I’ve often wondered about the “swan geese” moniker given to Chinese geese (Anser cygnoides). Sure, they’re as large as swans and have long necks they sometimes hold in positions reminiscent of swans, but I didn’t particularly feel either of those traits warranted a nickname linking these raucous birds to their distant cousins who quite dissimilarly are full of grace and quite a bit less noise. I realize they are domesticated swan geese, but that still leaves me wondering about the name.
And then I captured these photos of both the brown and white varieties. The question was answered.
Watching these large waterfowl as they glided across the surface of the water, their heads held with courtly elegance, their necks long and slender, and their wings pushed up by an upwardly held tail, suddenly reminded me of the same postures and visuals often seen with swans. Although no one would ever mistake one of these geese for a swan (unless seen from quite a distance), I realized while watching them approach the shore that they indeed deserved that very cognomen.
Even the American coots (Fulica americana) seemed to offer genteel deference as the geese made their way toward land quite near where I stood. Then again, maybe they were just trying to get out of the way of this much larger and quite forbidding gaggle that seemed intent on mowing over anything that got in their way. That definitely is another similarity to swans (who, if you didn’t know, can be quite mean and aggressive, a trait contrary to their beauty).
Nevertheless, the geese came ashore only a few yards (a few meters) from where I stood taking photographs. Until they were out of the water, one easily could see how swanlike they were.
Let’s not forget they are geese, however. Before they reached my position, I captured this video showing just how rowdy, boisterous, and shrill they are. The honking echoed across the entire lake and sometimes threatened to reach earsplitting levels. Just listen to them in this brief film.
There’s something else in that video I want you to take note of as well. Underlying the sounds of the geese and other birds is an almost mournful noise, one in close proximity to the camera. It runs throughout the video and repeats constantly and at almost clock-like intervals.
That sound is a coot standing in the shallows. I had never heard a coot make that noise before. I’ve heard the other sound they make, the one that reminds me of a throaty groan (you can hear it a few times in the first five seconds, and then there’s one right at five seconds that’s much louder and clearer).
I watched the coot making that sorrowful sound to see if perhaps it was hurt or sick. After several minutes, I concluded it was acting like the rest of them who were loitering about the area where land and water joined together. Despite its kith and kin making what I thought to be normal coot noises, this one continued its crying for quite a while. Eventually, though, it reverted to the expected calling as it and the other coots made their way to land for a free meal provided by some very nice folks bearing the gift of breakfast.