The Goose Whisperer ~ Like geese. Don’t love ’em like snakes.

          ©Photo by Oma Liz 

                Recently, a friend sent me a computer link named A Goose Named Maria. The video concerned a goose who has fallen in love with a human gentleman friend. They have a very sweet relationship, take walks together, and she flies above him as he rides his motorcycle on the streets around the city park where she lives. After several hours, he sneaks off to go home. Maria is devastated but finally returns to her flock. The next morning she patiently waits for him to arrived. Personally, I was taken aback. This goose may need brain surgery. I’ve never known any such thing as a lovable goose. Quite to the contrary, these birds – wild or domestic – are aggressively nasty and can be quite dangerous to anyone whom they decide is trespassing on their territory.

            During the spring of 1943, when we lived on the chicken farm inRichland, NJ, my parents purchased twelve goslings to be raised as watchdogs. Frisco, my dog, was totally useless in the guard department. My parents did not want another dog, so they chose geese because the animals have traditionally been used as watch “dogs” throughout Asia and Europe since time immemorial.

Geese have historically been used as protective watchers since early times. Most people are surprised when they learn geese were sacred in Rome after they saved the city in 390 BC during an invasion by the Gaul army. The city’s seven hills were so heavily guarded a frontal attack would be impossible. Therefore, a Gaul detachment of several hundred soldiers in single file clambered up the back side of a high hill to reach the capitol one moonless night. They came so silently they were not seen by the sentries. As the foremost man was striding over the rampart, a flock of geese, guarding a nearby temple saw him. The birds began to cackle and attack, alerting the Roman garrison. Keep in mind that an angry adult goose is capable of breaking people’s fingers, wrists, and forearms, as well as giving vicious bites to throat and face. They do not have teeth, being birds, but the razor sharp serrated ridges in their mouth can cause serious damage.

Marcus Manlius rushed to the wall and accompanied by honks, screams, and tremendous flapping of wings hurled the first Gaul over the precipice. Needless to say, the Gauls retreated. To commemorate this event, the Romans carried a golden goose in a procession to the capitol every year.

When we lived in Klosterneuburg, Austria, my parents used two pair of geese to guard the property. The birds did not hesitate to chase visitors with deafening clamor, hissing, wing beating, and biting. Some visitors, whom the two pair of geese knew, were announced with screams and honks. Any visitor could be considered suspicious. Of course, the birds’ definition of suspicious wasn’t always my parents’ viewpoint. At any rate, the unfortunates had to be personally escorted by a family member up the fifty or so steps leading to the front door atop the hill. Brooms sweeping through the air kept the visitors safe coming and going.

There was an added bonus from our geese. Their annual offspring provided decidedly delicious meals during the winter. Roast goose is my favorite meal. Years later, it was the meat of choice for holidays in my home.

Three neighboring farmers who kept geese as successful watchdogs were delighted by the flock of twelve goslings brought home by my parents. These other families were immigrants from Poland, Russia, and Latvia. In Europe they had lived on farms defended by geese. They related to us how they saw the geese attack the invading soldiers during the wars common in those areas, but sadly, the birds were shot for the army’s meals.

After the little goslings arrive, my mother, father, and I became the flock leaders. For a week, we took the little ones around our property to establish territorial lines. From the first, I was delighted by the goslings, and within a week, established myself as their flock leader. Frisco was my assistant, and we would lead them around the farm, followed by twelve of the cutest bird babies I had ever seen. Our daily routine was lead them to a nearby gravel pit where they could swim and fish. We repeatedly walked along the boundaries of our five acres until my family and I were satisfied the rapidly growing goslings had learned our boundaries. Little did we realize the repercussions of those walks!

As they grew older, we established boundaries around our vegetable gardens, thus teaching them those areas were not to be invaded. Alas! I forgot to show them the boundaries of our apple, pear, and peach orchard. It was to be a fatal mistake. Nor did I teach them the open front porch was out of bounds.

During the training time, Frisco was recovering from an automobile collision which occurred when he was chasing an automobile down the main road, and he had to have his tail bobbed. The goslings delighted in tweaking it and hearing him yelp in pain.

By late August, our flock was almost grown, and began to independently patrol our property. They would take a daily trip to the gravel pit, chasing cars that came too close to them on the road. The mailman refused to get out of his truck after being attacked by a dozen angry geese several times. We presented him with a broom, which he would swing at the flock to make them retreat and was able to deliver our mail. Twice a week, a bakery truck would delivery fresh bread and cakes to us. The driver had only one run in with a phalanx of flapping anger, but quickly pacified them by throwing them a few generous handfuls of crumbs. He explained with hearty laughter it was how he placated the other gooserdogs, as he called them.

