Migrating Geese

I remember Canada geese flying in a perfect V-formation over our house every fall when I was a kid. In my memory, this always happened on a Sunday; we’d hear them approaching because of the honking and go outside to watch them pass over. My dad explained they were migrating south for the winter.

Were they? Or, were they on a Sunday outing? As it turns out, not all geese migrate, especially those in the middle latitudes of the United States. For some, this is a result of climate change; winters aren’t as harsh in many places, so they stay put. In addition, geese are highly adaptable. Modern urban and suburban areas provide plenty of food and open water, and few predators. For the adapted goose, it’s an ideal habitat.

Whether or not a goose migrates is even more complicated than that, though. Geese that take up permanent residence in one place, may, after years of residency, decide to migrate. One cause of this is a failed nest. Studies have shown that close to 50% of geese whose nest failed or had no young will migrate with another flock. This may happen even after years of staying in one place raising successful broods.

The bottom line is that some migrate, some don’t, even geese from the same area. So unless you can tell one goose from another, there’s no way to know who’s a permanent resident and who has migrated. Even in winter, perhaps some of the geese you come across migrated from a place further north! Those that do migrate may fly up 1,500 miles in a 24-hour period and may travel up to 2,600 miles total.

Red-Tailed Hawk

While on a walk the other day, I came across this bird having lunch. Not a good day for the mouse, but a great one for the hawk. We see these hawks a lot where I live, but not often so close. And so, I watched. My encounter left me wondering more about these birds (of course!).

They live across most of Canada, the United States, and Mexico. Those living in the middle latitudes don’t migrate, but the northern ones do move far to the south as winter approaches. Red-tailed hawks aren’t overly picky about habitats. They are found in forests, grasslands, deserts, and mountains. They only requirement is open space for hunting and high perches.

Red-tailed hawks are one of the largest birds in North America. Even so, most weigh less than three pounds! They can, however, catch prey that weighs more than five pounds. This prey includes a long menu of small animals, including the aforementioned mouse, as well as rabbits, squirrels, frogs, insects, bats, and other birds. Yum.

I was also happy to learn that red-tailed hawks are not a species of concern. In fact, according to the Audubon Society, even in the face of climate change, these hawks will not lose any range (based on 3° C warming). Predictions are, though, they will gain range and venture much further north in Canada.


Today is a day to celebrate recycling! It is indeed an odd thing to celebrate, and yet it is an important one. Believe it or not, there are still many, many people in the United States who do not recycle even the most basic items; there are also communities that simply don’t offer recycling, either curbside or at centers. The purpose of America Recycles Day is to educate people and to promote recycling. In addition, it is a day for all of us, recyclers or not, to be thoughtful about what we purchase and what we discard.

Studies have shown that in the US, the average non-recycler generates almost 5 pounds of trash per day. On the other hand, recyclers generate just over one pound of trash per day. For the recycler, 75% of the items they discard are recycled as opposed to being sent to the landfill. In addition, recycling helps to conserve natural resources and it reduces the amount of fossil fuels burned to create brand new products. An all-around win. Not only that, the industry generates close to 700,000 jobs and almost $38 billion in wages.

I think the equally important aspect of America Recycles Day is taking time to think about the items we purchase. Things to consider include buying in bulk to reduce packaging; how much unnecessary packaging is used for a single item; whether or not we really need to buy the item at all; and whether the item and/or the packaging fully recyclable.

Sometimes it all may seem futile. But I like to think in bigger pictures. For example, if your household uses 3 boxes of cereal per week and you recycle them, that’s approximately 12 boxes saved from the landfill per month and 144 in a year. See? It’s adding up! What happens if you convince a friend’s family to do the same? That 288 boxes recycled in a year. What happens if you get the whole block to do it? The whole city? You get the idea. So even if you can’t celebrate today, help spread the word because a lot of small steps by many individuals add up to a big difference!


On a recent hike, I walked through an area with a very distinct smell – skunk. And based on the stench, it seemed recent, though we were hiking during the day and skunks are nocturnal. Still, it was a powerful odor and I remained vigilant. Luckily, I never saw the skunk itself. But it made me wonder how many times a skunk can spray in a day. As in, if I had encountered the one who had recently sprayed, could it spray again?

The answer is yes, it can – roughly 4-5 more times. But the skunks do not have an unlimited supply of spray. It can take up to 10 days for a skunk to replenish its supply. And because the spray is the skunk’s only defense mechanism, they spray only as a last resort. They prefer to flee, stamp their feet, hiss, or growl. If that doesn’t work, they will raise their tail and wave it in warning.

If those attempts don’t work, though, skunks will spray. They spray comes from two anal scent glands under the tail and the skunk can squirt it 10-15 feet! It is an oily substance that can cause the victim temporary blindness, nausea, watery eyes, and, of course, a stench. Even baby skunks can spray, at about 8 days old. So now I’m left wondering, what was it that threatened the skunk near the trail but didn’t heed to warnings?

National Bison Day

It’s quite likely that the holidays marked on your calendar don’t include National Bison Day. Well, it’s coming up, the first Saturday of November. So mark those calendars! It is a day to celebrate the role bison play in our cultural and environmental heritage.

Let’s clear one thing up first. Bison are bison, not buffalo. In fact, there are no buffalo in North America. It’s a misnomer. When Europeans first encountered bison in North America, they mistakenly called them buffalo, which live in Africa and Asia. Unfortunately, the name stuck.

Bison were once abundant in North America – as in, over 30 million. They were especially important to Native peoples, both for survival and spirituality. Specifically, the Lakota were nomadic people who followed the bison herds. They hunted the bison only when necessary. And, when an animal was killed, every part of it was put to use. It provided food, fuel, clothing, and blankets.

Yet the arrival of white settlers changed that, quickly. The mass extermination of bison for the hides and for sport almost led to their extinction. By the end of the 1800s there were only a few hundred left. The plight of bison was recognized by a few conservationists who drew attention to the issue and saved the species. Today there are conservation herds, numbering around 20,000 bison, roaming public lands. One of the best places to see bison is in Custer State Park, South Dakota where they’re known to cause traffic jams…