Two Nakusp, B.C. men now know their personal answer to an ethical dilemma.
If it was illegal to help abandoned Canada goose babies, but you saw two yellow balls of fluff in harms way on a road frequented by logging trucks, what would you do?
Confronted by the choice, Kelvin Neil and his friend Dan Nero took the goslings in.
The two siblings were just yellow balls of fluff, days old, when they strayed somehow into the middle of the road at Legion Park at McDonald Creek, where a logging truck drove right over where they huddled. One of the two bounced off the inside tire, but survived the hit.
Neil plucked the tiny pair – one male, one female – out of traffic and enlisted his friend’s help to figure out what to do.
“Our theory is that they were late hatchlings,” said Dan Nero, whose lakeside location in downtown Nakusp made his place the central nesting ground for the orphaned chicks.
Canada geese babies spend some time in the egg live before hacking their way out of the shell with their egg tooth, and if the tiny babies were late in arriving, they may have missed the sibling call, Nero theorizes. At any rate, rescued by human friends, the young birds have come to their own firm conclusions about who their parents are.
“I think if they’d ever seen a mother goose, they’d have imprinted,” Nero said.
“Neil’s Mother Goose and I’m Uncle Dan, ‘cause I ain’t going to be Mother Goose,” he said.
A bald eagle floats lazily in the sky above in circles above Arrow Lake, and the two goslings cock their fuzzy heads in wary unison, alert to stranger danger and watching back with eyes set like shiny black beads in their rounded heads.
Anything in the air gets their attention. They haven’t been up there yet – but a jet plane passing at 10,000 feet will prompt the same wary curiosity.
So far, the gosling teens don’t recognize adult Canada geese as anything but birds of prey, Nero said, adding that he is hoping that once they get their white chinstraps and see their reflection in the water and in the mirror he provides for them, they will finally make their place in Canada goose society.
“We spend hours socializing with the little geese on the other side of the looking glass,” he said.
Not penned in but protected for now from cats, eagles and other predators by their human friends and Tuk, an American Eskimo dog with all the vigilance of a loyal uncle, the two birds are busy all day.
“They’re mad dogs when it comes to free grass – they’re real little hippies,” Nero said with a grin as he tossed some lawn grass into their kiddie paddling pool.
Then there’s what Nero calls “goose crack” – a grain that grows by the lake, a favorite treat for the birds. Offered a handful, they nibble greedily with rounded beaks that appear to be molded from black vinyl.
The goslings instinctively go for a balanced diet, chewing a little sand for their gizzards.
Nibble some grass, poop. Nibble some sand, poop. Nap, poop. Go for a swim, poop.
Visitors have to watch where they step – but the good news is that the lawn is very green.
“They mow my lawn. They mow, they fertilize, they mow, they fertilize,” Nero said.
Perfect yard birds, they don’t eat the berries, they don’t eat the peppers or the herbs.
The birds work constantly on their pin feathers, using their beaks to pull away the pale blue cellophane-like wrapping as new feathers gradually unfurl from underneath.
Time is spent every day on goose-like activities in the hopes that the routines will take.
“We’re trying to reintegrate them – that’s something we do every day,” Nero said.
“They follow our little boat – they swim beside it, and when they’re tired, they follow in our wake,” Nero said.
There’s definitely some mutual bonding going on on the shores of Arrow Lake.
When darkness falls, the two goslings still need what passes for their mother.
“All they want to do is stay close to Mama. This fills me with parental awe, when they snuggle up next to me,” Nero said.
“As long as they can see you, they’ll sleep, but if you flip over to where all they can see is blankets, they’ll wake you up so they can see you again. They have to know that Mother is right there beside them every five minutes or so or they’re throwing a s***fit.”
Come daytime, the patched-together family has settled into an avian ritual of sorts.
“We’ve been reintegrating with the Canadian goose flock in the bird preserve – we spend countless hours swimming with them, kayaking with them,” Nero said.
“You don’t know how much time we’ve spent on these bloody geese … We’re going to keep trying and keep trying and keep trying, like stupid parents.
“If I didn’t love ‘em so much, I’d call ‘em Thanksgiving and Christmas,” he quipped, a ready grin lighting up coffee-brown eyes.
This up-close-and-very-personal glimpse of nature at work has taught Dan Nero a great deal about the world of the Canada goose.
“They come out of the egg with everything they need to know,” he said.
Well, almost everything.
Beckoned by their human shepherd to come down to the lake for an exploratory swim, the goslings simply wander further away from the graduated stairs, wandering hapless out onto the ledge overlooking the Nakusp range of the Selkirks, then honking a soft “huh-HUH” that seems to say they can’t get there from HERE.
“They can’t figure stairs,” Nero said.
Their leathery legs, a pale yellowish green, fold up like cheap card table legs when it’s time for a goosey nap, their downy, pewtery heads tucked against silver wing feathers, their lower eyelids folded up over beady eyes as they rest in the shade of the wooden lawn rocker where their surrogate mama sits nursing a beer in the West Kootenay dusk.
“Wee-weet,” Nero says to get their attention. “Wee-weet.”
“They’re truly beautiful creatures. They were damned near extinct in the 1950s,” he said, clucking in disapproval at the notion raised by some in New York, where the honkers have multiplied very fruitfully.
“They want to cull ‘em and feed ‘em to the homeless.”
Nero thinks the pair will be ready to fly in a week and a half or two weeks.
It may take going up parasailing to give the grown goslings the idea – not unlike in the movie, “Fly Away Home,” he said.
Nero and Neil have done hours of internet research in an effort to prepare the goslings for eventual reintroduction to the wild. They aren’t the only people faced with the dilemma of how to help abandonedwild creatures that are protected by legislation. A family in Burton is raising three babies that wandered up their driveway, Nero said, explaining his take.
“We understand the spirit of the law – you can’t transport or possess wild game,” he said. “That’s an international treaty – we understand that, but what about the spirit of the law when it comes to two little geese sitting in the middle of road like two yellow balls of fluff. It’s not right.”
In fact, an observer might conclude that the argument could be made that the young Canadian geese, in fact, possess Nero.
“The spirit of the law I think allows a little loophole here,” he said.
As Nero runs to fetch a piece of Styrofoam cup that has tumbled into the yard on a gust of lake wind, the two goslings charge after him in a wild goose chase, spreading awkward wings as if they think he is going to take off and fly and they will go with him.
“They’re six feet behind me, every step of the way – I don’t have to call them. They’re so glued there,” he said.
“They’re more needy than a child.”
Step-parenting goslings certainly has Dan Nero conditioned.
“Every 30 seconds I look up for an eagle,” he said. “They’ve got me trained, period, end of story.”