Critters are smarter than we tend to think, and there are plenty of examples to prove it

All right, readers. I heard you loud and clear. After all, 11 e-mails from readers, all taking me to task for highlighting goose poop of all things, definitely got my attention. 

And yes, Canada geese do have at least some redeeming qualities. I will give credit to their (and other critters) instincts if not intelligence. Here’s why.

Officer James Givens, a veteran of the Cincinnati Ohio Police Department, had a very unique experience early last summer. He was sitting in his patrol vehicle when he had an unexpected visitor that was persistent in apparently wanting to get his attention. A Canada goose kept pecking at the side of his car. He tossed out a piece of bread, but the goose was not interested. It just kept pecking and making “quacking” noises.

The goose then appeared to walk away, but stopped and looked back at him. Then it came back and pecked some more. When it walked away a second time, and then again looked back, the officer decided to follow it. 

The goose led him about a hundred yards to a grassy area near a creek. That’s when he saw one of her goslings tangled in some balloon string. She led the officer straight to that little, downy tyke. 

Officer Givens was not familiar with Canada geese, and thought that the adult might attack him if he approached the gosling too close. So he called for assistance and Officer Cecilia Charron, a colleague on the force, responded to assist. He told her to be careful, but she just walked over and untangled the baby. And the adult goose, probably the momma, just watched her youngster get freed. According to Officer Givens, it was “like she knew. It was amazing.”

Once the baby was untangled, Givens and Charron looked on as it quickly rejoined its momma and swam away safely with her. Not surprisingly, both officers were utterly amazed at how the entire situation happened.

By doing a little research I found there are actually numerous reports of various species of wildlife seeking help as well as other things from humans. The most common contact seems to be sea lions literally jumping aboard fishing boats to beg for fish tidbits. And they usually get baitfish or small game fish for their efforts. One rather large “bull” sea lion wasn’t satisfied until the anglers on board that boat gave him three sizable fish. Animal extortion, anyone?

But there is one case where a seal jumped aboard a small pleasure fishing boat, and that animal showed some real intelligence. This critter, apparently a young female, found herself literally surrounded by a pod of Orcas, more commonly called “Killer Whales.” And it was obvious she was about to become a snack for one of them.

So she did a very smart thing. She jumped onto the stern of a nearby fishing boat. And she stayed right there, in somewhat cramped but oh so safe quarters, until the entire pod of whales swam off. Oh, they left one whale behind and submerged for a while until it had to surface for air, but that seal was not fooled for an instant. It stayed in its safe place until it observed that last whale leave. Then it stayed for another five to 10 minutes before accepting a baitfish and leaving the boat.

A bottle-nose dolphin sought out the help of a group of pleasure divers during a night dive to observe feeding manta rays off the Kona coast of Hawaii.  It came right up to one of the divers who observed a fishing hook (with some fishing line) stuck in its left pectoral fin and greatly restricting its swimming movements. 

The diver took immediate action. He cut away the line first, then gently removed the hook. And the dolphin was grateful enough to nuzzle him in apparent thanks afterward. 

And then there is GiGi. She is an extraordinary great horned owl, and what a story she might tell if she could talk. It seems she was severely injured and was brought into the  Mississippi's Wild at Heart Rescue station. She was suffering from a massive concussion, probably received while being hit by a car. She was in very bad physical shape, and nobody (with one exception) expected her to survive.

But there was this one guy, Douglas "Doug" Pojeky, who had been given the nickname of “birds of prey whisperer.” If anyone could save this bird, it was him. And under his care GiGi went from knocking at "death's door to perching,” and from being hand-fed to grabbing food on her own. That owl learned to trust and care for Doug, and she made it known just how much in the most surprising way.

It seems Doug had been away on a personal trip up north, leaving GiGi for a few days. When he returned he gave the owl an examination, and she immediately started bobbing her head and dancing on his arm. Then, according to several other people present, she slowly walked up to his chest, rested her head on his shoulder and draped her wings around him in a full, extended owl hug. Also according to those witnesses, a look of pure contentedness was on her face just before she embraced Pojeky, showing him just how happy she was to be reunited with her favorite human.

Doug Pojeky has a very personal story he related about another great horned owl and its relationship with his father and their family. And he told a local newspaper, “For some reason when that bird was hugging me, all I could think of was my dad.”

Once GiGi makes a full recovery, she’ll be released back into the wild. But in the meantime, she has Doug Pojeky, the “birds of prey whisperer,” for the best support any owl could hope for.

Great stories, one and all. But that still does not mean that too many Canada geese feeding in one area will not soil the soil, if you get my drift.

Len Lisenbee is the Daily Messenger’s Outdoor Writer. Contact him at