April 02, 2020

ORONO — They counted nearly 500 chickadees, 425 pine grosbeaks and one Canada goose. That’s one solitary Canada goose who, by all accounts, should have flown south weeks ago.

For some reason, though, the bird has taken up residence on the banks of the Stillwater River, adding a new variety to the Audubon Society’s annual winter bird count.

The goose also has added a new twist to an otherwise uneventful stroll through Orono’s Webster Park. While the great gray-and-black bird does often mosey about, much of its time seems to be spent standing on one leg as he snoozes on the riverbank.

“When I’m warm in my bed at night, I think about him standing out there on one foot,” says Virginia Whitaker, whose back yard next to Webster Park on North Main Street has become one of the Canada goose’s favorite haunts.

Whitaker says that the bird flew in the Saturday before Christmas and has not left. The goose has been known to forage on the ground below Whitaker’s bird feeder and swims in the small stretch in the middle of the river near the Stillwater Dam. That section of the river typically does not freeze over in the winter.

“I called him in,” Whitaker says of the appearance of the Canada goose on the Audubon census.

Judy Markowsky, the head of the area’s Audubon Society chapter, sees some significance in the presence of a Canada goose in someone’s back yard. The fact that it has survived on food put out by humans is an example of the continued suburbanization of the bird, she says.

“They are traditionally a wary and wild bird,” Markowsky says. But they are becoming increasingly common in parks as humans take to feeding their great numbers.

Like ducks, though, their increasing comfort in the presence of humans can have negative side effects when, in larger flocks, they spoil lakes and ponds.

But, in Orono, the lone specimen of Canada goose, separated from its flock, which is by now hundreds of miles away, is just trying to scrape by.

“They are usually out of here by Christmas,” Markowsky says of the flocks that pass through this area around October and November on their way south. “If the water freezes over, though, the bird will probably fly away.”

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