Growing up in the 70s, I only remember seeing Canada geese flying overhead as they migrated north or south in the spring and fall. They weren’t plentiful or visible where I lived other than during those few weeks of the year, so seeing them fly in their beautiful “V” formation was truly a memorable event. Twenty years ago, when my son was very little, I remember us running outside of our more rural farmhouse when we heard the geese flying low overhead late in the day. Often, the flock would stop in our field in late October or early November, for it was quiet and undisturbed and close to a nice pond. But by the time Thanksgiving came, they had all left for warmer weather and more abundant food. Today, Comet and I see Canada geese almost everywhere we go, year-round. Sitting at my desk across from an industrial park, I can see about eight pairs of geese hanging out by a small man-made pond--and very soon there will be new goslings on the scene. And there-in lies what many people see as a problem: too many Canada geese.
Not surprisingly, most agree that the overpopulation problem of Canada geese is the result of human interference. After goose populations were severely depleted through hunting and habitat loss, captive birds were reintroduced to increase numbers. These goose populations have grown to huge numbers, and they do not migrate. They stay year-round in hospitable locations, like golf courses, parks, industrial areas with managed lawns—almost anywhere that there is a direct water source nearby. And who can blame them? Geese are grazers who love lush grass and fields, which are sometimes supplemented by a well-meaning public that often likes to feed them.
So what’s the big deal? For many, the main issue is that lots of geese equals lots of messy goose poop, which is one of the biggest complaints about this animal. According to GeesePeace, if left unchecked, goose populations will double every five years. And that’s really a lot of goose poop! People can’t fully enjoy public areas with so many droppings. Plus, there can also be some worries about too many droppings building up in lakes and ponds. Additionally, as lovely as Canada geese are, they are wild animals and can be threatening when defending their young against approaching people and pets. Lastly, goose populations that live close to and fly near airports have been blamed for airplane mishaps and disasters…something not to be taken lightly.
There are many ways people have been dealing with conflicts with Canada geese. Some methods are better than others. One solution used to control populations has been to simply kill the interfering geese. This has been done in a variety of ways, including shooting, gassing, poisoning, and using large nets that capture animals that will later be euthanized. Aside from the fact that most of these methods are obviously inhumane, most experts believe that killing geese is not a permanent solution, as it only opens up that same area for more geese to enter. Better population management solutions include more humane methods. These ideas include egg addling, which requires early intervention of developing eggs. Although it requires an intense amount of work, addling temporarily removes fertilized eggs from the nests, manipulates them so that they won’t hatch, and then replaces the egg back in the nest. This method tricks the goose into thinking that the egg is still developing so that she doesn’t try to lay another egg. While not my favorite approach, it is surely more humane than killing newborn goslings and their flocks.
Other effective humane methods of deterring goose populations include making the site less appealing to the geese. By using dogs, often herding breeds and spaniels, to scare off geese from land and water sources, the flock is not physically harmed. The geese will then search out a more inviting place to live. Loud, sophisticated noisemakers as well as visual deterrents, like those fake coyotes you might have seen, also work to some level to keep geese at bay. Additionally, the use of fences and netting around tall grasses and water sources makes the environment less goose-friendly. But when we do all of these things to move geese away, we need to be mindful to create safe and inviting spaces for them to re-settle. And lastly, teaching the public to not feed wild animals can only benefit both parties in the long-run.
As with most animal-human conflicts, there is no easy fix. We need to continue to learn to live alongside wildlife and find solutions to problems that emerge between species. Killing animals simply because people find them to be a nuisance is unethical and inhumane. Becoming a more tolerating and compassionate society benefits all living beings.
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