Solving Conflicts with Canada Geese

 


The following topics will be discussed on this page:

  • Problems Stemming from Compassion:  Goose Feeding
  • Long-term Habitat Modification
  • Chemical Repellents
  • Harrassment and Scare Devices
  • Egg Addling and Nest Removal
  • Geese and Diseases

Prerequisites for Success

The familiar honking sound and sight of Canada geese flying in a V-formation is wel-known to most people.  In decades past, the annual migration of Canada geese to and from Arctic breeding grounds marked the onset of winter and subsequently the return of spring.  It is hard to believe that this large, majestic bird was nearly exterminated by the end of the 19th century, due to the mass market-driven killing of these birds.  However, Canada goose populations completely rebounded in large part due to the extensive breeding and relocation efforts conducted by state agencies, combined with the fact that the suburban landscape is ideal goose habitat.  The end result is that many Canada geese have abandoned their migratory ways and instead choose to remain year-round in urban and suburban neighborhoods.

One factor in the rise of “resident” Canada geese may be the fact that geese seek out habitat with closely cropped grass and a nearby water source – something that is not in short supply in suburban America!  As a result, geese often come into conflict with humans at golf courses, playing fields, public parks, and even lawns in residential areas.  Most of these conflicts arise from aesthetic concerns related to the droppings geese leave behind.

Consequently, the objective of problem goose control is to teach geese not to rest and forage at locations where doing so would negatively impact human activity.  The good news is that geese are intelligent birds who learn quickly and remember what they learn.  One can teach geese to avoid certain areas by utilizing a number of techniques such as chemical repellents, trained border collies, egg addling, and habitat modification.

“I tried non-lethal methods to resolve my goose problem but they didn’t work!” 

This is a statement commonly uttered by people trying to solve their Canada goose problems.  However, with the knowledge that Canada geese are intelligent birds, it is important to realize that a combination of techniques is often necessary, and no single recipe will apply to every situation.  The assortment of strategies must be chosen based on a number of factors – How do geese get to the location?  Do they fly? Walk?  Is there a pond nearby?  What type of vegetation grows in the area?  What is attracting them to this particular area?  Where do they feed?  Loaf?  Escape?

Timing is also critical for successful goose control.  Geese are vulnerable at two times during the year:  May-June when they are raising their young, and July-August when geese undergo their annual molt and are flightless.  The key is to make geese feel unsafe in a particular area before these times of year, so the geese will seek out a less vulnerable habitat in which to raise their young and undergo their subsequent molt.

The following guide will give you some background information on the different resources available to you, as well as some suggestions on which strategies are most effective and when to use them.


Problems Stemming From Compassion:  Goose Feeding

One of the biggest causes of aggressive goose behavior is human behavior…people love to feed geese even though there are plenty of natural food sources readily available to geese. At parks around the country, one can sit and watch car after car pull up to throw bread to the birds. Not only is bread low in nutrition, but this activity teaches geese to approach people for food and depend on their handouts. The end result is fearless, potentially aggressive geese. This is a situation that can be easily averted if people refrain from feeding the geese.


Long-term Habitat Modification

One of the most effective and long-term methods for altering goose behavior is accomplished by modifying the surrounding landscape.  Geese not only prefer to walk between water and land, but they must be able to walk to feeding areas during their yearly molt or when raising goslings.  Allowing grass or shrubs to grow at least 18” high around the perimeter of a pond will impede access to and from the water, and block the view of potential predators lurking nearby.  As an added bonus, tall grasses create excellent habitat for songbirds, and filter runoff from fertilizers and herbicides from lawn surfaces.

If allowing vegetation to grow around the perimeter of the pond is not an option, temporary fencing can be put up before nesting season begins and taken down once nesting has begun elsewhere.  The fencing should be at least 18” tall and made of a nylon or plastic material, such as the solid nylon silt fences used for construction.

Stone riprap can also be used to discourage geese from inhabiting an area.  Riprap is a coarse stone laid around the perimeter of ponds to prevent erosion, and has the added benefit of creating a surface that geese are uncomfortable walking across.

 


Chemical Repellents

Short, succulent, frequently cut grass is a favorite food of Canada geese.  Luckily, chemical repellents are often effective in deterring geese from an area by giving the geese an unpleasant sensation when they feed on grass.  In turn, an area without food is hardly a desirable habitat for geese to reside!  The use of repellents is most successful when integrated with other goose control strategies.  There are currently two repellents registered for use with Canada geese:

Flight Control

This multi-sensory repellent works by giving geese a sense of digestive upset combined with a visual warning system seen only in the UV spectrum of light – which geese can see but people cannot.  As a result, geese learn to quickly avoid areas of grass sprayed with Flight Control.  Flight control only needs to be sprayed where the geese are actively feeding, and once it has dried the repellent will outlast several heavy rains.

