WOULD YOU GIVE YOUR LOVE A SWAN GOOSE?
by Whit Gibbons
December 24, 2006
Christmas Eve is not the time for a column about some of the daunting
environmental issues we will face next year. Instead, in keeping with
the spirit of the season, I present last year's column, which is as appropriate
now as it was then.
According to my calculations, by the 12th day of Christmas someone’s
true love had delivered more geese and swans than any other bird. In fact,
42 of each fowl ended up under new ownership, compared to only 12 partridges
and 22 turtledoves. French hens at 30 and calling birds at 36 were a bit
closer in numbers to the geese and swans but still fell short. I am almost
certainly not the first person to make these Christmas bird counts but
am pleased to finally have done so. If you think these counts are wrong,
do them yourself.
you are wondering what this has to do with ecology and the environment,
remember that anything involving an animal, plant, heavy metal, air, water,
sound, most other tangible things, and many intangible ones can be construed
as having something to do with the environment. Since this is the holiday
season--a time for giving--my gift to readers is to apprise them of some
ecological aspects of this song. For example, how many kinds of geese
and swans are there? Are all of them suitable for gift giving? What are
the benefits of receiving a partridge or a French hen?
many different kinds of swans and geese belong to the same family of mostly
migratory waterfowl. To most Americans a swan is a big white bird that
looks regal gliding around on a lake, and indeed most of the world's eight
or so swan species are all white or mostly so. However, the species found
in Australia and New Zealand is black and does not migrate. Seven black
swans have probably never been given to anyone on the seventh day of Christmas.
As with many animals closely associated with humans through domestication,
male, female, and babies have different names. A male swan is a cob, a
female a pen, and the babies, aka ugly ducklings, are called cygnets.
than a dozen different species of geese, several are native to the United
States. The most commonly known ones are the snow, blue, and Canada geese,
which travel up and down much of the country during migratory seasons.
One goose that would not be suitable for Christmas gift giving is the
Hawaiian goose, or nene, the Hawaiian state bird, which is on the federal
endangered species list. Only 30 are believed to have been alive a half
century ago, although successful recovery plans have increased the numbers.
Nene do not migrate. (Why fly to another island with the same temperature?)
They mostly walk around on lava slopes instead of swimming around in water
and have less webbing on their feet than other geese.
swan goose is a creature that might confuse people who give geese and
swans as gifts. Do you give them on the sixth or seventh day? This dilemma
is not likely to affect gift givers in the United States. Under natural
conditions, swan geese live in the region of northern China, Siberia,
Partridge and French hens are related to quail and pheasant. They can
be pretty; they produce eggs that are edible; and they themselves are
edible. Good gifts for some occasions. Turtledoves are a type of pigeon
found from northern Europe to Africa. Their numbers have declined considerably
in recent years. I have no idea what a "calling bird" is but
assume this could apply to most species, since they nearly all have a
call of some sort.
In the final
count of bird distribution and abundance patterns as determined from this
song, the record for highest number should probably go to the geese. All
42 of them were a-laying and should presumably soon have goslings running
around, whereas the 42 swans were simply a-swimming, thus no ugly ducklings
were expected. What someone did on the 12th day of Christmas with 184
mostly big birds running around their house (or sitting in pear trees),
I can only imagine. Maybe the 48 maids that I calculate were present,
stopped a-milking and started a-mopping.
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