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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Have You Seen A Wawa?

When I first visited southeastern Pennsylvania in October 2004, one of the first things I noticed were the Wawa chain stores and gas stations. I had no idea what a Wawa was--but I did note the goose in the Wawa logo. After I moved here a couple months later, I learned that Wawa is the Lenni Lenape Indian name for the Canada Goose (UPDATE: See note below). I also quickly found that the Canada Goose is perhaps the most abundant winter bird in this area. Every day I see hundreds--if not tens of thousands--of these geese flying in formation, feeding in fields, or loafing on local lakes. So, I live in the wawaland. I gas up at Wawa. I see wawas flying overhead as I drive home from work every day. Wawa music accompanies me frequently when I'm birding. I have spent many hours looking through huge flocks of wawas, hoping to find a more rare Blue Goose, Barnacle Goose, White-fronted Goose, or Brant. For birders looking for rarities, wawas are just birds to be looked through, not at. But wawas, despite their abundance, are fascinating in and of themselves. Researchers have studied many aspects of wawa social and breeding behavior, so we know more about wawas than we do about most bird species. We know that they identify each other by voice. Researchers have even described how they may fake each other out. A search for other articles on Canada Goose behavior on the Searchable Ornithological Research Archive, brings up 417 articles. With so much written about how they live, and the ease with which they can be observed, wawas are ideal birds to watch and learn from. Anyone over three years old can probably identify a Canada Goose. But how many of us really know them? I, for one, have much to learn about these wild neighbors of mine--and look forward to spending more time with them over the next few weeks before they head north again.

UPDATE (Nov 2022): I have been unable to confirm this word in Lenape. Apparently it is Ojibwe.  According to Brinton, the Lenape name for wild goose is kaak.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've been to Wawa stores many times! I grew up in Philadelphia, and know many part Lenape people, but NEVER KNEW the origin of the WaWa store name! Glad to know it - thank you very much for sharing.

And yes, aren't wawas magnificent birds - so glad they are not rarities, but still seem to be surviving.

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