Despite all the talk of the Headless Horseman at Washington Irving's Sunnyside on a recent weekend, perhaps far more sinister at this serene estate was the wild geese fight going on in the open field.
Perhaps you’ve heard that geese can be vicious, but have you ever witnessed their loud, wing slapping and screaming gang-up-on-one-lone-bird fights?
I got some footage of these big birds going at it—gasps from the onlookers and all—and then went around asking some area nature experts what the heck geese were doing fighting each other this time of year anyway. I suspected they might battle a bit during spring mating season, over a woman of course, but in the height of lovely fall?
Stephen Stanne, education coordinator for the Hudson River Estuary Program, said he too has seen such avian antagonism.
“I have seen such fierce fights among individuals outside the breeding season, when the geese are gathered in large flocks," he said. "Evidently the pecking order is not always clear when many birds gather together, and has to be defined.”
Stanne shared this entry on the topic from the Birds of North American Online:
Rule by tyranny, especially in large-bodied subspecies, promotes physical interactions (Jenkins 1944, Collias and Jahn 1959). In large-bodied forms, family disputes during winter (invariably over food) often lead to physical encounters, especially among transient groups at staging areas where dominance hierarchies have not been established (Raveling 1970). Fights generally entail geese grabbing each other by breast or throat with their bills and flailing with their wings in an attempt to land blows with their wing spurs.
Which is just how it was, only not nearly winter.
Could the geese get seriously injured from all this grabbing and flailing?
“I haven't seen serious injuries come out of these fights,” Stanne said. “While they may occur, in general the fights end as one bird finally submits - there's not much evolutionary advantage in getting killed. As the Birds of America Online puts it…: ‘Agonistic displays function to establish and maintain rank while minimizing risk of physical contact.’”
Tom Lake, who compiles the Hudson River Almanac, was more stumped by a fall fight.
“Geese tend to be territorial in breeding season, for sure, but I have to admit I have never seen ‘fights’ among autumn migrants,” he said. “Typically, large numbers of fall migrant geese share small spaces in ponds and corn field.”
So, I guess it's unclear what caused the bad blood but maybe you can say it has something to do with our Legendary soil.