When a report came in on December 3, 2016, indicating that a Canada goose was sitting on a nest in downtown Winnipeg, surely Manitoba provincial game bird manager Frank Baldwin suspected it was inaccurate. Or perhaps a joke.
Still, the next day Baldwin investigated, and to his amazement, he found a goose surrounded by snow on a nest containing five eggs! Given the time of year and that there was a severe snowstorm in the forecast, the eggs were removed 24 hours later to encourage the goose to move on. No gander was present for either visit, possibly having sensed the folly of his winter fling.
“Upon dissection of the eggs, we were very surprised to find that one had a near-term gosling,” Baldwin wrote in an email to Delta Waterfowl. “The other four eggs were undeveloped.”
Based on the developing embryo, Baldwin estimates that the goose began nesting in early November and began incubation sometime between November 11 and 15.
The goose is also no stranger to Winnipeg, having been banded nearby as an adult in 2013.
“The bird did not appear to be injured, and was quite aggressive, which allowed us to read the bands,” Baldwin said.
So, what caused the goose’s biological clock to be thrown so drastically out of whack? It’s impossible to say, but perhaps Manitoba’s warmest November on record played a role. Temperatures reached 66 degrees F on November 9.
A similar anomaly occurred late last decade, when New Jersey Wildlife Services reported a Canada goose nesting in mid-January. The nest was found in the interior courtyard of a state prison during a mild winter, and the cement and surrounding steel ensured the area was warmer than the outside air.
However, the New Jersey goose attempted to nest as the days grew longer and within an area receiving 24-hour light, so presumably it believed spring had arrived. The Winnipeg goose was discovered atop eggs in the midst of shortening days — a clear indicator of winter’s approach — making the biological glitch all the more peculiar.