Much to my delight, the flock would waddle down to the dirt road in front of our home and go to the street corner, several hundred feet away. They waited patiently to greet me when I got off the school bus. Some neighboring children who were used to unmercifully bullying me were attacked by the flock one weekday afternoon as we got off the bus. The neighbor children never bothered me again. I must admit it felt good to have a backup army.

Their defense was not out of love, but because they considered me their leader. When I wasn’t around, they plagued Frisco, but never drew blood. I hadn’t realized how they had bonded to me and thought they didn’t attack me because even at the age of ten, I wielded a dangerous broom.

Late in the fall, my parents, surrounded by an interested flock of birds who were now adults and sported white feathers, harvested the last fruits from the orchid and from the side of the driveway where a few fancy apple trees had been planted. The flock looked on with interest.

During the summer, we used to let some fifty of the White Leghorn chickens who were being raised for meat, go outside into a lightly forested, fenced yard, which was full of two dozen large saplings. The only problem was they would fly up into the trees to roost for the night. Our job was to shake the chickens out of the trees and shoo them into the coop buildings, some forty feet long and twenty five feet deep.

The geese watched with interest, and to our surprise, voluntarily took on the task. I suspected the geese loved the noise and tumult. After about ten days, the chickens got the message after being pushed out of trees with beaks and tweaks, and no longer roosted outside for the night.

Good things do not last forever, as the saying goes. Problems arose. Any visitors to our home had to be protected and escorted to and from their cars. One evening, the police were called about a tramp camping out in our back woods. As the officers left their car to chase after the intruder, they were attacked by our territorial officers, and had to be rescued.    

Quickly, the police got into their vehicle, while my dad and I led the flock to the tramp. It was a comical sight to see the ragged man running for his life followed by a dozen angry geese, flapping, tweaking, biting, ripping off his rags, and landing on his shoulders. By the time we got to the front of the property, the patrol car had been moved to the end of our driveway with the officers waiting inside. As he came barreling by, the officers opened a rear door for him. He dove in head first. The geese covered the roof and hood of the police car, and nipped at the tires until it drove off.

After that, the flock felt fear for no car. Any arriving autos would be attacked until, waving brooms, we ran to the rescue. Most people eventually refused to drive onto our driveway. Despite all three of us wielding brooms, the geese refused to relent.

As the holidays approached, Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners were delicious. Roast goose is a still a favorite meal of mine to this day.

My parents had figured there would some loss to the flock, and it was now down to seven individuals. They had been planning on four survivors – two males and two females. A fox ate one goose, and soon afterwards, a large hawk flew off with another. Several days later, I found the remains of the feathers under a tree by the gravel pit. During a rare winter snow, one goose was inadvertently dispatched by the snow plow. The other geese seemed to know enough not to attack such a large, powerful vehicle.

However, although seven birds were left, by early spring the situation had become quite serious. Our friends, municipal workers, and the doctor complained about the state of siege. As the first skunk cabbage poked through the surrounding swamps and wetlands, our fruit trees were dead. The geese had stripped the bark from every last tree! 

The front porch was so filthy it had to be closed off by sheets of plywood. The flock ate through the plywood and took possession of the porch. Wires and pipes attached to the porch walls were stripped and destroyed. Trails of slippery, smelly feces carpeted the entire porch floor, large areas of our lawns, yard, and pathways. At night, the flock flew onto our three story house with its high, peaked roof, for the night. Feces was scattered there, too. The smell was horrendous.

Sadly, my parents decided to get rid of the invaders, as my mother called them, and the geese were presented to one of our Russian neighbors down the road.

They tamed the animals by brutal means. The birds’ wings were summarily clipped so they could no longer fly. When they tried to be independent aggressive, the farmer’s wife would use her broom as a hockey club, and send the hapless animals flipping into the air, screaming. When they didn’t come to her call during feeding time, she would scoop up what was left and refuse to feed them until the next day. The flock’s first trip to the orchards were met with high pressure hoses attached to the farmer’s truck. They never entered the area again. After two weeks, they were well trained and lived a quiet life as gooserdogs.

I would often visit them, but they physically began to attack me, so I stopped. I guess they blamed me for betraying them.

Frisco, however, became his own jovial self again.


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