Flight Control is available through Environmental Biocontrol:  1-800-468-6324

Rejex-It:

This grape-flavored repellent is made of the same ingredient found in grape juice and bubble gum, methyl anthranilate. This product works by making grass unpalatable and by irritating the trigeminal nerves in the mouth. The result is that the geese will avoid areas sprayed or fogged with Rejex-It. This product can be applied to lawns and golf courses and is commercially available as both a direct turf application and as a thermal fogging application.  Rejex-It must be re-applied on a regular basis and after heavy rains.

Rejex-It is available through Bird Barrier America:  1-800-503-5444

 


Photo credit: William J. Black

Harrassment and Scare Devices

Trained border collies are used by golf courses and airports to harass* geese away from areas where they’re not wanted. Geese become very alarmed by the trained dogs stalking them and move elsewhere.  It is essential to use dogs specifically trained by qualified handlers to “stalk” geese, and to commit to using the dogs on a regular basis so as to reinforce the perceived presence of a predator in the area.

Scare devices can also be used to make geese feel unsafe.  These devices are best used in combination with other strategies, and must be altered or moved frequently so that the birds will continue to perceive the objects as a threat and do not habituate to them.

Mylar balloons (helium-filled party balloons made of a bright, silver material) are effective at sites experiencing light damage, or when geese are first starting to visit a site.  The balloons should be placed at 50’ intervals, approximately 3 feet off the ground.

Homemade flags can also be used to divert geese from areas.  The flags can be made using 2x3’ wide sheets of 3mm plastic attached to 4’ posts.  While alarming at first, geese eventually get used to the flags if they remain unaltered.  As a result, the flags should be moved around periodically or used in combination with other strategies.

Other scare devices used with varying levels of success include pyrotechnics and scarecrows.  Pyrotechnics are devices designed to create explosive, disruptive noises and are most effective when set off at random intervals.  However, the use of pyrotechnics is usually not feasible due to noise ordinances established by local governments.

Scarecrows must appear to be alive and threatening to be effective, such as the commercially available Scarey-Man(TM).  This scarecrow automatically inflates at random intervals to intimidate any geese in the area.

*Geese should not be harassed when unable to fly or when young are present.

 


Egg Addling and Nest Removal

As a method of population control, eggs can be addled (i.e. made unviable) by methods which include either covering the egg with vegetable oil (“oiling”) or taking eggs out of the nest and replacing them with fake eggs (“egg replacement”).  To ensure that the eggs are not near term, a “sink or float” protocol was developed to assess the age of the egg.  If the egg sinks to the bottom of the container when placed in water, the egg is less than 14 days old and it is considered humane to remove it.  The geese then continue to incubate the dummy eggs and don’t produce goslings, thereby stabilizing the population.  If, however, an egg floats to the top of a pail of water, the embryo is over 14 days old and it is too old to be addled humanely.  The egg should be returned to the nest for incubation. 

State fish and game agencies, parks departments, and condo associations have been collaborating with humane organizations to conduct cooperative, volunteer-based egg addling programs which have proven highly successful.

Nesting material should be repeatedly removed before the geese have laid eggs in an effort to teach them not to nest in inappropriate places, such as highly trafficked areas like walkways, patios, and store entrances.

Please Note:  Egg addling and nest destruction may only be carried out under a federal permit issued by the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).  For more information, contact your regional Migratory Bird Permit Office of the USFWS.


Timing is Everything!

It is vital that goose problem control methods coincide with the biologically appropriate time of year. For example, you wouldn’t want to harass geese with a border collie if they have molted and can’t fly away. The following link illustrates the time frames when certain goose mitigation methods can be safely and humanely used.


Geese and Diseases

Although goose feces are unsightly, many people are surprised to learn that they are not disease-causing. Actually, there is only one known case of Canada geese being directly associated with human disease, and this one particular case involved a person who had an allergic hypersensitivity.

Goose feces were tested in a study done by the National Wildlife Research Center to assess if the specific organisms that may cause human disease are present in fecal material deposited by resident Canada geese in urban and suburban environments.  The study concluded that the low frequency of positive cultures indicate that risk of humans to disease through contact with Canada goose feces “appeared to be minimal” at the four study sites in Massachusetts, New Jersey and Virginia during the summer and early fall of 1999 (Converse et al, 1999). Common human ailments such as samonella, listeria, staphylococcus, campylobacter, avian influenza, giardia, cryptosporidium, etc were among the disease organisms studied. Although people may want goose feces removed for obvious reasons, it’s important not to confuse disease issues with aesthetic concerns.