Recently, the Wellington Bird Rehabilitation Trust in New Zealand said goodbye to an incredible soul. Loving father, caring partner, pioneer, Thomas the Goose.
Who Was Thomas?
Aged 40 years at the time of his passing, Thomas was already exceptional. In goose years, 40 is ancient. The average lifespan of a goose in the wild is just ten to twenty-four years. But good genes weren’t the only thing special about Thomas. He was an LGBT icon as well.
What? It’s true! Thomas spent much of his life bonded with both a male and a female. If that’s not enough, the other birds weren’t even geese. They were black swans. On top of that, the trio raised a total of sixty-eight cygnets together. Thomas even taught them how to fly. Talk about family values!
The Story Behind The Story
This fabled romance began in 1990 and lasted almost two decades. It all started when a black swan, whom bird watchers named Henrietta, arrived at the Waimanu Lagoon. Henrietta had a broken wing and was unable to fly. She survived, but she spent most of her time alone — at least until Thomas, a white goose, arrived on the scene.
Thomas and Henrietta became a bonded pair, despite the fact that he was a goose and she was a swan. Thomas was very protective of Henrietta and would attack humans, dogs, or any other animals who approached her. Henrietta, too, was devoted to Thomas. And they spent the next 18 years together in blissful harmony.
Until she arrived.
The Third Leg Of The Triangle
She was another female — and another black swan. Soon, Henrietta and her gal pal were inseparable. No one thought anything of it, as they were both females. The two were “just friends,” or so it seemed.
Until the new female laid an egg. Since Thomas was a goose, he couldn’t have been the father. Swans do occasionally mate with geese. They can even produce hybrid offspring. But the egg was not a hybrid egg. It was a pure swan’s egg.
And then it came out, or so to speak. Henrietta was actually a male. And the new female had poached Thomas’s boyfriend. Thomas, of course, had been aware of this. But it came as a surprise to the humans who had been watching the story unfold.
Bisexuality In The Animal Kingdom
Bisexuality is pretty common in the animal kingdom, especially in social animals. In some species, same-sex sexual behavior isn’t a matter of romance, but of establishing dominance. When a dog mounts another dog at the dog park, for example, it’s often not trying to mate. Rather, the “top dog” is showing the other dog who is boss.
But same-sex bonding also occurs — more often than you might think. You may remember the story of Roy and Silo, the male-male bonded penguins at New York’s Central Park Zoo. The Wingham Wildlife Park had Jumbs and Kermit, another male-male pair. Both pairs raised chicks together, and, by all accounts, were excellent parents.
And these famous pairs are hardly the only ones. Bonobos, humans’ closest relative, are largely bisexual. Moreover, they seem happy to get down with just about any other bonobo, for any reason or no reason at all. There is a high percentage of gay and bisexual bottlenose dolphins, as well.
As for black swans, experts say that a full 25 percent of them are bisexual.
But back to our story.
How Thomas Became A Father Figure
Thomas wasn’t happy, at first. Who would be? He became very aggressive toward the two swans and even attacked them a few times. But when the chicks arrived, everything changed.
They say a baby changes everything, but how about 68 of them? Not all at the same time, but that’s how many cygnets Henry (the male formerly known as Henrietta) and Henrietta (the boyfriend-stealing new female) eventually had. And Thomas was there to help each of them along. Just as if they were his own.
Michael Peryer, the tour guide at the Waikanae Estuary where the family lived, had this to say. He told the BBC,
“It’s so unusual to have two different species combining so intimately to raise a species.”
But raise the chicks they certainly did. Over the course of six years, Thomas “babysat” the chicks when the parents were away. He also taught them how to fly. He was, by all accounts, a loving, doting “favorite uncle.”
But Everything Eventually Changes
Henry the black swan eventually passed away from old age. Then Henrietta met a new male and flew off, leaving Thomas alone. But he wasn’t alone for long. Soon after that, Thomas met a female, white goose, and they bonded. Eventually, Thomas and his new bride would raise ten of their own chicks together.
As Thomas grew older, he eventually lost his eyesight. Wildlife rescuers relocated him to the Wellington Bird Rehabilitation Trust, where he lived the rest of his many, many days in comfort and safety.
The Wellington Bird Rehabilitation Trust held a memorial in February 2018. They laid Thomas to rest near Henry, beneath a plaque that read:
Here lies Thomas, the great-hearted goose,
Nestled near Henry, in their final roost,
Here where they raised young and found sanctuary,
Somewhere above us, these great souls fly free.