Amazing example of inter-species cooperation - A Geese & Deer encounter

October 22, 2014  •  2 Comments

The meetingDeer approach a Canadian goose on the banks of our lake

I was talking with friends this weekend and the topic turned towards animals, specifically deer.  The topic changed to bow-hunting but since I'm not a bow hunter, or even a hunter for that matter, I couldn't contribute much to the topic. However, it did remind me of something that I witnessed and photographed back in May of 2009.  As I recounted the experience to them, I (and they) realized that was I saw was extremely unique and I knew right then what my next blog was going to be about. 

As Phineas of "Phineas and Ferb" says: "Ferb, I know what we're going to do today!".

See the video version of this story here:

This was an amazing experience that not only I witnessed, but also my wife, kids, parents and in-laws. That was a day I am glad I had my camera ready, because I was able to capture the entirety of the event. The scene unfolded between two deer who found themselves somewhat stranded on one side of our lake and two Canadian geese. I say "somewhat" because our lake is really not that big and all they had to do was go around it. They probably would have done that eventually except that one of the geese that frequents that side came to their assistance. At this point, it wasn't developing into anything other than some deer wandering around.

Before I started to write this down, I did some rudimentary searches on inter-species communication. I came across one article where a deer adopted a widowed goose and guarded her and her eggs, even going as far as to take a defensive stance if anyone got too close, putting himself between the goose and the intruder.  You can see the story here from 2011:

JFB_0067JFB_0067 Other than that, I read a few articles talking about human to animal communications. Some were interesting, some were a bit "out there" with people claiming they can read the telepathic messages that all animals send out. I get telepathic messages from my cat sometimes, when he's laying on my chest in the morning, his thoughts read along the lines of: "The heating vent is not on, so that is why I'm here." There are also many stories of how animals within their own species can communicate with each other, like within an elephant herd and wolf pack. 

JFB_0068JFB_0068 What I was looking for specifically were examples of communication between animals from different species.  For example, I found some Geckos begging for food from insects, birds luring badgers to beehives to sucker them into breaking into it so they didn't have to and also some dolphins that led some stranded whales to safety.  Read about those here:  


So IT DOES HAPPEN, BUT IT IS VERY RARE.  Or, it happens all the time and we either don't notice it or they do it purposely in secret.  It reminds me of the Gary Larson cartoon about the cows that are socializing and standing on two legs up until one of them shouts "CAR!" and they all go down on four legs until the car passes.  Then the next panel shows them all socializing again. In respect to Gary Larson, I won't post that cartoon here. He's kind of sensitive to that.  Odds are very good you've already seen it anyway.


The explanations for this are varied. Mostly people seem to believe that it is a telepathic type of communication that is occurring. I'm not sure, but to this day I really could not explain what I saw. I also never saw it happen again. In fact, in the story about the deer guarding the goose nest, there was a goose expert that claimed that this type of interaction was extremely rare and unique.


There was a period in this drama where we had no clue what the goose was trying to do.  We thought she was trying to run away at first, and they usually run straight to the lake if you chase them. However, upon noticing the deer stopping, the goose also stopped short of the lake and turned around. Above, you see her giving them a honk.


And a couple times, the deer would look around and you could imagine the one in back saying (or thinking, this is telepathic, right?), "What the heck are you thinking? There's people over there, lined up on their deck watching this whole thing! I hope none of them is filming this..." And the goose replies,

"C'mon, let's DO this already!"


And the back deer is saying, "Oh boy, Mom and Dad are gonna KILL us..."


It's obvious at this point that the goose's whole purpose is to lead the deer into the lake.  But why? The choices are: 

1) She is truly being benevolent and helping the deer get across the lake.  
2) Her sole purpose is to drown the deer out of spite.
3) There is another goose filming this from a secret location and this is all one big practical joke.

I don't know, Canadian Geese can be unpredictable. But I don't think they would gang up to trick me into walking off a cliff.  Or would they?


You can see by the turbulence in the water in the last three frames that the goose here is being REALLY INSISTENT.  So the deer capitulate and join her for a swim. JFB_0080JFB_0080

Above, you can see the goose flapping her wings and making more of a commotion.


At this point, there was just one goose participating in this journey with the deer.  What you don't see off-frame to the left is a second goose who is waiting for them patiently as you will see in the next frame.


Now the two geese discuss who's going to do what in a goose version of "Rock, Paper, Scissors".  JFB_0083JFB_0083

"You lead", "No, YOU lead!"  Eventually, one becomes leader and the other the "motivator".




As they deer got closer and closer to the shoreline, the goose in the back slowed down and backed off...


JFB_0088JFB_0088 the first goose pressed on and then turned toward shore...


...and the deer found their footing on the muddy bottom.


...and the pair scamper up and onto the other shore.


I still geek out once in a while about what happened.  I wonder why I buried these photos for the last five years for some reason. I only had my 18-200mm telephoto lens, so these photos are pretty cropped, even with the zoom extended completely. But, if I had gone to grab my bigger glass, I would have missed this whole thing.  This lasted no more than 4 minutes.

I recently watched a video by Jared Polin, a photographer from Philadelphia, who made a very poignant statement.  I believe it was somewhere along the lines of: "Get the shot. Don't worry too much about your exposure settings if the moment is fleeting. Just get the shot. If you fiddle and chimp and second guess yourself, the moment and other moments are going to pass right by."  I hope I got the essence of what he said, I couldn't find the video where he said it, so forgive me, Jared. I don't know how many people agree with that, but it never hurts to have the camera nearby and set to auto.

Does anyone have a theory about this event?  Feel free to comment below, I'd be interested to hear it.


Bob & Deb Park - East Peoria, IL(non-registered)
Proof that God works in mysterious ways!
As I can see on the pictures! The beauty of art and the essence of beauty of the nature! So inspiring! Thank you
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