The gosling in this photo was photographed on a nest that a pair of Canada Geese have maintained along this stretch of the city’s second-level canal for the past several years:
Below, a field recording of adult geese calling to each other at Ashley Reservoir in Holyoke, followed by the sound of a group of goslings foraging on grass:
At some point a bird will break your heart.
The gosling in this photograph wasn’t trying to break mine; it was only trying to stand.
This was the last of a clutch of seven eggs to hatch on an unseasonably cool day in late April, 2012.
Unlike newborn hawks, which have a long nestling period before they’re ready to fly, goslings are precocious: they’re ready to walk and swim within hours of hatching.
And that makes it easy for a late hatchling to be left behind.
In the case of the gosling pictured here, its four siblings had already hatched, swimming off down the canal with the adults. Night was falling and the wind was picking up and the gosling, its eyes barely open, tried to pull itself to its little webbed feet.
It never stood. I thought maybe one of the adults would come back to offer the last little bit of warmth it needed to join its siblings. But the next morning, the gosling was dead on the nest.
The two other eggs never hatched.
When you observe nature regularly there are moments when you feel compelled to intervene; watching the gosling struggle through its first hours of life was one of them.
My default is to take as hands-off approach, unless a bird has sustained an obvious injury. I’ve heard wildlife rehabilitators warn that even well-meaning interventions can do more harm than good.
In hindsight, though, after further research on how young geese spend their earliest days, I can’t help feeling like this may have been an appropriate time to call in a rehabilitation specialist.