Papa Goose: A Real Life "Fly Away Home" With Feisty Goslings

An interview with "father goose" Michael Quetting, author of "Papa Goose."

Posted Sep 17, 2018

"In Papa Goose, Michael Quetting shares the hilarious and moving true story of how he became a father to seven rambunctious goslings — and the surprising things he learned along the way." 

A few months ago, I Iearned about Michael Quetting's forthcoming book called Papa Goose: One Year, Seven Goslings, and the Flight of My Life. Mr. Quetting is the laboratory manager at Germany's  Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Radolfzell. I finally received a copy a few weeks ago and once I began reading it, I couldn't put it down. This easy-to-read and incredibly moving book is a real-life story that reminded me of the movie "Fly Way Home." Years ago I had the pleasure of visiting Nobel-laureate Konrad Lorenz's research facility in Seewiesen, Germany, where I met some wonderful goslings, and I was taken in by their different personalities and how adventurous they were. Along these lines, part of the summary of Papa Goose reads, "For the next eleven months, we follow the newly minted dad as he takes the goslings on daily swims in the lake, tracks them down when they go astray, and watches their personalities develop: feisty, churlish, and lovable. Packed with charm and humorPapa Goose quickly draws us into the adventure as Gloria, Nemo, and the rest of the crew conquer land, water, and air."

I reached out to Mr. Quetting to see if he could answer a few questions about his wonderful story of how he became the father to these goslings, and gladly he said he could. Our interview went as follows.

Greystone Books
Papa Goose
Source: Greystone Books

Why did you write Papa Goose?

I wrote Papa Goose because taking care of those goslings changed my life and I wanted to share my experiences with others. Besides that, there were so many funny stories. So, when an agency came along and asked me if I wanted to write a book about my summer with my the geese, I didn't hesitate and began writing.

How does it follow up on your past work?

Raising the goslings was the first time I spent several weeks living closely and intensely with birds. I had done previous projects with birds, but they were all about tracking and following the animals, not getting to know them intimately. 

Please tell us more about the "Papa Goose" project, how you got into it, what it entailed, and what you learned from undertaking this enormous and inspirational work. Who else worked with you?

The project started with the idea of putting high definition trackers on birds. Sensors had become cheap due to their use in cell phone production, and we thought it might be possible to use them to estimate, for example, the wind speed and direction of a bird carrying the tracker on its back in real time. These data could be very interesting for a meteorologist, for example, or for a sailor facing a storm on the Atlantic Ocean, who could use the data from a tagged frigate bird to adjust his course of navigation.

With the "papa goose" project we wanted to test these newly developed trackers on the backs of real birds. Imprinted geese were the ideal fit because they can be told where and how long to fly and trackers can be easily removed from their backs for data readout.

Michael Quetting
Headed for home
Source: Michael Quetting

For me, it was a very satisfying and healing work. First I thought that I would have to teach them how life works — what to eat, where to go, when to sleep, and so on. Looking back, it was vice versa. The goslings showed me how life works and what is really important in life. Being cut off from other humans for weeks, living with the animals in the woods, gave me a new, unconscious feeling of being an integrated part of nature, a feeling many of us long for.

Besides my assistant Laura, I did all of the work alone. Looking back, I think this was important because when you are alone you can do everything the way you want to do it. Solitude gives you self-esteem and develops a special sort of personal dynamics.

What are some of your main messages?

Go out into the forest, lean into a tree, try to resist the addiction of looking at your smartphone for half an hour, and let yourself be enchanted by the wonder of the diversity of species and the magical things that happen suddenly around you.

The geese showed me how relaxing it can be not to live in the future or in the past, but rather in the here and now.

Who is your intended audience?

There is no special intended audience for Papa Goose. I hope that many different people read the book. But I would be especially happy if lots of younger people read it and perhaps feel motivated to go out into nature instead of looking at their smartphones.

What are some of your current and future projects?

At the moment I am working with pigeons. We looking at how they orient themselves and whether they use thermals to save energy in flight. Besides this, I am the project manager of our animal tracker app. It´s free to use and can be downloaded from the app store. This app will play an important role in the ICARUS (International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space) initiative. With our newly installed antenna at the International Space Station, it will be possible to watch and understand the movement and life history of animals around the globe.

Is there anything else you'd like to tell readers?

Try to widen your view for nature and go out into the wild whenever it is possible.

Thank you, Michael, for a wonderful interview and for writing an incredibly exciting and inspirational book. I agree with award-winning author, Sy Montgomery, when she writes, "Papa Goose is destined to become a classic. This book has everything in it I love: great animals beautifully portrayed as individuals; cool science; drama, discovery, and personal transformation." I hope it receives a broad global audience including youngsters. 

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