I’m told that the morning skies above Stirling Castle have recently been filled with unusually large and noisy V-shaped formations of Greylag geese. I’ve not seen them myself, but this fits with what’s being reported across Scotland.
The geese come here to escape the harsh winters in Greenland and Scandinavia, spreading themselves from Orkney and the Western Isles, down the west coast and beyond. This year they’ve found that their favourite haunts are colder than usual, and the lochs they like to roost on are often frozen. As a result they have congregated in greater numbers in places like the Firth of Forth, which is less likely to ice over, and where they can also settle on the mudflats overnight to keep safe from predators. When daylight comes they are up and off to the west in search of food – the area near the Lake of Menteith is particularly popular.
Watching geese in flight is always impressive, and the more you find out about them the more fascinating they become. What I admire is that they are remarkably social animals – for example all the honking noise they make in flight is to encourage youngsters to keep up. And their V formations are designed to reduce the air resistance that most of the birds have to cope with. The leader obviously bears the brunt, so they take it in turns to go at the front. Sometimes you’ll notice that they are in upside down Vs, and that’s because the one at the back is injured or tired, so the others are doing all they can to make its flight easier.
Certainly it seems like a magnificent sight to stand on the castle esplanade and watch hundreds of these marvellous birds pass across the sky as the sun comes up, or at dusk, with the snow-capped Ochil Hills as a backdrop.
It’s not just geese which are having a hard time at the moment, all birds are, so it’s a great time to help them by putting out things like fat balls, seeds or meal worms. Even bread is not a bad idea, but preferably brown and a little bit wet. It can make all the difference, providing the energy they need to survive until spring.
Martin Gray, Historic Scotland Royal Parks Visitor Services Manager