Goose-Human Conflicts and Control Techniques
The sight and sounds of a flock of Canada geese marks the passage of time, the turning of seasons, evoking deep-seated emotions, and for many, affirming perennial connections with the wild. Yet the recent dramatic increase in giant Canada goose populations can evoke an entirely different range of emotions. The following information describes common problems and solutions for people inhabiting areas with Canada geese.
The once nearly extinct giant Canada goose (Branta canadensis maxima) has experienced population explosions in areas throughout North America. This trend is due in part to the success of wildlife management programs and the adaptability of these magnificent birds.
In Michigan, the number of giant Canada geese counted each spring increased from about 9,000 in 1970 to over 300,000 today. Giant Canada geese nest in every Michigan county, but are most common (80 percent of population) in the southern third of the state.
Geese are herbivores and have a preference for grass shoots, aquatic vegetation, seed heads, and various grains. Canada geese usually nest in March and April. Adult Canada geese have very few predators, though raccoons, skunks, fox and crows sometimes prey on their eggs.
In general, geese have benefited from the way humans have altered the landscape. Canada geese are attracted to areas that provide food, water, and protection. Urban areas with lakes and ponds offer all the resources that geese need to survive. During the summer months, Canada geese can be a problem for some property owners. Birds often find refuge on lakes and golf course ponds, taking advantage of the lush lawns, while experiencing their annual wing molt (loss of flight feathers). Most human-goose conflict is associated with urban settings where manicured lawns are located in close proximity to water and molting geese. Geese take advantage of large agricultural fields in fall and winter. These areas provide high energy foods, allowing some geese to stay in Michigan throughout the winter.
Goose Droppings: Most complaints about geese are from residents and businesses frustrated with goose droppings. When geese concentrate at specific sites, droppings can become aesthetically unpleasant, particularly on lawns, beaches, docks, sidewalks, and golf courses. If high goose numbers persist in shallow water areas, they may even elevate bacteria levels via fecal coliform. Coupled with other contaminants, this can lead to the temporary closure of beaches. Public health agencies frequently test for levels of fecal coliform to determine if public lakes are safe for swimming.
Nesting Behavior: Occasionally geese nest in inappropriate sites, such as in shrubbery near buildings or parking lots. They can demonstrate aggressive behavior toward people while defending their nesting territory.
Agricultural Damage: In some areas of the state, Canada geese may cause agricultural damage to crops through consumption or trampling. Sprouting crops can be severely damaged by grazing, and muddy fields can be compacted by trampling, resulting in reduced yields to the farmer.
Elimination of Feeding: Artificial feeding can lead to large concentrations of geese as they congregate for "free handouts." Feeding causes the loss of wild instincts and can lead to nutritional imbalance. Geese also lose their fear of humans when fed, which can lead to abnormal behavior such as aggression towards humans, causing an animal/human conflict. Communities must work to abolish feeding resident Canada geese. Some local governments have established "no feeding" ordinances.
Hunting: Where permitted by law, hunting is an effective and economical tool to control goose populations. Hunting provides opportunities for friends and family to participate in an important Michigan heritage plus procure a valued, healthy food source. Michigan has special goose hunting seasons established in cooperation with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in early September and January to target resident geese. The annual Michigan Waterfowl Hunting Guide contains season dates and bag limits, but be sure to check local township firearm ordinances before hunting geese in suburban settings.
Scare Devices: Scare devices can be a cost-effective way to repel geese when applied consistently as soon as geese arrive on your property. There are many commercial companies that sell the scare devices listed below:
There are also visual stimuli techniques used to scare geese:
Dogs: Many golf courses and airports have reported success using dogs trained to chase geese off the property. Increasingly, lakefront property owners are also finding their dogs are effective goose chasers and provide the best means to prevent geese from over-staying their welcome.
The best results for control may be obtained by using a combination of several different control methods and changing tactics often to prevent geese from becoming conditioned to any one of them. In addition, studies show that geese exposed to hunting are more likely to respond to scare devices outside the goose hunting seasons. There are private animal control companies (check the yellow pages) available that can be consulted for help in scaring and controlling geese. Before using any explosive devices, remember to check local ordinances and inform your neighbors.
Repellents: Repellents can be applied on lawns to deter geese from feeding on the grass. Repellents made from grape extract may repel birds from turf areas. The disadvantage to using repellents is that they are effective only over a short period, before rain or mowing reduces their impact. Remember, geese are more prone to avoid sites where repellents have been used if alternative feeding sites are available
Barrier Fencing: Fence barriers constructed at least 30 inches high, can exclude molted (non-flighted) geese from lawns in June and July. Barriers can be constructed from plastic snow fence, chain link, woven wire, string, mylar tape or chicken wire. Barrier fencing works most effectively when placed along shorelines, but it has to be used at times when young birds would not be trapped on land.
Landscaping or Habitat Modifications: Making your yard less attractive to geese can reduce goose use. An un-mowed 6-foot wide shoreline buffer of tall native grasses or a hedgerow 20 to 30 inches tall can discourage geese from visiting your lawn. Allowing lawns or common areas used by geese to grow taller vegetation can also discourage geese from using these sites. Geese are especially attracted to lawns that are heavily fertilized, watered, and mowed. Studies show that fertilizing lawns increases their nutritional value to geese. Letting the lawn grow longer and not fertilizing or watering it will make it less attractive to geese. When establishing a new lawn, consider planting fescues instead of Kentucky blue grasses, since they are less attractive to feeding geese.
Goose Translocations: Removing or killing geese outside of the normal hunting season is considered a last resort after other techniques have been unsuccessful. Since 1972, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has coordinated and assisted in "goose round-ups." Problem geese are trapped and transported out of the area at the request of local residents and/or a local unit of government. This program takes place in late June and early July when the birds are flightless. Since the program began, more than 50,000 birds have been relocated to other areas within the state or to other states. Some birds have even been taken to a processor and donated to feed needy people.
The translocation program has limited success in reducing the number of nuisance complaints. While it does provide lakefront owners temporary relief, the same or different birds move back into the area within a short time. Unless the attractive habitat is modified, or birds are removed from the population (via hunting), geese will return. In addition, it is becoming more difficult to find areas in state or neighboring states who are interested in receiving more giant Canada geese. Special permits from the DNR must be obtained for translocation.
When considering nuisance goose control methods for an area, you have to consider several things: how large is the problem area, how do the geese get there, what specifically is the problem. If geese always walked to the site, then consider exclusion techniques. If they fly onto the site, use harassment techniques. Another consideration is size of the affected area. The chart below summarizes which techniques, either by themselves or in combination, may be effective for various sized areas.
SMALL- a 150-foot lakefront lot
Canada geese are an important natural resource and are federally protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. They can be legally hunted during the hunting seasons with the proper licenses. The frightening and repellants described in this brochure are methods sanctioned by the DNR. Throwing firecrackers or chasing geese with any motorized device (on land or water) are NOT authorized scare methods. Killing geese outside of the established hunting season and disturbing nests with goose eggs present can be done only under special permit, which can be applied for only when other techniques have been unsuccessful.
Canada geese are highly prized game birds and enjoyed by hunters and non-hunters alike. Their presence in some locations, however, may result in conflicts from area residents. Various control methods have proven successful to discourage geese in a variety of conditions. The method that will work best for you depends on your situation.
Remember, giant Canada geese are thriving in large part because of the landscape changes brought on by human development. Some level of tolerance for the many other state residents, including Canada geese, must be expected of today's growing human population.