In a field in south Bozeman, a male goose and a female donkey have become unlikely friends.

The gander waddles alongside the donkey, following her wherever she goes. If anyone tries to approach the donkey, the gander puffs up its feathers and hisses. And sometimes, when the donkey lies down, the gander nestles against the donkey’s head.

“It’s just gotten to be a closer and closer attachment,” said owner Barbara Kurk, 77, as she opened the gate to her pasture near the corner of Kagy Boulevard and South Third Avenue.

Kurk used to have two geese. The gander had a female mate, and the pair previously grazed far away from the donkey, Dixie, and her daughter, Sweet Pea.

Then, one night about a month ago, a raccoon attacked the geese in their pen and killed the female goose.

Left alone, the gander probably went looking for a new mate, Kurk theorized. Geese mate for life. In his pursuit, he found Dixie.

“He was just so lonesome that he had to make up with somebody else,” Kurk said.

Jim Knight, a wildlife specialist at Montana State University Extension, said he’s never heard of a goose befriending a donkey. But, he said, most people have seen pictures of other unusual animal bonds. People have seen photos of a dog cuddling a duck, a monkey cradling a kitten or a bird nuzzled up to a mouse.

“We know that in a domestic situation a lot of these unusual relationships can happen,” Knight said.

Kurk, a tiny grandmother who is 4-feet, 11-inches tall, wore a floral scarf over her white hair as she walked in her pasture. Dixie, Sweet Pea and the gander were standing in a huddle. As Kurk approached, the donkeys walked toward her. The gander pulled out in front, guarding his friend.

“I have a hunch that if you slapped Dixie, you might get bit,” Kurk said.

Kurk lives on a small, 17-acre farm behind the Museum of the Rockies. She has chickens, the two donkeys, a dog, a cat and the gander. She used to have sheep, cattle and horses. The farm is located on Gallatin County land that has never been annexed into the city. Since 1921, the farm has been home to her grandparents, her mother, her and her children.

Passersby often stop to get a closer look at the donkeys. Kurk asks people not to come to her fence to feed the animals. One of the donkeys, Sweet Pea, bites.

While Kurk stood in the pasture on this recent sunny day, Dixie placidly chewed on hay while the gander shuffled back and forth near her legs trying to find a good place to sit down. Once the gander sat, Dixie stepped around her to forage.

“I have a feeling that Dixie’s a little bit embarrassed that this goose is chumming with her,” Kurk said. “She doesn’t droop her ears, but you just kind of have that feeling.”

Kurk suspects the gander became attached to Dixie rather than her daughter, Sweet Pea, because Dixie is more quiet and gentle. Kurk got Dixie 17 years ago, and she was 6 years old at that time. Dixie’s “a lovable old doll,” Kurk said.

Kurk can’t remember when she got the gander. Maybe 10 years ago. The bird doesn’t have a name. She had bought the gander and his mate to raise them for eggs and meat.

The gander and the donkey are the talk of Kurk’s neighborhood, but Kurk doesn’t think their friendship is all that rare.

“Every once in awhile, you hear about it or see it when animals get attracted to another breed,” she said. “I don’t think a whole lot about it…. I really feel that animals do this fairly often, but because we’re all so busy in our lives, we don’t see it. Friendships occur – strange friendships occur – between animals.”

People stop Kurk downtown or come to her house to ask why the two animals are always standing so close together.

Kurk, meanwhile, is looking for a female goose to buy for the gander so he will have a friend his own species.

Though, Kurk admits she loves the attention the odd pair are getting, simply for getting along regardless of the way they look, or what species they are for that matter.

“Just think, if humans got along like that, wouldn’t that be wonderful?” Kurk said. “That would just be extra wonderful.”

Amanda Ricker can be reached at aricker@dailychronicle.com or 582-2628.