Two Canada geese are patiently waiting for motherhood in a strip mall off Hampden Avenue in southeast Denver. Customers of the Massage Envy location in Tiffany Plaza know this by now. One of the birds has guarded her eggs right next to the business’ front door for the past two weeks.
And she’ll likely be there for two more.
“Everybody just calls her Mama Goose,” said Alicia Washington, who works the counter at Massage Envy. “She’s pretty cool. She doesn’t really do anything.”
Washington only started at the office last week, so technically Mama Goose has been here longer than she has. She and her colleague, Giulia Serra, have spent a lot of time in recent days just watching Mama through the window.
Mama’s partner, a gander known as Envy, is usually close at hand to hiss at passersby. The mail carrier brings cucumbers for Mama every day. Sometimes people bring other food and water.
“At first we tried to scare her away,” Serra said, but that stopped when Mama laid the first of four eggs.
While some customers do not love how closely they must pass the nest to get inside, Serra said most people have accepted the bird’s presence and even began to like her. They put up a sign next to the nest asking customers to please give Mama space, lest she abandon her eggs.
“It’s kind of been an ‘it takes a village’ situation,” she said. “They have been chill, though. More than we thought.”
Serra said the Massage Envy staff called Denver Animal Protection when Mama first arrived and learned Canada geese can nest for up to a month. They also tend to return to nesting spots, and Serra said the planter in front of the business has served as a nesting spot in years past.
Around the corner, another goose pair holds down a perch next to the temporarily closed Elvis Cinemas. We didn’t find anyone who could tell us if this expecting mother has a name, but we did see evidence of more human care: torn bread strewn around her nest.
Here’s the thing: You probably shouldn’t feed nesting geese.
Amy Darling has been a birder for more than 20 years and answered the phone at Wild Birds Unlimited, the bird superstore on Wadsworth Boulevard, when we called. It’s one good place to find avian experts on short notice on a Saturday.
Darling told us urban goose nests are not that uncommon.
“It happens periodically. It happens more and more all the time,” she said. “We used to have one on the roof.”
Canada goose populations have grown into something of a problem in Denver. The city’s parks and lakes make attractive places for migrating fowl to stop, and the settings can tempt them to stick around instead of finishing their journeys north or south.
Climate change has also taken the edge off of our winters, which once prodded gaggles to move along. Denver has tried rounding up geese for mass slaughter, oiling eggs and setting up fake coyotes to curb their populations.
Even if you’re cool with a nearby goose nest, Darling said feeding the mother can be problematic.
“People are temped to feed them, but that can attract raccoons or other predators,” she said, and those creatures might steal Mama’s eggs.
If you must bring a food offering, Darling said you should stick to fresh items like cucumbers or grapes and keep them at least 10 feet from the nest. Processed grains, like bread, are not good for these animals.
Sgt. Noah Imai, with Denver Animal Protection, said geese are “heavy grazers” that have plenty of grassy eats to make it through nesting.
“They don’t have any problem finding food,” he told us. “They don’t need additional nutrition.”
Imai also said Canada geese are protected under state and federal law, so you can’t kill them, but you are allowed to try and scare geese away from property. Once they start nesting, you cannot destroy their eggs without a permit.
Geese don’t often nest in very public places like Tiffany Plaza, Imai told us, but if you do come into conflict with an expectant pair, you’d better make them move on before they settle in.
Denver is right in the middle of Canada geese’s nesting season. Mama’s goslings will arrive in a couple of weeks. When they do, only a lucky few will have a chance to spot them.
“When the goslings hatch, they’ll just leave,” Darling said, following their mother soon after birth to the nearest creek.
Correction: This story was updated to reflect that Tiffany Plaza is in Hampden South, not Hampden.