Ugh, there’s nothing worse than sitting down for a picnic by the lake and realizing that you just smeared your hand in a big pile of goose poop. Suddenly, those picturesque honkers drifting across the water don’t seem nearly so benign, or as welcome.
Widely regarded as a nuisance in public parks and other spaces commonly enjoyed by humans, Canada geese are in an awkward position: they’re just there to nest and raise some goslings, but humans would really rather they encamp elsewhere.
Fortunately, there are numerous options available for humanely and gently discouraging Canada geese to keep public areas a little less poopy and protect fragile waterbirds that might otherwise be pushed out by the mounting population of geese. These techniques can include addling eggs or coating them in oil so they don’t hatch, thereby bringing down the population, along with using teams of people and specially trained dogs to move geese along without hurting them. It’s also possible to modify habitats to make them less goose-friendly, and to reach out with public education campaigns to request that people stop feeding geese.
With food sources drying up, no convenient nest sites, annoying dogs and people everywhere, and a low hatching rate, geese tend to move along. They’ll find a more private area to nest, much to the relief of picnickers, runners and outdoor enthusiasts. With all these options available, you might think that managing unwanted goose populations is a simple job. Even if a regional parks department doesn’t personally have experience with humane goose control, it has numerous examples and consultants to draw upon to make the job easier.
But you’d be wrong. Sadly, many parks departments prefer to simply cull their geese. In traumatic roundups, the geese are trapped in groups of fifty or more and taken away for euthanasia, without even an opportunity for humane relocation and other more gentle options. Last week, three hundred Canada geese from the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge were killed on orders from the City of New York, a move the Humane Society of the United States declares was unnecessary. It happened again in Forest, Virginia, where over 50 geese were euthanized at the request of a homeowner’s association.
The tragic thing about these culls isn’t just the needless deaths of geese who could have been controlled via much more friendly and appropriate methods. According to the Humane Society of the United States, culls can actually make the problem worse because they open up an area to new opportunistic settlers who will take advantage of the sudden hole in the local population. When Canada geese are discouraged and controlled over time, local natives have a chance to reestablish their niche and get comfortable in the environment, which can help them defend their ground as invasive species come knocking.
When the geese are abruptly kicked out, however, the local habitat is radically disrupted, and there’s no time for species to settle down. If the goal is to make parks, communities and other spaces a little tidier and less noisy, sometimes the opposite occurs as new species flock (no pun intended) in.
That goes for airports, too, where flocks of geese can be a risk to themselves and others. While many people might think that geese should be quickly eliminated from the often ideal habitats around airports, that’s not the answer because birds will keep returning to the site until the larger issues are resolved. To control geese in environments where they might be hazardous, tools like habitat modification and other humane approaches are the only way to achieve a long-term solution to goose problems, including bird strikes in jet engines.
Many communities cull geese over local opposition. Get organized in your community to promote humane goose management options and get your objections on the record when it comes to proposals for culling wild geese. It’ll help not just the geese under discussion, but future generations of birds and other animals in the area.
Photo credit: Thinkstock.