Editor’s note: This post is a Care2 Favorite. It was originally posted on May 6, 2013. Enjoy!
Written by Cheryl Bernstein (Gauteng, South Africa)
It was a hot summer Sunday and my husband and I decided to take our two grandchildren with their bicyles for a ride around our local lake. Of course, a visit to the lake wouldn’t be the same without taking brown bread and feeding the multitude of ducks and geese that inhabit the lake and its island. There are probably around 200 geese and ducks at the lake. They are all hungry, surviving only on the grass that surrounds the lake.
Once a year there is a massive cull of these geese, but they soon recover in numbers in the spring. My two grandchilden, armed with their packets of bread, began feeding the geese and were soon overwhelmed as the birds left the water and surrounded them, squaking and grabbing bread out their hands. Then, in the midst of all the noise, feathers, ducks and geese swimming about, swam a tiny, yellow gosling.
He could not have been more than two days old. He was desperate for something to eat and tried to grab a crumb or two of bread from the water, but the adult geese would have none of it. They pecked his tiny head and some even tried to push his head underwater. He tried to get away and climbed out onto a rock. I walked down to the water’s edge and grabbed him. Immediately, he put his tired little head onto my shoulder and closed his baby eyes. He was exhausted. I felt his crop and it was empty. His tiny body was just skin, bone and fluffy down. This baby was starving.
My husband, the children and I decided to walk around the lake and look for other families of geese who had goslings to which this baby may belong. We walked and searched in the reeds for about an hour, eventually realizing this baby was abandoned and alone. We decided to take him home and raise him. I made a gruel of finely grated carrots, carrot tops, celery tops, mashed duck pellets, crushed fresh corn and water, but the gosling didn’t recognize this as food and would only eat tiny crumbs of bread. This isn’t a balanced diet for a water bird.
I had done some years of bird rehabilitation in the past and I knew how to tube feed a bird, so I found the bird hand rearing mixture and tubed him. I then put him in a basket with a hot pad, and he fell asleep, cuddled on top of a fluffy toy I had given him for comfort.
The days passed in a blur of feeding, talking to and raising Goose. I put him in a big wired pen and my other two ducks and my three dogs took a great interest in him. I sat with him for hours talking to him and pointing out juicy patches of grass to him. Goose grew big and stong, started eating on his own and his fluffy down was soon replaced with magificent white feathers. His voice grew from a squeek to a squak and I watched with pride, as he developed into a beautuful bird. The intention was always to release him back onto the lake. But as time passed, Goose fell in love.
He followed his love interest around, spoke to her continuously in a soft chipping sound and wanted to be around her always. The only problem with that was that I was his love interest. He had imprinted on me and would not let me out of his sight. When I was doing chores in the house, there was Goose — often lying down on the carpet and falling asleep until I was finished.
He followed me into the bathroom and when I showered, he showered too with the little droplets of water that landed on his feathers. He discovered TV and watched with his head to the side. When he got bored, he waddled outside to the pond, where he declared his total ownership of the water and would not allow the other ducks to use it. He was very grumpy when he couldn’t get into the house and be with me, and would squak loudly and jabber in a grumpy goose voice till I came out again.
He loved his food and when I brought out his dish, he ran up and down the garden, wings out, screaming with delight. He particularly loved watermelon, and he got a quarter every day. At night, he would sleep outside against my glass bedroom door, chipping to me all night, just letting me know he was there. But come morning, he would tap at the glass to be let in. Of course his toilet training was nonexistent and I had to start limiting the time he was allowed in the house. When I sat outside with him, he climbed, as big as he was, onto my lap where he settled down for a nap. He was so big by this time, I couldn’t even put my arms around him, so I just stroked his lovely, long white neck softly.
Decision day came about Goose’s future. I visited the lake again and was really sad to see hardly any geese or ducks on the lake. They had almost all been culled. There was a sinking pit in my stomach knowing that Goose could have been killed in that cull too. Releasing him back onto the lake would spell certain death for him in many ways, mainly being that he would likely be caught up in the next year’s cull. Besides, he was used to being fed a good diet regularly, and didn’t live mainly off grass. He wouldn’t be able to find food for himself.
He was a happy bird, strong and lively, and had the run of a very big garden and pond. But something was missing from his life – and that was companionship. So one night my husband brought home a big cardboard box and inside was the answer to our prayers. A big, beautiful grey female goose. At first Goose showed no interest, nipping her and chasing her. But she was persistant and followed him everywhere, and she eventually won him over with her charm.
His first love stayed with him, though, and he still slept outside my room and was overjoyed to be allowed into the house, where she never dared to come, and follow me around. He still spoke to me in that soft chipping sound, and felt he needed to “protect” me from everything and everyone, including my dogs and husband, who he would hiss at in warning when they came near me if he was around.
Today, Goose is a happy and healthy goose, king of the garden and his duck herd which consists of his lady goose and two ducks, who follow him around. He knows his feeding times and calls me loudly if I am a minute late with his food. He still comes into the house and plods after me, he sleeps as near as he can to me at night, on the step of my glass bedroom door, and chirps to me. He is probably bigger than most geese due to a balanced diet and regular food.
I visited the lake again on the weekend, and there are hardly any geese on the lake. As much as I would have liked to see Goose on a lake with his own kind, he is loved and cared for in my garden — and much more than that, he is safe. He will live out a long and fulfilled life, with no threat to his life, ever.