A domestic goose, white with an orange beak, has been paddling about at the bottom of a waterfall on Stroudwater River, calling for his gaggle of friends on the higher water, for days, according to residents of the surrounding Stroudwater neighborhood.
Perhaps even more disturbing to locals is that the geese who have become something of the unofficial mascots for this picturesque Portland area are dwindling in numbers.
“We’re all concerned about him,” said David Chisholm, who stopped with his 7-year-old grandson, Ari Kirtani, along a bridge overlooking the harried goose Tuesday morning. “He’s obviously distressed and he can’t find his way back home. He knows where he wants to go, he just can’t get there.”
Locals have surmised that the goose accidentally went over the falls at some point when he and five other geese stopped to preen at the edge of the stone dam, as they regularly do. The nearly 170-year-old dam is about 16 feet tall at its highest point over the rocky ledges below.
Domestic geese were historically bred for meat and are too heavy to fly like their wild counterparts, and the stranded Stroudwater goose as of Tuesday morning had yet to discover what could admittedly be a dangerous overland route — potentially crossing several lanes of traffic — to return to his group.
“They don’t fly,” said local resident Charlotte Witt. “He … doesn’t know how to reconnect with his flock, because he can’t figure out how to get up past the waterfall. We were concerned, because we saw it was isolated and couldn’t get back up.”
These domestic geese are not “domestic” in the sense that they are human pets, but rather that they’re descendants of livestock. The Stroudwater geese are feral, and keep their distance from their human neighbors, although they’re a familiar sight along the lawns of the historic homes lining the docile river.
As alarming as the dilemma of this one goose, said nearby resident Mark Okrent, is that the geese so familiar to this neighborhood are dwindling. Not far from the falls is a “goose crossing” traffic sign and a residential mailbox shaped like a large white goose.
Okrent said there was a gaggle of 12 just three years ago and it dropped to nine last year. This year, he said, there are only six left, and there’s no clear answer why Stroudwater — home to some of Portland’s oldest homes, including the 1755 Tate House — is losing its geese.
Susan Gallo, wildlife biologist for Maine Audubon, said she’s not surprised that the Stroudwater goose population is shrinking. She said that domestic geese living wild in Portland face an uphill battle for survival.
Gallo said that area rats, cats, foxes and skunks likely keep most of the geese’s eggs and chicks from ever reaching adulthood, while coyotes may be killing adults, who lack natural camouflage or the ability to fly away.
“My gut feeling is that predators are going to get them,” she said. “I would not hold out great hope that they will persevere, because they’re not adapted to the environment.”
Witt said she called Portland’s Animal Control Officer in hopes police could help at least the one stranded bird, but was told the city’s force wasn’t equipped to catch a goose in the water. A Portland police spokesman said he forwarded a request for comment to the Animal Control Officer’s supervisor Tuesday afternoon.