Odd Behavior in Canada geese

The photographs above were taken at American Lake on Fort Lewis, WA.

Living in the Northwest these large birds are just about impossible to miss. In many places it is also nearly impossible not to come into contact with the aftermath of their grassy diet, I certainly have, and I’ll bet there are quite a few golfers out there who can attest (and detest) to this experience also. I believe this is especially true around Salem, Oregon where I have seen flocks numbering in the hundreds, more than I’ve seen anywhere. Messy aftermath aside I have become quite fond of these birds. Their energy and raucous interactions are very interesting to watch and you can normally get quite close to them as well. Because of this and due to the fact that they are such a common sight much has been written about their behavior. Yet despite all that I have read about these beautiful birds I have noticed two peculiar habits not described elsewhere, and one of these behaviors is something I have not seen in any other bird. Watch a flock of Canada Geese on land for a period of time and you are sure to see the one legged stance. Sure, a number of other birds exhibit this posture so it is not too much of a peculiar thing. But spend some time observing Canada Geese in the water and you just might see something that is very peculiar – they flip themselves completely upside down – the only bird I know of that does this. Normally you see the geese swimming about in relative peace but sometimes I see small groups of them engaged in what I can only describe as vigorous bathing. At first all seems normal, then you notice one or two of them begin to furiously flap their wings and splash water all over the place. Immediately after one of the animals dips its head into the water and heaves itself completely over to the point where its flippered feet are sticking out of the water and pointing upward. Perhaps it is some kind of aggressive demonstration or something; I do not know. But the geese never appear to be facing a rival during these episodes and after seeing this behavior numerous times it looks very much as though the birds are trying to thoroughly wash themselves off. The flock does not all do it at once, only one or two of the birds go through this ritual at a time, and the energetic wing splashing does not always result in the upside down display. But every time I have seen the wing splashing sooner or later the birds are flopping upside down, and eventually they all seem to take turns doing it. Perhaps some bird expert out there can provide some insights on this.

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