Posts Tagged ‘Branta canadensis’

Carolus Linnaeus, that is. Strictly speaking, that should be Happy Belated Birthday, as his birthdate is May 23, 1707. The 300th anniversary of his birth was celebrated in 2007. What an amazing man. Darwin gets lots of credit for the whole Origin of Species thing, even though Alfred Russel Wallace had come to similar conclusions contemporaneously. I think I prefer Linnaeus as a hero. He brought order to the study of natural science.

Taxonomy, or systematics, is the science of classifying organisms. The system that was developed by the great Swedish botanist Linnaeus is still used today. It is a hierarchical system that ranks every organism, both plant and animal and even the neither here nor theres, in a series of categories. You may be familiar with King Phillip Comes Over For Good Soup, or some similar mnemonic. The phrase reminds schoolchildren and more than a few adults of the hierarchy: Kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus and species.

Somehow, I missed this in school and came to it late in life when I developed an interest in birds. Birds belong to the kingdom Animalia; the phylum Chordata (animals with vertebrae, or a backbone); and class Aves (this class refers exclusively to birds). There are about 2 dozen orders of birds. Names of orders end in “iformes”. The largest order is Passeriformes, the perching birds, which include more than half of the world’s approximately 10,000 species. Other orders are referred to as non-passerines. Examples of other orders are Piciformes (woodpeckers); Columbiformes (pigeons and doves); and Anseriformes (ducks and geese).

Each order is divided into families. There are many families in Passeriformes. Examples are Corvidae (crows and jays) and Turdidae (thrushes). Bird guides are generally set up in a standard layout of orders and families. The layout reflects the evolutionary age of the orders and species. The orders thought to have evolved first are at the beginning of guides. The more recently-evolved birds, the passerines, are presented after all the other orders.

Each family is divided into genera, which include very similar species. Each species has a latinized name made up of the genus combined with a specific name to distinguish it from other members of its genus. A shared genus name indicates that two species are closely related. Scientific names are traditionally italicized. Because the Linnean system features a two-part scientific name it is commonly referred to as binomial nomenclature. Here is how the American Robin (Turdus migratorius), above, photographed recently in my garden, would be classified:

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Turdidae
Genus: Turdus
Species: migratorius

The Canada geese (Branta canadensis) that I photographed last winter would be classified as follows:

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Anseriformes
Family: Anatidae
Genus: Branta
Species: canadensis

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So that’s it then. It’s official. Summer is over. The autumnal equinox in the northern hemisphere arrived at 5:18 PM EDT on September 22. Not that we needed an official time to let us know that the summer of 2009 is fading away into memory. All around, there are plenty of signs that winter is on its way. It has to be admitted that, if we really must slide back into winter, fall is a pretty nice way to watch the summer disappear.


Among my favorite fall sights are the vees of Canada Geese winging in waves across the sky, their goodbye song trailing out behind them and drifting down to my ears. One of my favorites of the poems that I shared with my kids when they were young is about the geese in fall. It’s titled Something Told the Wild Geese, by Rachel Field. It captures something of the mystery of migration and the melancholia of their departure. Here it is:


Something told the wild geese
It was time to go.
Though the fields lay golden
Something whispered, “Snow.”

Leaves were green and stirring
Berries, luster-glossed.
But beneath warm feathers
Something cautioned, “Frost!”

All the sagging orchards
Steamed with amber spice.
But each wild breast stiffened
At remembered ice.

Something told the wild geese,
It was time to fly —
Summer sun was on their wings,
Winter in their cry.

Rachel Field


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Recently there have been platoons of Canada Geese paddling up and down the river. They are attracted to a section of the river that lies just to the west of the house because the river bank slopes gently up to a farmer’s field at that point. They are thus afforded easy access to a favoured gleaning territory. Having lived in the Greater Toronto Area for many years, I am accustomed to Canada Geese that have become integrated into the fabric of the city. They hang out in parks, overwintering there, accepting handouts from park visitors. Indeed, Canada Geese have become a considerable headache for city officials who must deal with the clean up of their messy droppings, and the occasional overaggressive bird who threatens visitors. The problem is that the same features that people enjoy in a park, lush lawns and sparkling water, are exactly what geese prefer. Efforts to control geese populations have included oiling eggs to prevent them from hatching and employing handlers with trained dogs to harass the geese and encourage them to move on. The geese around here are not so citified. When they catch sight of me they immediately begin a retreat, sometimes forming a tidy row of geese.


On Sunday, when Birdgirl was visiting, she noticed someone new on the river, a solitary goose making its way downstream. It appeared to be a domestic goose that had perhaps escaped from a local farmyard. After an absence of a few days, the stranger reappeared, this time in the company of 8 or 10 Canada Geese and a pair of Mallard ducks. The newcomer is a Brown China goose. Domestic Chinese geese originated from wild Swan Geese (Anser cygnoides) stock. It is thought that geese are among the oldest of domesticated animals, with archaeological evidence for domesticated geese in Egypt 3000 years or more ago. Domestic geese are generally larger than their wild kin, and are not usually strong fliers. Brown China Geese can breed with Canada Geese and produce hybrid offspring. The photo below, of two hybrids and their Canada Goose parent, is from Feathersite.com (Photo courtesy of Kathy Reeves).

Geese are sometimes kept as pets or guard animals. For the story of April and Fool, read Willow Miranda’s “Everyone Should Have A Goose At Least Once In Their Life“.


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Goose Spa

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Hooded Merganser pair

Hooded Merganser pair

The south branch of the South Nation river runs by the back door of Willow House. In the morning, I can lean on the kitchen counter and gaze out the window as I wait for my coffee to brew. The river is always interesting, but since the ice melted off, an assortment of waterfowl have been stopping by, causing me to rush for my camera. The above pair of Hooded Mergansers (Lophodytes cucullatus), shown near the beaver lodge, were very camera shy, swimming rapidly away or taking flight as soon as they caught sight of me.

Canada geese

Canada geese

This pair of Canada geese (Branta canadensis), who spent the afternoon enjoying the sun at the edge of the river, were more co-operative, though still wary.

Wood Ducks

Wood ducks

Three pairs of Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa) floated by and then paddled back up stream.

Mallard pair

Mallard pair

A Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) and his missus spent a few hours grooming themselves on the shore.


Common Grackles

Passerines (songbirds) such as these Common Grackles (Quiscalus quiscula) also use the river to bathe and drink.

At the end of the day, the river and its occupants settle down … or start their busy night’s activity … as the sun sets.
*Creedence Clearwater Revival: Lookin’ Out My Back Door


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A news report in November 2008, told of a farm in Colorado that, once they were finished with the harvest, opened their fields to anyone who wanted to pick up the leftover vegetables. Forty thousand people showed up! These modern gleaners, arriving by car, were a far cry from Jean Francois Millet’s famous gleaners, portrayed in 1857.

The Gleaners  Jean Francois Milet  1857

The Gleaners, by Jean Francois Milet, 1857

Here are some local gleaners, photographed in fields in the surrounding countryside:

Canada Geese (Branta canadensis)

The Gleaners: Canada Geese (Branta canadensis)

American Crows (Corvus brachyrhychos)

The Gleaners: American Crows (Corvus brachyrhychos)

Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo)

The Gleaners: Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo)

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