If you’ve been seeing a lot more feathers and feces in your back yard or local park, you’re not alone. During a period of a few weeks in late June and early July, Canadian geese go through a molting process, when they become flightless as they wait for their new feathers to grow in. Although the honking and excessive feathers may irritate many Canadian landowners and homeowners, you’re advised to be patient for just a few more weeks, when they will regain their flight capabilities and will likely move on.
If some Canadians still find it in their hearts to enjoy the sight of geese bathing or taking their goslings out for a walk, most people view them as problematic. A few decades ago, Canadian geese were only seen during the spring and fall migration, and almost never during summer, as they rarely nested. But according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, their population has increased fivefold since 1970, and an unprecedented goose overabundance has started plaguing many regions across North America.
As they wait to regrow new feathers, geese are likely to dwell near local ponds and lakes since they are safer and protected from predators. However, it is not uncommon for geese without goslings to travel hundreds of miles up north to their favorite molting places. So, while some regions may experience an overabundance of grounded geese, others will notice the disappearance of goose flocks at the beginning of summer.
The biggest problem is that, since they are unable to fly and search for food, they become dependent on food sources they can find on the ground, which oftentimes results in the destruction of turf and park vegetation, as well as excess feather shedding and feces. A single goose may defecate up to nearly 30 times per day, not only creating messy droppings all around parks, campuses, residential and lake home areas, but also posing a great risk for the environment and human health.
Even if you’re not a bird lover, chances are you can spot a Canadian goose from afar – if not by their black head and white chinstrap, then surely by their distinct honking. Once on the brink of extinction, these birds have made an incredible comeback, thanks to the assiduous efforts of environmentalists who fought to restore wildlife populations after the rapacious slaughter of the 20th century (egg collecting and the development of wetlands were also factors that contributed to the decline in their population). Now, there are about five million geese living in North America, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report from 2013, and many of them have turned from migratory into resident.
And there’s little chance to see their numbers curbing anytime soon. Unlike migratory goose populations that are regulated by predation, weather conditions, migration mortality, and hunting, resident Canada geese are protected from all these factors. Not only have they adjusted well to living near residential areas, but there are almost no natural predators, and they are also less exposed to hunting during fall and winter (since they live in settled areas with firearm restrictions). As a result, their numbers are growing way too fast – faster than most regions can handle. For instance, in spring 2010, there were 170,000 resident geese in the state of New York, but the statewide population goal was of only 85,000 birds.
Several regions across the U.S. and Canada have started to implement several strategies for the regulation of the resident Canada goose population. One of the most straightforward methods of reducing their numbers is to stop attracting them to a certain area, and that can be achieved by persuading people to stop feeding them in public areas. Habitat modification to reduce the attractiveness of a particular area to Canadian geese may also help landowners get rid of these nuisance birds. Other methods include nest and egg treatment, chemical fertility control, harassment and deterrents, and exclusion through fencing or overhead grids.
Getting along with Canadian geese is no easy feat, especially because they may become aggressive and territorial. The most important problems they may cause include:
• Feces. Canadian geese defecate wherever the urge strikes them, whether it’s on golf courses, swimming beaches, lawns, patios, or public parks. Accumulation of feces in a particular area may deter people from frequenting it.
• Degraded water quality. Several papers have studied the impact of Canadian goose excrements on water quality. They have concluded that, while goose feces may not have an immediate effect on water chemistry, the buildup of feces in the sediment may have a considerable impact on the water body in the long run.
• Transmission of pathogens. Canadian goose fecal material is also considered a source of bacterial pathogens, including Campylobacter jejuni, which causes acute diarrhea in humans, Listeria spp, Salmonellae, E. coli, Chlamydia, and several others that may endanger wildlife and human health.
• Property and agricultural damage. Canadian geese are a nightmare for both city residents and farmers due to the damage they cause to golf greens, playfields, swimming beaches, shorelines, reservoirs, and swimming facilities. They may invade farms and eat budding crops, trample emerging seedlings, or graze on grass cover until it becomes barren.
• Conflicts with humans. Geese with goslings become defensive to the point where they may even attack humans who are considered a threat, nipping or hitting them (particularly exposed are little children and pests). Car collisions and aircraft crashes are also two known problems caused by geese living near roads or airport areas.
Although there are several strategies to deter or remove geese, their effectiveness varies by site, and usually a combination of more than one method is needed for optimal results. Since geese can be a real nuisance given their high adaptability and unwillingness to leave their habitat, you may require professional help in the control and management of their population. Through humane and reliable goose management strategies, you will be able to avoid the extensive damage geese may cause to your property and surrounding landscape and avoid future invasions.
Daniel Mackie, co-owner of Greenleaf Pest Control, is a Toronto pest control expert well-known as an industry go-to guy, an innovator of safe, effective pest control solutions, and is a regular guest on HGTV. Mackie, along with business partner Sandy Costa, were the first pest control professionals in Canada to use detection dogs and thermal remediation for the successful eradication of bed bugs. In his free time, he is an avid gardener.