Apr 18, 2010

The Year of the Greylag Goose

by Konrad Lorenz

I knew of Konrad Lorenz as being the author of King Solomon's Ring, an excellent book a college friend once gave to me when she discovered I loved reading about animals. I knew he was a pioneering scientist in the study of animal behavior, particularly ethology, and being among the first to demonstrate that some infant animals, especially geese, would imprint upon and accept as their parents human beings (or whatever moving creature they first saw).

What I didn't know before was that Lorenz made his life work the study of behavior in greylag geese (and jackdaws). The Year of the Greylag Goose is a photo essay describing his work with the geese, some of the behavior he's observed and details of their life cycle, all accompanied by striking photographs. (Most animal books I read from this era have rather poor photos, but the ones in this book are really good quality in comparison). Lorenz chose to study geese in particular because he felt that their family grouping was similar to humans: young male geese try to impress the ladies, and a pair will go through a courtship period before settling down to raise a family. They usually stay together for life, but if one of the pair dies, the remaining goose seeks a new partner, after going through a period of mourning. Sometimes a pair will "get divorced", or a goose already in a partnership finds another more attractive, and fights ensue among the males. Occasionally two male geese will form a pair bond, which results in some odd behavior when they try to mate with each other (physically impossible) or when a lone female finds one of a male pair attractive!

Some other really interesting things I learned were that geese have a horny spur on the shoulder of their wings, which they use to hit each other with in serious fights (you can see a wing spur in this photo). Goslings are waterproofed by rubbing against the mother's feathers when brooded (it took a while for Lorenz to figure out how to properly waterproof the goslings raised by hand). Each year adult geese go through a period of moulting, when they loose and then regrow their flight feathers. The young geese become ready to fly just when the adult's feathers have begun to regrow. Because their flight feathers are still rather short, the parents fly cautiously at first, avoiding fancy maneuvers and at the same time making it easier for the young geese to follow their lead while they learn to handle themselves in the air. Isn't nature wonderful?

 I found this book at a library sale.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 199 pages, 1978


  1. Sounds fascinating. There was a pair of geese in our neighborhood and all of a sudden it's just one goose. We're wondering what's happened to the other one.

  2. I loved all those little facts you shared! Even though in general, geese freak me out. I was attacked by a flock when I was little.

  3. Bermudaonion- Poor goose! I hope it finds a companion soon. I gather they don't like to be alone.

    Eva- That must have been frightening! I know geese can be really aggressive- some people even keep them as watchdogs.


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