I have two female Brown Chinese geese. I can’t really tell them apart so having two different names seemed meaningless. I affectionately refer to them as “The Charlottes.” Each morning when I open the door to their overnight house, out waddle the Charlottes to splash about in their flat Fortex dish filled with water for them to bathe in. It is an essential fact of goose maintenance to be able to submerge their heads in water in order to groom their feathers. Recently, I have noticed that instead of first one bird getting into the water, dunking her head and casting water over her back, then getting out for the other bird to get in as they have done all winter, now both birds get into the water at the same time jostling in a space too small for two. They end up with one bird standing on the back of the other. I also noticed that the bird on top was acting suspiciously like a male, gently nipping the other bird’s wings and neck. The bird on the bottom seemed quite content to be there and sometimes held her wings slightly extended. Hmmmm. I had read about this possibility.
It seems that the girls have been playing house. A few weeks ago when I opened the door to let them out, the geese were very agitated. So much so, that they were walking all over an egg in the middle of the floor. One goose exited, but the other remained behind and actually flew at me when I used a shovel to reach in and remove it, already frozen and cracked. Well, it’s spring and they are approaching their first season of maturity so although the timing was a surprise, the fact of an egg wasn’t.
Each morning I look in their house to see what they have been up to. Frequently I remove and clean their soiled food dish and mud- filled water bowl. Geese are incredibly messy birds. It is because they splash about in their water bowl, as well as fill it with mud, that I must keep adding fresh hay on top of the wet dirty hay and then periodically remove all that material in order to keep their little house dry. It was while I was cleaning out their house with a long handled pitchfork that I reached into the back to redistribute the hay piled in a corner and uncovered nine more eggs! The Charlottes weren’t just playing house, they were estate planning! Of course, with no male around these eggs are not fertile, but just like chickens, geese will lay eggs regardless. What is unique to geese is that unlike chickens, geese mate for life, and the gander assists in raising the goslings. What I have read is that in the absence of a male, two female geese will pair bond and one of the females may actually change hormonally and take on physical characteristics of a gander. In Brown Chinese geese, that would be the larger, more prominent knob above their upper bill. This female will act like a male and take on the protective duties of the gander, and thus will not lay any eggs. If a male is introduced, she will eventually return to the normal female hormone profile and even the knob will reduce to its normal size.
In the case of the Charlottes, after I found the stashed clutch, I look in their nest each morning and remove one egg. It does appear that only one female is laying. So far, neither goose seems to care that I raid their nest, they just go about their day being messy, digging holes whenever and wherever possible. I didn’t acquire geese for the purpose of their laying eggs but I am enjoying having them. Out of the nine eggs, I gave several to friends to dye for Easter, and we cooked the others for the dogs. However, with the fresh eggs we made our first goose egg omelet and it was delicious, even if cracking the thick shell was surprisingly difficult.
I was perfectly happy caring for the Charlottes before, but it is really nice to be getting something tangible for my efforts. I don’t love cleaning their house for them at this time of the year, but that’s the way it goes. The Charlottes are entertaining, beautiful, and not exactly what I expected, but that is one of the great things about living with animals, they are full of surprises. I even have a name for their little house, I call it the Charlatan Hotel.