What is wild? If it is the opposite of tame, what is “tame”? Are wildness or tameness a perception or a state of reality? SNH’s Iain Macdonald ponders over this question in relation to wild geese on a cricket pitch.
I’m just back from looking for barnacle geese. Through the telescope I found distant black and white dots, meandering across bright green islands off the west coast of Sutherland. Small parties, just a handful, and I know their movements well. They hop from island to island, as far away from people as is possible. In the windy shades of grey sea and sky, surrounded by waves and mountains the birds are surely the epitome of wild. In childhood I imagined the geese during a Spitzbergen summer fleeing polar bears and dodging gyr falcons and icebergs before returning to spend the winter on tiny wave-lashed islands.
The following day I went to Nairn to check out the brent geese on the cricket pitch beside the bandstand. A playground for children, walkers, dogs and evidently now also for geese. Over the last few years the “brents” happily ate seaweed on the beach, dodging dogs and roosting on the salt marsh beside Culbin Forest. Over the last few weeks however the geese have become local internet celebrities. Dog walkers were only metres to their right and the pack of geese responded by moving a few metres to their left. They didn’t fly away and people commented on how tame they were? In their smudgy dark plumage they looked “urban”.
I recall a talk from a Norwegian scientist who measured the heart rate of “tame” grouse sitting on their nest whilst being petted. He said that the birds were absolutely petrified, stressed beyond belief. Simon at work made an interesting suggestion. Brent geese in Dublin also wander about public parks and have been doing so for a few years. Perhaps one of the Irish birds met up with the Nairn birds and introduced a little bit of Irish park culture? Perhaps the local birds have learnt to be tame?
Who knows what goes through the head of a brent goose when a walker gets close and personal? I am guessing that we want them to be tame, but I suspect it’s a front. Before chilling out at Nairn these brents have been up north, way up north, about as far north as any living bird might dare to venture. Too far north for the average barnacle goose. These are not tame birds, but tough birds, hard birds even. Definitely wild birds..
“All that the sun shines on is beautiful, so long as it is wild.” John Muir