A Costly Experiment

by Carl Strang

Humans are not the only beings that experiment. When wild animals try new things, however, sometimes they are gambling with their lives. A clear example of this was provided recently by a Canada goose pair at Mayslake Forest Preserve. For some days in early to mid-March, this pair always was to be found at the stream corridor marsh. That can indicate an intention to nest, but that marsh has no island. Canada geese generally nest on islands, and for good reason. On March 22 I spotted their nest.

Part of an egg had been left exposed when they covered their growing clutch. Geese don’t begin incubation until the clutch is complete, so that all the goslings will hatch at once.

The nest was on a platform, a horizontal slab of wood extending from a fallen, rotting willow stem. It was 3 feet or a bit more above the ground.

Here is the entire willow.

By the following Monday, March 26, the female was incubating.

This is the typical posture of an incubating goose when a potential predator is near.

This was a risky decision, necessitated by the limited number of suitable nest sites in the area. Mayslake has a very competent pair of coyotes, and coyotes are capable both of leaping up 3 feet and of killing an adult Canada goose. There was a chance that the nest might escape notice, or that the elevated location might give the incubating female a chance to escape should the coyotes attack. On Wednesday, March 28, it was clear that the gamble had failed.

This long shot spares some gruesome details. The feathers on the ground are most of what was left of the incubating goose.

Two eggs remained intact in the nest.

There was no indication that there had been more eggs than this.

Such a small clutch suggests that this was a young, inexperienced pair. The eggs may provide a meal for the coyotes, should they return, or perhaps for the raccoon that frequents that marsh’s shore. The surviving mate will need to find a new partner and try again next year.



  1. May 2, 2012 at 6:09 am

    […] Earlier this spring I reported on a failed Canada goose nest, coyotes having reached the vulnerable site chosen by a pair that evidently was young and inexperienced. Soon after, I noticed another nest under incubation in Mayslake Forest Preserve’s parking lot marsh. They chose one of the lower muskrat houses, well buried in cattails off shore. […]

  2. June 8, 2012 at 5:37 am

    […] I went, I noticed some changes. The shelf of wood that had supported the ill-fated Canada goose nest collapsed. Traces of the nest remained, but the eggs were long […]

  3. April 3, 2013 at 6:13 am

    […] The prairie fire burned off the old willow branch that tempted a pair of Canada geese into an ill-fated nesting attempt last year. […]

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