



Today we speak of vultures, those birds that thrive on carrion and carnage, handmaids to battlefield slaughter, useful yet unloved. Like cockroaches or rats, vultures, with their funereal garb, reach deep, churning up some atavistic wellspring of loathing. The grave, putrification, a specter of mortality with shabby black wings, a bald gray head, perfect for diving into road kill and pulling out the best parts. A hiss for a call, it is an unlovely creature, a creature of Poe.

One morning after fixing coffee I took my cup out on the porch. Looking at the skyline I was stunned to see that the tower nearest to our barn was host to large numbers of vultures. More wheeled overhead. A large tulip poplar next to the house had an even dozen roosting on a dead branch.

A small number usually roost on a power line tower about a quarter mile from the house. But that morning they were on all the towers, visible silhouettes giving rise to shades of Hitchcock.

Periodically they had tried to colonize the tower nearest the barnyard. Over the years I’d grab the pellet rifle and lob a few shots at them. It never took much to scare them off.

This morning was different. I’d shoot at one; it would fly off, perhaps with the bird sitting next to them. The rest just sat on their roost. I hollered. I made noise. I had been shooting at the black vultures with a pellet rifle for about ten minutes. The pellet rifle, a gift from my friend Jack, was a single pump .177 caliber. A weakling, it barely dented tin cans at thirty feet and I was taking pot shots at the vultures at over 100. There was just enough power at that distance to cause them to shake their wings and take off.

I could hear the soft thump as I hit them. Since they flew away I assumed no harm to the bird.

Some minutes into my shooting spree a shot sent one tumbling to the ground. Ten pounds of carrion eater bounced off the pylon as it fell, hitting the ground with an audible thump. I stopped shooting.

Cindy was up by the time I returned to the house.  I told her of my morning excursion. She asked if I had checked to see if it was dead. Embarrassed at that oversight, I said no. Grabbing the little 410 shotgun, I walked to the base of the pylon. The vulture was on the ground but still breathing. Putting the shotgun to my shoulder I pulled the trigger. 7:30 am is a loud time to shoot a shotgun. It is also an acute time for shame.

What is the point? We raise animals for food. We kill predators that threaten that food. I hunt. I am an omnivore who embraces a hands on approach with the food chain. Why should I care if dozens of vultures take up residence near the home? They are part of a natural process.

I do not know the answer. Crows would have been welcome as neighbors. Crows eat the dead, too. But crows are not vultures, condemned by their very appearance, a creature who too clearly signals death and decay.

Regardless of the reasons for my discomfort at their presence I no longer take potshots at vultures.