A GO Transit wildlife rescue that will give you goose bumps

We’re not alone. While the Greater Golden Horseshoe Region of Ontario is the most densely populated area of the country, it’s not just humans who call it home. Wildlife is all around. That means GO Transit interacts constantly with Mother Nature. Here, Anne Marie Aikins, head of media relations for Metrolinx, writes about one recent encounter that was small but heartfelt.

Even the most densely urbanized areas of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area are home to a wide variety of fish, birds and mammals and right about now, the region is experiencing the bounty of wildlife mating season – no doubt fueled by humans forced to stay home and out of their territory during the pandemic.

Goslings are especially plentiful and often born on or near railways and GO stations causing some perilous journeys as they make their way to water and feeding grounds.

Transit customers who spot wildlife close to tracks may be tempted to intervene to assist but authorities are recommending you keep a safe distance away, never trespass on tracks and if necessary, call in the sighting and leave any potential rescue to the experts.

Geese are seen walking in a row.
Track Protection Worker, Matthew Erwood took this photo after he rescued one of the tiniest of goslings to avoid a collision with an oncoming Barrie train on April 29. (Photo by Matthew Erwood)

Track protection worker, Matthew Erwood was recently working on the Barrie Line, between King City and Aurora stations, when a family of geese with three very small goslings decided they needed to cross the tracks very close to where he was working.

Erwood, who was in control of the track at the time, watched with a protective eye knowing a train was due to come by very soon.

“The first two babies struggled but got over the rails,” Erwood told Metrolinx News. “The third, however was a little smaller and just couldn’t manage the big jump to get over the rails.

“I watched the poor thing desperately jumping up against the rail for about 10 minutes keeping my distance. But now the next northbound GO train was coming. I really didn’t want to see this cute little guy get run over by a train, so I grabbed my gloves and started making my way over.”

Image shows geese.
Family of Canada geese nest near Richmond Hill line on April 30. (Photo by Anne Marie Aikins)

Erwood immediately clarified that he is an experienced and trained railway worker and has completed the ‘Personal Track Safety’ training course, a requirement by Metrolinx for all staff, including contractors like Erwood, before they enter the rail corridor.

He was in the right place, at the right time with the right training to intervene. And had direct contact with the train crew so he never put himself at risk.

“When I reached the gosling, I scooped him up gently in my hands, avoided handling the tiny thing too much and carefully carried it over the tracks to other side,” he explained.  “Then I slowly placed the gosling with the rest of its family and got off the tracks so the train could pass by.

As soon as he set the tiny gosling down, the train arrived. As the train passed, it was a huge relief to see the family waddling off happily, safely together.

“That was really nice to see and made me very happy, especially during this difficult time,” Erwood said.

According to Toronto Wildlife Centre (TWC), it’s common to see families of Canada geese trying to cross busy city streets or blocking traffic – or even across a railway. They’re probably on their way to or from their feeding or nesting grounds.

It is never a good idea to try to catch the geese or babies and move them to a safe spot as you may be putting yourself at risk, experts say and scare off the parents which may result in orphaning the goslings.  

“Remember that crossing roads – or train tracks – is a fact of life for urban wild animals, and one of the many skills the babies need to learn from their parents,” TWC writes on their website.

Image shows geese.
Canada geese prepared to defend the nest. Photo taken April 30. (By Anne Marie Aikins)

Recently during a walk along the Don Valley Trail, a popular narrow walking and cycling path that runs between the Don River and Richmond Hill line in downtown east Toronto, I spotted a Canada goose seemingly standing watch and carefully made my way past so as not to come too close – without putting myself in the river.

I rounded the corner under the bridge safely and then stumbled upon what he was guarding – a family of Canada geese were nesting their tiny new goslings. The parents were honking loudly as I walked nearby and as a train passed by.

Options were limited; risk being chased by an angry goose or walk through a muddy puddle to avoid the family.

Suffice to say, my shoes are still drying out.

Canada geese often nest in busy urban areas close to people, cars and trains and away from their feeding ground and open water. They do that, TWC says purposely, so they have a clear view to fight off predators. They will actively defend their nest and are known to attack people or cars, a sure sign that there is a goose nest nearby.

So, humans are best to keep their distance – or risk a nasty goose bite.

Image shows geese.
Family of Canada geese relocates to its nesting ground on May 2, 2021. (Photo by Anne Marie Aikins)

Within a few days of birth, the goslings are strong enough and the parents will lead them away from the nest to their feeding ground near water – sometimes as far as 2 km away. 

Canada geese and mallards were both known to nest at the old Union Station Bus Terminal and each year would get a transit safety escort down Bay Street to the lake.

The Richmond Hill goslings did not require any intervention, or a fancy police escort and I spotted the family closer to the river two days later.

If anyone spots wildlife on GO Transit tracks or any other safety concern, Transit Safety Dispatch is available 24/7 at  1-877-297-0642.

Otherwise, know that while many humans are still restricted from moving freely around, at least the wildlife is moving about as usual. And that’s a nice thing.

Story by Anne Marie Aikins, Metrolinx senior manager of media