Along the Lakeshore: male or female?


The cold skimmed ice over about 40 percent of our pond, but the geese and the ducks just seem to adjust to whatever the weather and wind offer. The long-legged visitors come and go. Hopefully they will be able to find some open land to feed on grasses and whatever.

There is an idea and/or biological factum that Canadian geese mate for life. I’ve observed lots of waterfowl and have certainly detected that there are dedicated pairs. Last Saturday I spotted a hooded merganser, a very colorful guy with lots of white stripes and a white hood on his head. Later in the day, his hen showed up and they paddled around together. Obviously something’s going on. Mallards travel in pairs and the partners may swap around, but there is no mystery as to who is going with whom at any one time. In the past, there has been a pair that hung out together at 2780 W. Lake Road for the whole season.

The big question in my mind is how to tell a female goose from a male. I see no obvious difference in size or coloration. They all seem to lift off the ice or water with no indication that one is better at it than another. There doesn’t seem to be any differentiation between the sexes.

I have seen female geese on nests in the Montezuma refuge and I have seen goslings being shepherded around by big mamas, but identifiable sex markings seem to be missing. Sibley’s book makes no mention of markings indicating the sex of Canadian geese. I would like to know how to figure this out. Perhaps a call to Cornell might solve this for me.

Despite the apparent pairing of mallards, they are destined to be rather promiscuous, as the hens like to have eggs fertilized by various drakes to get a distribution of genes. It’s their nature and the strategy must be successful, because everywhere you go in the world there are healthy-looking mallards marching around wet spots in locations where they can mooch handouts from tourists.

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