My Honkin’ Rude Neighbor

Canada Goose pair swimming

Is it rude to stick your tongue out…

… if you’re a Canada Goose? That’s what I wondered yesterday as I watched one of the noisy honkers on our lake.

It was swimming at high speed, its neck stretched long and low over the water. And leading the way was its big pink tongue.

Take a look. After the video, I’ll share what I learned (and what I still don’t know) about this funny episode.
A goose’s tongue is pretty interesting.  The birds were too far away to zoom in on it, so here’s an internet photo by Nikolai Gates Vetr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Goose's serrated tongue
A goose’s serrated tongue

The tongue’s serrated edges make perfect sense. Geese feed primarily on grasses and similar plants, and the tongue’s ‘teeth’ enable underwater gripping. And speaking of teeth, the ones we see on that lower jaw aren’t enamel-covered bone. They’re made of firm cartilage called tomium. Geese swallow their food whole, so like the tongue serrations, their teeth are made for gripping instead of chewing.

So, why was the goose in the video sticking its tongue out? At first, I thought the funny chase scene might be a mating ritual. These past few weeks I’ve seen a variety of waterfowl mate, always preceded by some kind of pas de deux. But if the pursuer was intent on a prenuptial ballet, the main event never happened—at least not during the twenty minutes or so when I was watching.

Was I seeing a pair’s initial courting? Probably not, as that ritual consists mostly of ‘mutual neck dipping,’ where the birds face each other. So this didn’t seem to be a new couple.

Canada geese mate for life, and I think these two are a mated pair. I believe the speedy swimmer is the gander—a male. My reasoning: A male’s bill is slightly rounder and more bulbous than the female’s, and males are slightly larger than females. Here’s a still from the video. I could be wrong, but it appears to show those traits.

Male and female Canada geese
The gander’s bill appears more rounded than the goose’s.

So… what was this behavior about? I remain mystified. The geese stayed together, swimming calmly after I stopped filming. Maybe the gander was peeved about some slight or about being left momentarily behind. In that case, I guess we’d say he was giving her a tongue-lashing.

Or was he just being rude?

My resources for this blog post include Birds of the World and Citizens for the Preservation of Wildlife, a waterfowl rescue and rehab organization.

Image Credits: Carol Doeringer, Nikolai Gates Vetr.

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