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Bird Bits: Look for the red-tailed hawk as fall migration mounts

Posted: September 12, 2013 - 11:00pm

It’s fall bird migration. Destinations vary from Antarctica to Southeast Alaska.

The female and male Canada goose look alike with the male slightly larger. But alas, similarly alike in appearance are eleven other subspecies of the Canada goose, called races, in Alaska and spread across North America. The size of a Canada goose race gets smaller the farther north one looks. Plumage color grows darker from east to west. DNA studies help and confuse who is who.

The Vancouver Canada goose (Branta canadensis vulva) is our local, year round resident. Life mates have been quietly raising their brood, hidden in our watery Tongass Rainforest. The goslings escape to the safety of forest cover rather than open water. Agile walkers and runners, scaling ledges and trees aren’t out of their abilities.

They graze with the efficiency of bovines, plus the abundant mess. Skunk cabbage, grasses, sedges and blueberry leaves are still available. But with winter, these avian grazers will search for higher-carb foods like berries and seeds. The Canada goose’s feather parka can keep it warm with some shivering and extra food to -40 degrees F.

The Canada goose is talkative with its greetings, contentment and warnings. In the winter, food squabbles may result in a threat display. The display might accelerate through neck bent forward and erect, head pumping, bill open with tongue raised, hissing and honking. And on a really bad hair day with neck feathers quivering, the dominate bird may grab the other bird by breast or throat and whollop it with its wing spurs.

A Canada goose might sleep on one leg or float in deep water, a bill tucked back between feathers on its long, thin shoulder blades. During winter, the geese fly from night roosting sites on the water or an island to open feeding sites. These open areas offer family groups the chance to keep an eye out for bald eagles.

• Patricia Wherry is the education chairperson for the Juneau Audubon Society. Contact her at

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