Honker is a common name for the Canada Goose (Branta canadensis), a large goose found in most of North America. The Canada Goose, or Canadian Goose as it's also called, breeds in Alaska, Canada and the northern states and winters in mid to southern United States all the way down to southern Mexico. For many people, fall isn't really here until they see and hear the first v-shaped formation of Honkers heading south for the winter.
The Canada Goose is a large bird, reaching lengths of 45 inches and weights of up to 13 pounds. It has a grey body with a long black neck and tail. The underside of the tail is white and it has a distinctive white cheek patch. It's truly a beautiful and unique bird. It's omnivorous, and eats parts of marsh plants, field grains, and insects, snails, and minnows. The Canada Goose mates for life, and returns each year to it's ancestral mating grounds. During the winter, geese from all areas may mix, but breeding is done only in familiar territory. The nests are depressions in the ground, or lined tree stumps. Many places in Oregon create nesting areas for these birds by mounting tires on posts in the middle of a pond or lake. Tops of haystacks were popular nesting areas in the cattle ranch I grew up on. Each year a pair of geese produces a single clutch of 5 or 6 young. These goslings will remain with the parents until the following spring the eggs hatch in late spring, and will learn migratory routes and seasonal home locations during the migration that year. Honkers have a distinctive call, usually uttered when in flight or when separated from the flock..a sort of Ah-honk sound, hence the common name of the bird. It's one of my favorite songs of nature.
I had a pet Honker growing up. His name was Deedles, and my dad found him one spring when he was feeding the cattle. He was a baby in a nest on a haystack, and dad unknowingly ruined the nest when loading the hay. He brought Deedles and his siblings home, but only Deedles survived. We kept him alive on bread soaked in milk and eggs and he grew to be a huge, beautiful bird. He would follow my brother and I around and meet us in the lane when the school bus dropped us off. If he wasn't around, we could call him by shouting "Here Deedles, Deedles, Deedles" and he would come running, wings outstretched, giving his distinctive Ah-honk. Deedles grew up, and one fall he flew south with the rest. But every year for a long time, one pair of Honkers would return to nest in the haystack closest to our house, and if we called "Here Deedles, Deedles, Deedles", the huge male would circle us in flight...but he never landed. Deedles had a new family.