Out There: Goosed! Tales of fowl play

Editor's note: Watch for Keith "Catfish" Sutton appearing on "The Casting Couch," a one-minute commentary on the wild world of fishing that airs on Saturdays during "BassCenter" on ESPN2.

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    Canada geese have become increasingly common in many areas of the country, and so have the number of Canada goose attacks. That's correct: goose attacks.

    For several years now, reports of geese attacking people have been steadily increasing.

    Consider, for example, the case of a New Jersey man whose walk in the woods turned into a nightmare when he got goosed.

    The man was hiking in a national wildlife refuge when he encountered an angry Canada goose. As he ran from the attacking bird, he fell and broke his leg. Unable to move, he called 911 and waited two hours for rescuers to find him.

    He was taken to a hospital and treated for multiple leg fractures. The goose is on the loose, and authorities can't say for sure what prompted the attack.

    In another case of fowl play, an Illinois man was the victim of what has been referred to as a scene from a Hitchcock film.

    The man claimed two Canada geese blocked his way when he tried to enter the building where he worked. He went to another door, and a third goose blocked him there.

    "It started acting crazy," he said. "I tried to hurry into the building, but it flew at my face. I tried to fan it off. It was very ferocious."

    As he turned to run, the man fell and broke his wrist. He later received $17,767.54 in workers' compensation after filing a claim relating to the wild ambush. As far as we know, the fowl fiends are still at large

    Another Canada goose bit a Florida woman on the foot. The woman sued the county after this attack. She claimed the goose, which was running free in a public park, had a history of violent behavior, and that the county should have posted warning signs.

    No word is available on the result of that lawsuit. But a few months after the attack, the county hired a trapper to remove two-dozen unruly geese that lived in the park.

    Fortunately, you don't hear of geese attacking many people in rural areas.

    The problem, I think, lies not with the geese themselves, but relates to the way they are raised.

    In an urban environment, the parent birds are gone a lot, and it's easy for a gosling to fall in with the wrong crowd. One minute you're taunting the swans and mallards, and the next you're pouncing on some woman and biting her toes.

    Before you know it, your picture is plastered on wanted signs, and you and your bird buddies are getting trapped and relocated to Saskatchewan.

    Typically, goose attacks occur when someone gets too close to the nest or young of a Canada goose.

    Male Canadas stand guard at the nest sites or in front of their young and defend against any intruder or predator that comes by.

    The bird first gives a warning by holding its neck and head low and hissing loudly.

    But should an unwelcome visitor not be dissuaded, the warning quickly gives way to a full-scale attack by the gander, which may jump or fly directly at the intruder and strike out with its powerful wings.

    In 1840, the famous painter John James Audubon reported being injured by a wild Canada gander he was observing at a nest.

    The goose "seemed to look upon me with utter contempt," Audubon wrote. "It would stand in a stately attitude until I reached within a few yards of the nest, when suddenly lowering its head, and shaking it as if it were dislocated from the neck, it would open its wings and launch into the air, flying directly at me.

    "So daring was this fine fellow that in two instances he struck me a blow with one of his wings on the right arm, which, for an instant, I thought was broken."

    I know how Audubon must have felt, because Canada geese, too, have attacked me.

    It happened one spring day several years ago, when I joined Arkansas waterfowl biologist Michael Hill to count giant Canada goose nests and eggs on several islands in the Arkansas River.

    Hill pointed out that giant Canadas have wingspans up to 6 feet, making them the largest of North American waterfowl, aside from swans. He also noted their propensity for attacking anyone who comes near their nest, and the possibility of injury resulted from such an attack.

    I was not prepared, however, when the first goose bushwhacked me.

    We had been on the first island barely five minutes when the big gander came crashing through the underbrush, hissing at me with wings spread and neck outstretched.

    As I tried to push my heart back down into my chest, the huge bird bit me and gave me a thrashing with its wings. I ran to escape and bumped right into a second gander, which also attacked, causing me to run into — you guessed it — goose No. 3, which flailed me, as well.

    In the time it takes to tell it, I got goosed six times.

    Hill decided at this point to share his belief that these islands were home to the world's densest population of nesting Canada geese.

    Each nest we found was within just a few yards of another one, and that nest, in turn, was close to another and another and another. We found 41 nests on that first island alone, and squared off with 41 mad ganders.

    Fortunately, the beatings the geese gave us that day did not result in major injuries.

    Such is not always the case, as the evidenced by the tales above — and as long-haired male supermodel Fabio discovered in 1999, when he got goosed on a new theme park ride he was hyping for reporters in Williamsburg, Va.

    The butter-alternative pitchman was zooming around on a Busch Gardens roller coaster when a bird, completely unprovoked, crashed into his face. Fabio sustained a 1-inch gash to the bridge of his bloodied nose.

    Not surprisingly, a Canada goose was fingered as the assailant. The body of the dead waterfowl was found near the ride. The motive remains unknown, but a suicide mission could not be ruled out.

    Some people said Fabio's goose encounter was just a freak accident. But I believe it was more than just that.

    Yesterday, it was Fabio; tomorrow it could be Pauly Shore or, God forbid, Michael Jackson, or even the Backstreet Boys. The truth of the matter is, it could be you or me or someone we love.

    That's why I urge all of you who hunt to help put an end to these senseless goose attacks. If you love Canada geese the way I love Canada geese — drenched in mushroom gravy or stuffed with cornbread dressing — I know you'll want to do your part.

    Hunt Canada geese this season. Remember, the goose you cook won't goose you.

    To contact Keith Sutton, email him at catfishdude@sbcglobal.net. His new book, "Out There Fishing" (Stoeger Publishing; $19.95), is available at www.catfishsutton.com.

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